By Jeff Commings
Of all the events that Michael Phelps swam at the 2012 Olympics, none is more exciting to watch the battle for his replacement this year than the 100 butterfly.
You would think the open slot for the top American butterflyer would automatically go to Tyler McGill. He's been the country's second-best in the sprint fly since 2009, and has never relinquished it. He even got into the Olympic final in London, a sure sign that he's the real thing.
But watch out for Ryan Lochte. Since placing a surprising third in the 100 fly at the Olympic Trials, he's been putting a great deal of focus on his butterfly. He even placed third in the event at last December's world championships. Plus, he's looking for a way to get on a medley relay, and the 100 fly looks to be the easiest way to do it.
These two guys will likely be 1-2 in the 100 fly at this summer's world championship trials, and judging by tonight's 100 fly final at the Arena Grand Prix in Orlando, it's not entirely clear which one has the edge.
By virtue of getting his hand on the wall first tonight, McGill has the advantage. Lochte was a full second behind for second place, which is scary when you remember that Lochte drops a lot of time when he gets into taper season.
If there is anyone to challenge these two for the spots in the individual 100 fly at worlds, it might be Tom Shields. The king of underwater dolphin kicks is at a disadvantage in the long course pool, with only one start and one turn to work underwater, but I think he learned a lot at Trials, where he placed fourth. Surely his fall season competing against the best in the world (including a silver medal at the short course world championships) gave him lots of confidence.
Shields likely saw tonight's race, analyzed McGill's early speed and Lochte's final 50 endurance and got a little chill — as I did — thinking about that 100 fly final in Indy in late June. It's going to be a great battle.