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Olympic Swim Trials scene: Michael Phelps isn't competing anymore but his presence in Omaha remains pool deep
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US OLYMPIC SWIMMING TRIALS

Olympic Swim Trials scene: Michael Phelps isn't competing anymore but his presence in Omaha remains pool deep

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OMAHA — The last time a U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials didn't feature someone named Michael Phelps, Bill Clinton was president, the show "Seinfeld" was still crushing it and Hotmail was born.

For five Olympic cycles Phelps-mania took over, and after winning some more medals at the 2016 Rio Games, the most decorated Olympian of all time retired from swimming for good.

Phelps isn't even competing anymore — though he joked he could give it a go — and yet his presence remains heavy at this year's trials at CHI Health Center Omaha.

Phelps was in the building Sunday and Monday, watching the action from a suite with his wife and his 5-year-old son Boomer.

He remains a face of the sport, and swimmers have fielded questions about Phelps each day in Omaha.

Chase Kalisz, who won the men's 400-meter individual medley final Sunday night, was asked about how Phelps helped him in training for the event.

Caeleb Dressel, now considered the top men's swimmer, was asked if he felt any burden in picking up the mantle left by swimming's megastar.

"I don't think that falls on my shoulders alone," Dressel said. "Michael was one guy within USA Swimming, but he wasn't USA Swimming."

That's being put to the test this week in Omaha.

With Phelps no longer in the spotlight and Ryan Lochte competing at the back end of his career (Lochte failed to get out the 200 freestyle prelims Monday), the trials have opened up opportunities for other future stars and Olympic hopefuls.

The women have some star power, led by Katie Ledecky, who has five Olympic gold medals and made her addition to this year's Olympic team official by winning the 400 freestyle Monday night (The race wasn't close).

Moments before Ledecky took the blocks, 2016 Rio gold medalist Lilly King won her semifinal heat of the 100 breaststroke, recording the world's fastest time of the year, and the prime time window included 18-year-old Torri Huske, who appears to be a budding star herself.

Phelps, who spoke to the media Monday, doesn't see a lack of star power.

"Going from 2000 to where we are today, being able to see how far we’ve come, that to me is so impressive,” said Phelps, who won 23 Olympic gold medals and 28 overall.

"I think we can go so much farther. We have a lot of amazing people that can help us do that."

Speaking of Huske

We can officially put Huske on the shortlist of swimming stars we'll be talking about for future Olympics to come.

The Arlington, Virginia, native set an American record in the 100 butterfly during Sunday's prelims, then reset the record in the semifinals, only to break it again 24 hours later.

She finished Monday's final in :55.66. When her 50-meter time (:25.49) popped up on the big screen, the crowd gasped and then took the noise level up very quickly to help get Huske over the finish line in record time.

A very cool way to kick off Monday's show. And for Huske, her first Olympics ticket.

"It's my first trials so it's kind of overwhelming just to be here," Huske said. "The first day, (others) would probably tell you, I could not focus during when we were warming up, my mind was all over the place. But I feel like it's nice just being able to experience something for the first time."

A 16-year-old by the name of Claire Curzan (:56.43) took second behind Huske to earn her way to Tokyo.

Quick strokes

* Ledecky won the 400 freestyle Monday night, but that wasn't the most notable part of her trials start.

Ledecky and her college teammates Brooke Ford and Katie Drabot, who also are competing in Omaha, celebrated their graduation from Stanford poolside since they couldn't attend commencement in California. The three posed for a photo with graduation caps and gowns on.

* Phelps said he got goosebumps walking onto the pool deck at CHI Health Center Omaha.

“Maybe put me in there," he joked. "Let me do a time trial or something.

"It’s like I know something about this time of year. My body, my mind knows something."

* Michael Andrew won the men's breaststroke final in :58.73, edging Andrew Wilson by .01 of a second.

* Nebraska swimming coach Pablo Morales presented the trials gold medal to 400 IM winner Kalisz during Sunday's award ceremony. He received a nice ovation from the home crowd.

Reach Clark Grell at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter at @LJSSportsGrell.

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