SANTA CLARA -- Olympic star Ryan Lochte won't say it. But face it, he's back.
Lochte, 28, won his fourth race as the Santa Clara Arena Grand Prix came to a dramatic finish Sunday at the George F. Haines International Swim Center.
Lochte, of Daytona Beach., Fla., also finished second to Olympic champion Nathan Adrian in the 100-meter freestyle over the four-day meet -- the final tuneup before U.S. national championships next month in Indianapolis.
Donning a racing suit for the first time this season, Lochte displayed the strength and versatility that has created one of the world's greatest swimmers. But ever the competitor, he shrugged off the performance, giving himself a passing grade.
"I thought I was capable of going a lot faster," Lochte said after winning the 200 individual medley Sunday in a time of 1 minute, 58.07 seconds. Olympian Conor Dwyer was more than 2 seconds behind in second place.
In perhaps the biggest surprise of the day, Cal freshman Elizabeth Pelton stunned a world-class field to win the women's 100-meter backstroke in a personal best of 59.88 seconds. Pelton held off Missy Franklin and Australian Emily Seebohm -- the Olympic champion and runner up, respectively.
Franklin, a four-time gold medalist who enters Cal in the fall, finished second in 1:00.02. The Golden Bears' Rachel Bootsma was third in 1:00.97.
Berkeley swimmers duplicated the effort in the women's 200 I.M. This time former Cal star Caitlin Leverenz won in 2:11.87, followed by Franklin (2:13.56) and Pelton (2:13.95).
World-record holder Jessica Hardy, who swam at Cal before transferring to USC, won the women's 100 breaststroke in 1:06.86, more than a second faster than second-place Samantha Marshall of Australia.
While most of the top swimmers came to Santa Clara with a good idea of what to expect, Lochte had no clue.
Neither did his coach, Gregg Troy of the University of Florida. Before the meet Troy lamented that his protege enjoyed the good life a bit too much after the London Games.
Lochte, swimming's bon vivant, showed up at the pool once or twice a week if he bothered coming at all. He did a reality TV show called, "What Would Ryan Lochte Do?" He had a guest appearance on "30 Rock."
"I spent this whole year doing things people only dream about doing," Lochte said. "Did it hurt me? I don't know."
But no matter what anybody else thinks, Lochte is certain of this: "My body and my mind needed it."
Lochte sees the big picture -- qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. If he doesn't advance to the world championships this summer in Barcelona, so be it.
Really, though, most everyone else expects Lochte to make the team.
"Whether he has zero training, a little training or a lot of training, he seems to be good in any of those situations," said Matt Grevers, reigning Olympic champion in the 100 backstroke.
Grevers knew his U.S. teammate took Santa Clara seriously when he saw Lochte in a racing suit. Lochte had been wearing Speedo-style suits this year until this meet.
"I have to do it," Lochte said. "This day and age people aren't getting any slower. I can't be farting around in a Speedo."
Lochte started serious training again six weeks ago. He repeated over four days how much he was enjoying being back at the pool.
Most of time it looked as if he never left. As usual, he walked to the starting blocks with a white towel draped over his head. As usual, Lochte signed autographs before and after races.
"There were times this year where I was caught up in a different lifestyle," he said. "I was getting sucked into that lifestyle and not paying attention to swimming.
"Maybe I took it to extreme, but that's me. You go big or you go home."
For a photo slideshow from the Santa Clara Arena Grand Prix, go to http://photos.mercurynews.com.