Lochte confirms 2012 is his year of years
As an article of faith, Ryan Lochte has said all year that his time has come.
On Saturday evening he matched deeds to words by surging to a majestic victory over Michael Phelps in the first of their two London Olympics medley duels at the Aquatics Centre.
Lochte got away swiftly in the butterfly leg of the 400 metres individual medley and never relinquished his lead. By contrast, Phelps slipped from second to fourth and finished out of the medals.
The defeat meant the eight times Beijing Games gold medallist missed his opportunity to become the first male swimmer to win three consecutive titles and is still two short of Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina’s record Olympic medal tally of 18.
“I feel amazing, knowing that for the last four years I have put in all that hard work,” Lochte reflected at his post-race news conference. “When I touched the wall, I guess I was in shock. I guess I still am.
“I have said this before, that this is my year. I know and I feel it, just because I have put in the hard work.
“I trained my butt off for four years, I just feel it inside my gut that this is my year.”
Lochte’s training programme out of the water has become the stuff of legend. He lifts logs over his head, tosses barrels and drags chains in a routine designed to make him the strongest man in the pool.
He has also changed his diet and, at the age of 27, has clearly found the right balance between living life to the full and pursuing the punishing regime needed to challenge and conquer the greatest men’s swimmer in Olympic history.
Lochte and Phelps were scheduled to meet in both the 200 and 400 individual medley, races which test the contestants over all four Olympic strokes.
But Saturday night’s clash in the race to decide the first swimming medals of the Games was almost scuppered in the morning session when Phelps qualified last for the final by seven-hundredths of a second.
As result he was condemned to swim in lane eight, where he had a limited view of his opponents, while Lochte could check his rivals’ progress from lane three.
Lochte said he still thought he might have gone out too fast in the first two laps.
“I think I went a little bit too hard in the first 50 of the ’fly,” he said. “I was in the lead, I kept on looking at the scoreboard, I guess that slowed me down. I knew it wasn’t just me and Michael, there were other swimmers there.”
Lochte finished in four minutes 5,18 seconds, almost four seconds faster than Phelps in fourth place. Thiago Pereira of Brazil was second, edging Kosuke Hagino of Japan.
Phelps pulled himself out of the water and walked slowly from the arena without looking at Lochte, his close rival for the past eight years.
“I felt fine for the first 200 metres. They just swam a better race than me,” Phelps, who must lift himself for his six remaining races before he retires, told reporters.
“They were better prepared, it was a frustrating race for me. I was lucky to get into the final.”
Lochte was generous in his praise of Phelps, who he said would be a real challenge in the shorter medley race.
“Michael to me is one of the world’s greatest, no matter what happens he will be remembered as one of the greatest,” he said. “I know he gave it 110%.”