Ryan Lochte (L) and Michael Phelps check their times after their men’s semifinal 200m freestyle during the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, Nebraska, June 26, 2012. (REUTERS/Jeff Haynes)

By Julian Linden

OMAHA, Nebraska, June 27 (Reuters) – The mutual admiration Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte have for each other is genuine and heartfelt. It might also be detrimental to their chances of winning gold at the London Olympics.

While their rivalry in the pool is becoming legendary and looming as one of the highlights at London, a danger has emerged.

On Wednesday, at the U.S. Olympic trials, the pair provided a tantalizing preview of what the world can expect to see in London when they battled each other all the way in the 200 meters freestyle final.

Swimming in the lanes next to each other, they eyeballed each other for the entire four-lap race, going stroke for stroke.

They were never more than a tenth of a second apart and when they finished the gap was just 0.05, with Phelps getting his hand on the wall first.

It was an epic race and the crowd roared in approval after watching the spectacle but the time was slow – one minute 45.70 seconds, and neither man was impressed.

“In my eyes, 1:45.7 is not going to make the medal podium,” Phelps said.

“When we’re next to each other we kind of play cat and mouse, we don’t just sort of jump out after it.

“We kind of see what each other does and play it out by feel the first couple of laps, and then when it comes down to it we just put every ounce of energy into the last 50 meters that we can and need to.”

While both safely qualified for the Olympic team, Lochte said he had made a tactical mistake that he could not afford to repeat in London.

“I will definitely change that,” Lochte said.

“It was really easy. I thought I was going out for the mile. I was just not trying, and then the last 75 meters it was like, I’ve got to put it in gear but by that time it was a little late.”

Phelps’s winning time was nearly four seconds outside Paul Biedermann’s world record.

Phelps’s coach Bob Bowman said his swimmer and Lochte were in danger of getting beaten in London if they just focused on each other.

“When they’re next to each other, they are so focused on racing each other, they do stuff like tonight, not take it out so fast,” Bowman said.

“Michael got ahead, and he was like, ‘Well, I’m ahead of Ryan, I’m okay.'” And then Ryan is just waiting to make his move, and he makes his move and they do the cat and mouse stuff, and in the process of that they forgot to swim fast.”