BARCELONA, Spain - On a night when Missy Franklin finally lost, Ryan Lochte turned in an epic performance at the pool.
Lochte swam three races in less than two hours at the world championships Friday, coming away with two gold medals and the top time in an event he's competing in for the first time at a major international meet.
Certainly, this grueling triple was worthy of a "Jeah!"
"It was so painful," said Lochte, who had the big crowd at the Palau Sant Jordi shouting his nonsensical catchphrase every time he dove in the water. "I don't want to do that again."
He won the 200-meter backstroke, posted the fastest time in the semifinals of the 100 butterfly, and put the Americans ahead to stay with a strong leg in the 800 freestyle relay. Not bad for a guy who took a long break after the London Olympics and slacked off on his training while filming a reality television show, "What Would Ryan Lochte Do?"
Apparently, there's nothing Lochte can't do, or at least isn't willing to try, when he dons a swimsuit.
"I wasn't really thinking about the triple at all," Lochte said. "I was just focusing on my first race, after that my second, and my third."
He finished up his big night in the relay, taking over with the Americans trailing both Russia and France after Conor Dwyer's opening leg. Lochte took care of that, turning in the second-fastest 200 (1:44.98) of anyone in the field. Only Sun Yang of China, one of the world's greatest freestylers, went faster — and he hadn't already competed in two races.
"No matter the outcome in the first and second races, I had to pull it together for Team USA," Lochte said. "When you get together for a relay, you don't care about the pain, you don't care about anything like that. You just get up there and put together a good race for the other guys."
Franklin also had a busy night, but the first race didn't go as she hoped. The 18-year-old American finished fourth in the 100 free behind gold medallist Cate Campbell of Australia, ending a run of four straight victories in Barcelona.
Franklin shook off the defeat, coming back about 25 minutes later to easily post the top qualifying time in the semifinals of the 200 back. She'll be a heavy favourite in that race Saturday night — she's the Olympic champion and world-record holder — which leaves her still on course to at least match Tracy Caulkins of the U.S. and Libby Trickett of Australia as the only women to win five events at worlds.
Caulkins won her five at the 1978 meet in Berlin, while Trickett did it in her home championships at Melbourne in 2007.
"I'm a little bummed," Franklin said. "I learned a lot, which is the most important thing. I think the 100 free is the event I definitely have the most room to improve on."
Also set to compete in the 200 backstroke final is Hilary Caldwell of White Rock, B.C. She set a Canadian record finishing second in the semifinal behind Franklin in 2:07.15.
"I think it was sort of a long time coming. I hadn't gone a best time since Olympic Trials and I didn't actually get the opportunity to swim at night last year at the Olympics, I had a disappointing swim in the morning," said Caldwell.
"So it was definitely good to get the opportunity to do that again at night. I've been training really well and staging camp went great. I was at the back end of the meet so I was just really ready to race and felt great."
Franklin will have one more event after the backstroke — Sunday's 400 medley relay — so she's got a shot at joining Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz as the only swimmers to win as many as six golds at either worlds or the Olympics.
Lochte got off to a slow start in Barcelona, looking sluggish while settling for silver as part of the 400 free relay and even worse in his first individual event — a fourth-place finish in the 200 free. But any thought he was in for a disappointing championships ended with a victory in the 200 individual medley on Thursday.
Twenty-four hours later, he had two more golds.
Lochte pushed the early pace in the backstroke, leading at the first flip, and had enough to hold off his challengers. His winning time was 1 minute, 53.79 seconds — 0.45 ahead of Poland's Radoslaw Kawecki. Reigning Olympic champion Tyler Clary of the U.S., who edged Lochte for the gold in London, settled for bronze this time.
"The 200 back is probably one of the hardest events on your legs and your body in general," Lochte said. "With the little training I've done this year, it's going to set me up pretty good for 2016."
With that, he hustled off the practice pool, located under a tent outside the arena, to get ready for the semifinals of the 100 fly.
This is a new event on his program, and he didn't have a lot of expectations.
But Lochte, swimming in an outside lane after only the 13th-fastest time in the preliminaries, popped off a time of 51.48 — a personal best — to claim the top seed for the final. Chad le Clos of South Africa, who already won the 200 fly, was next at 51.52.
"I don't know where that came from," Lochte said.
Finally, in the relay, he joined with Dwyer, Charlie Houchin and Ricky Berens to give the Americans their fifth straight world title in the 4x200 free. Berens touched in 7:01.72, while Russia took the silver and China — with Sun swimming 1:43.16 on the anchor leg — rallied for the bronze.
In the women's 100 free, Campbell pushed the pace from right the start, making the flip more than a half-second under world-record pace. That gave her a big enough lead to hold on for a time of 52.34, a half-body length in front of silver medallist Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden.
Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands edged Franklin for the bronze by 0.05.
"I don't think it really sunk in until I got out of the pool and I heard all the Aussies in the crowd chanting," Campbell said. "In the water I was just like, 'Why are all these people hugging me? What's going on?'"
There was no time for Franklin to mope.
After climbing from the pool, she took a shortcut to the training pool to get ready for the 200 back — her favourite event. Franklin posted a time of 2:06.46, giving her the prime middle lane for the final. Elizabeth Pelton of the U.S. also advanced with the third-fastest time.
Yuliya Efimova of Russia pulled off an upset in the women's 200 breaststroke, beating Rikke Pedersen one night after the Danish swimmer set a world record in the semifinals.
Efimova got to the wall just ahead of Pedersen, winning in 2:19.41. Pederson will leave Barcelona with her name in the record book but only a silver medal around her neck, touching in 2:20.08 — nearly a second slower than her semis time of 2:19.11. Micah Lawrence of the U.S. grabbed the bronze.
Daniel Gyurta of Hungary won his third straight world title in the 200 breaststroke, finishing more than a second ahead of everyone else in 2:07.23. Marco Koch of Germany picked up the silver, and Matti Mattsson of Finland took the bronze.
Florent Manaudou of France went fastest in the semifinals of the chaotic 50 freestyle — a mad dash from end of the pool to the other. His time of 21.37 was just ahead of American Anthony Ervin (21.42). Nathan Adrian of the U.S. and Brazil's Cesar Cielo tied for third at 21.60.
The final is Saturday night.
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