REUTERS: Caeleb Dressel clinched the men's 100m freestyle to punch his ticket to Tokyo with flourish on Thursday, while Simone Manuel's title defence in the women's 100m came to a crushing end at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials.
Dressel equaled his own American record of 47.39 seconds to overcome a stacked field and win by .33 seconds over 24-year-old Zach Apple, before hoisting his arms aloft and egging on the eager crowd at Omaha, Nebraska.
But the night held disappointment for 24-year-old Simone Manuel, who will not be able to defend her 2016 gold in the 100m freestyle after placing ninth in the 100m semifinals, a conclusion she called "a tough pill to swallow."
"I haven't quite processed it completely, but the one thing I have processed is that I am proud of myself, and I did everything I possibly could have done to set myself up to be my very best at this meet," she told reporters.
Six-time Olympic gold medal winner Ryan Lochte put up a 1:58.65 in the semifinals in the men's 200m medley, a disappointing time but enough to put him into the finals on Friday as he looks to qualify for a fifth consecutive Games.
"There’s a lot I’ve got to improve on, especially that race," said Lochte, who left the 2016 Rio Olympics mired in scandal after vandalizing a gas station and then lying about it.
"I just messed up in a lot of places. I mean, hopefully I get another chance to swim in it tomorrow and I’ll be better."
It took everything Hali Flickinger had to clinch the women’s 200m butterfly final, where she was trailing slightly at the halfway mark but turned on the jets down the final stretch and put up a 2:05.85 personal best for the win.
Flickinger, who finished seventh in the event in Rio, also qualified for the 400m medley earlier.
Elsewhere in Thursday's action, Bobby Finke, 21, grabbed his ticket to his first-ever Games after seizing the lead early to win the men's 800m in 7:48.22.
The event is appearing in the Olympic programme for the first time in over a century, last featuring in 1904.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)