Jessica Hardy shines at Arena GP

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ryan Lochte unwrapped a blue lollypop and popped it in his mouth.

"I should've gotten this before my race," he quipped. "It might've helped."

Back to a rigorous training routine after completing his reality show, Lochte showed Friday at the Arena Grand Prix in Charlotte that he's still got a lot of work to do before the world swimming championships this summer.

The 11-time Olympic medalist struggled to a sixth-place finish in the 200-meter freestyle, which was won by Matt McLean. Lochte didn't even quality for the main final of the 100 breast, settling for first in the "B" final with a time that was nearly 2 seconds slower than overall winner Joseph Schooling of Singapore.

Allison Schmitt, a breakout star at the London Games with three gold medals and a silver, cruised to victory in the women's 200 free. Olympic teammate Jessica Hardy swept the 50- and 100-meter breaststroke events, while Mike Alexandrov did the same on the men's side. Another Olympian, Dana Vollmer, won the 100 butterfly.

Lochte knew he didn't have much chance of winning after cutting back on training to work on his E! reality show, "What Would Ryan Lochte Do?" But he taped the final episode a couple of weeks ago and said his full attention is back on the pool.

"This year has been a little different," he said. "My training really hasn't been there. I had a lot of unique opportunities come my way, and I had to take advantage of them. But since the show and everything has ended, I started back up training two weeks ago. It's fun. I'm just standing up there racing the other guys. That's why I love this sport, the racing."

Lochte also likes to have fun. He arrived on deck wearing a T-shirt that said "Embrace The Brief" -- then competed in a tiny pink suit that made it even tougher to keep up against a 200 free field loaded with Olympians.

Seven of the eight finalists competed in London. McLean touched first with a time of 1 minute, 49.02 seconds, followed by Conor Dwyer, Singapore Olympian Schooling, Ricky Berens, Connor Jaeger and Lochte. Eighth-place finisher Charlie Houchin also was made the U.S. team last summer.

"That's kind of what I do at these Grand Prix meets," Lochte said. "Wear a Speedo and just try to get up there and race all the other guys."

He's still trying to figure out where he stands for the year's biggest meet, the world championships in Barcelona just over two months away.

"I honestly don't know," Lochte said. "I could easily tell you guys if this was last year, because my training was really hard and I knew what I was capable of doing. This year, who knows? I could be in one event. I could be in four or five."

Other winners on the second night of the four-day meet were Japan's Junya Koga in the men's 50 backstroke and Olivia Smoliga for the women, while Chase Kalisz (men) and Elizabeth Beisel (women) won the 400 individual medley.

Schmitt recently turned pro after leading the University of Georgia to the NCAA women's championship. She still has one semester to go to complete her degree in psychology, but she'll take care of that in the fall after worlds.

"I'm a professional swimmer, I guess," Schmitt said with a smile. Asked if it felt any different around the pool, "No, not really."

After the meet in Charlotte, Schmitt will rejoin her personal coach, Bob Bowman, for high-altitude work in Colorado -- a major step in preparing for Spain.

"I'm definitely excited for heavy training," she said. "I know it's going to be tough. But I'm mentally ready for it."

She said returning to college for her senior season, rather than turning pro right away, turned out to be the right move coming off the high of the London Games.

"Yeah, definitely," Schmitt said. "Having a team to go back to and fighting for the national championship, that definitely helped."

Hardy won two relay medals in London, helping ease the sting from a positive drug test that got her kicked out of 2008 Games. But there are still goals to shoot for after she surprisingly failed to qualify for London in the breaststroke, her signature event.

She won a tight duel in the 50 breast, touching in 30.71 to edge Molly Hannis by a hundredth of a second.

"Close races are more fun," Hardy said. "That's what swimming is all about."

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