US Olympic Swimming Team 2012: How Ryan Lochte Can Take Spot Among the Greats

Darin Pike@darinpikeContributor IJuly 10, 2012

OMAHA, NE - JUNE 30:  Ryan Lochte looks on after he competed in the first semifinal heat of the Men's 100 m Butterflyduring Day Six of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials at CenturyLink Center on June 30, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Ryan Lochte has swum in Michael Phelps' shadow over the last eight years. He can change that in London, though, and doesn't have to beat Phelps to do it—though that certainly wouldn't hurt.

An argument can certainly be made that Lochte has already established himself as one of the great all-time American swimmers. He won a silver medal at the Athens games and was a key part of the gold-medal 4x200 freestyle relay that barely held off Ian Thorpe and the "unbeatable" Australians.

But Phelps won eight medals in those games, six of them gold, and kept the spotlight from lingering on Lochte for long.

Lochte added four more medals in Beijing, but the eight golds around Phelps' neck were too bright to be ignored.

So where would Lochte be today if not for the Michael Phelps show?

I won't project his silver medal in 2004 becoming a gold. As soon as a Phelps-free discussion starts, Lochte's relay victories would be called into question.

Instead, the question is more aimed at where Lochte would be if the American public could entertain the idea of two great swimmers, similar to the idea of the accomplishments of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady not detracting from the other's greatness.

Mark Spitz has kept his place in the order of the great swimmers. Granted, he's likely been passed by Phelps, but the time span between their accomplishments have kept fans and media from being too concerned with who is "1A" and which is "1B."

Phelps beat Spitz's gold-medal count, but Spitz set seven world records while winning his seven races. Spitz also chose to retire at the peak of his swimming abilities to pursue a paid career, while the opportunities for current Olympic athletes allowed Phelps to stay in the pool.

Phelps and Spitz control the head of the American swimming table, but it isn't too late for Lochte to grab a seat. He will compete in four individual events in London and is guaranteed a spot in the 4x200 freestyle relay.

However, Lochte was feeling overworked at the U.S. Trials and pulled out of the 100-meter free and the 100-meter backstroke. This makes his inclusion in the 4x100 free and the 4x100 medley relay teams questionable at best.

He has to hope the men's coach decides to place him on one of the teams even though he didn't earn a spot in the pool.

The U.S. Olympic Swim Team is coached by Gregg Troy, who was Lochte's coach at the University of Florida, so there is a chance he could get at least one swim in each of the relays.

Lochte will compete with Phelps in the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys in London. Lochte has to earn at least a silver medal in both, and beating Phelps in either would help cement the swimmer's name as one of the all-time best.

Even Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, recognizes that Lochte has surpassed his swimmer, at least in some areas.

"Lochte's breaststroke is better," Bowman told Yahoo! Sports. "Michael's breaststroke wasn't bad...It's obviously pretty good competition; he just kicked our ass."

Bowman also acknowledged that Lochte was the best swimmer in 2010.

Regardless of how he measures up to Phelps, Lochte will need to pull out 200-meter wins in the backstroke and free, and help the 4x200 freestyle team win gold. 

This would bring his total Olympic medal count to 11—12 if he's added to another relay team—and half of them could be gold. It will still leave him well shy of the tallies of Phelps and Spitz, but that shouldn't be an issue.

Football fans didn't turn their backs on Drew Brees' new passing record because he didn't have the career numbers of Manning or as many Super Bowl rings as Brady. Brees is simply acknowledged as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

When it comes to the pool, there is room for Lochte, too. If he can beat all his international competitors in London he will have arrived as one of greatest American swimmers of all-time.