Santa Clara, California: Michael Phelps' rearranged schedule was on full display Saturday night.
The 14-time Olympic gold medalist found a new event to dominate, easily winning the 200-meter backstroke at the Santa Clara International Grand Prix after rival Ryan Lochte was a healthy scratch.
Phelps led the entire way and touched the wall more than 3 seconds ahead of the competition at 1 minute, 57.05 seconds. Mitchell Larkin was second and Matthew Swanston third.
"It's fun. Just being able to get in the water and do something different every now and then is good," Phelps said.
The event wasn't part of Phelps' record haul of eight gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It's one of the changes Phelps is considering to his schedule ahead of next year's London Games, planning to compete in less taxing races to maximize his output.
Never was that more evident than Saturday.
Phelps was an unusual spectator for his signature event, watching the 400 individual medley from the stands as Lochte and others exhausted themselves in the grueling race. Lochte, slowed by a strained left knee, finished second behind Brazil's Thiago Pereira.
"I will say, watching the 400 IM, I do not want to be back in the pool for that race," Phelps said, chuckling. "I don't miss that race."
Phelps, turning 26 at the end of June, isn't planning to enter eight events in London and try to repeat his record performance. He has reiterated he will drop the 400 individual medley and could trim his schedule more.
Santa Clara, the last stop on USA Swimming's grand prix series, and next month's world championships in Shanghai are a test run for Phelps' new-look schedule. With his toughest competitor out, Phelps also was put in a different spot.
He was the pacesetter from the start without Lochte — the former world-record holder in the event — pushing him a lane over. Phelps beat Lochte in Charlotte in the 200 backstroke earlier this year and the two won't meet again in any event until Shanghai.
"I saw the program beforehand and I was kind of bummed he wasn't in the race," Phelps said. "I think it's good to see him back in the IM. I think that's something that we need to try and keep on our side. We need to keep that medal. Not only in the world champs, but in the Olympics."
Lochte was a late scratch for the final because his coaches didn't want to wear him out with the 400 IM just before. Lochte had the fastest time in the backstroke preliminaries behind Phelps.
With Phelps and the retired Aaron Peirsol out of the individual medley, the surging Lochte figures to be the United States' best hope. He didn't wear a jammer, which helps with water resistance, and said he was more than pleased with his time.
Lochte also said his knee wasn't an issue and he will "definitely" swim the event at the world championships.
"After that loss, I think I'm pumped up," said Lochte, who wore a black "Google me" T-shirt with green sneakers to the starting block. "I didn't try to snap my legs and still had a pretty good time."
Among the other notable winners: Park Tae-hwan of South Korea won the 200 freestyle for his third victory of the grand prix. He also won the 400 free and beat Phelps by a finger in the 100 free Friday.
Stephanie Rice won the women's 400 individual medley; Allison Scmitt finished first in the women's 200 freestyle; Meagen Nay won the women's 200 backstroke; William Copeland took the men's 50 free; and Madison Kennedy was first in the women's 50 freestyle.
In the relays, the Australian teams swept.
Brittany Elmslie, Bronte Barratt, Nay and Rice won the women's 800 freestyle, and Ryan Napoleon, Ridge Grimsey, Nicholas D'Arcy and Kenrick Monk took the men's 800 free.