Ryan Lochte in No-Win Situation Racing Michael Phelps in Olympic Trials

Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IIJune 27, 2012

OMAHA, NE - JUNE 26:  (L-R)  Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps step up to the starting block prior to swimming in the second semifinal heat of the Men's 200 m Freestyle during Day Two of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials at CenturyLink Center on June 26, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

The first three days of U.S. Olympic Trials couldn't have gone much better for Ryan Lochte.

He's faced rival Michael Phelps three times and he's beaten Phelps twice—rather decisively both times.

And his loss to Phelps in the men's 200-meter freestyle final was by the slimmest of margins, a mere finger length separating the two titans as they surged toward the wall.

Just looking at the raw numbers, you'd surely conclude that Ryan Lochte is the better swimmer right now.

In fact, everything about Lochte has been convincing, from his easy strokes to his "who me?" demeanor to his exceeding comfort in the spotlight.

The guy oozes star power.

But what should be a coming-out party for the man who has dominated international swimming over the past three years has been unmistakably overshadowed by the doings of his foil.

Every Lochte victory is accompanied by some hack pundit analyzing Phelps' psychology, explaining how or why Phelps allowed Lochte to outshine him.

I should know—I'm one of those hacks.

I've made the excuses.

Phelps is saving his energy. Phelps is sizing up his rival. Phelps is scheming.

And then when Phelps beats Lochte? Just more Michael Phelps magic.

At this point, I don't know what Lochte can do this week in Omaha to secure the mantle of world's best swimmer. Once upon a time I thought perhaps a dominant performance by Lochte would do the trick, but even then I'm not so sure.

It's just part of the Michael Phelps legend. We assume Phelps has another gear, something he's hiding for London when the big moments arrive.

We don't assume the same for Lochte, which means his validation likely won't come until later this summer—if it comes at all.