In 2008, American swimmer Michael Phelps dominated the competition in Beijing, earning himself the record for most gold medals in a single Olympics with eight. While Phelps will be swimming for the United States again in 2012, his teammate Ryan Lochte may steal the show in London.
While Lochte has not yet experienced the popularity that Phelps enjoys, he is no stranger to the Olympic games. Lochte won six medals in the past two Olympic games.
One of Lochte’s gold medals came in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay with Phelps as his teammate—along with Ricky Berens and Peter Vanderkaay. His first individual gold medal came in the 200-meter backstroke, an event in which he set the world record. Lochte’s 1:53:94 time was enough to just barely edge out the previous record holder, Aaron Peirsol, who finished second in the event.
Both Lochte and Phelps are 27 years of age; however, Phelps has a bit more experience. Phelps—who swam in the 2004 Olympics and earned six gold medals and two bronze medals, in addition to qualifying for the 2000 Olympics at the age of 15—will be participating in his fourth Olympic games. The 2012 Olympics will only be Lochte’s third opportunity to represent his country on international swimming’s biggest stage.
However, Lochte claims to be a different athlete than he was four years ago. The six-time Olympic medalist has made all the necessary changes to be in prime physical fitness when the games begin in late July.
Lochte recently talked to Us Weekly about his preparation for the upcoming games. “I think overall, I’m just a lot older, smarter, and a better athlete than I was going into Beijing,” Lochte told the magazine. “I changed my diet and I started doing heavier lifting.”
We will have to wait in order to see if Lochte’s training changes will be enough to dominate the 2012 Olympic games like Phelps did in 2008. But, there are early signs that say Lochte could be well on his way to doing just that.
Last year at the World Aquatics Championships in Shanghai, Lochte racked up five gold medals—including first-place finishes over Phelps in the 200-meter individual medley and 200-meter freestyle.
Just like the 2008 Olympics, Lochte and Phelps teamed up with Berens and Vanderkaay for the 4x200-meter freestyle relay, earning a gold medal. But unlike the 2008 games where he swam second leg, Lochte swam anchor for the U.S. in Shanghai.
In those same 2008 Olympics, Lochte finished third in the 400-meter individual medley behind Phelps and Hungarian swimmer Laszlo Cseh. In summer trials this past June, Lochte beat out Phelps in the exact same event.
While the World Aquatics Games pale in comparison to the Olympics—and no one receives a medal for his or her efforts in an Olympic qualifying round—Lochte’s recent success could be an early indicator that his training is paying off.
CBC Sports’ Tony Care has already pinned the competition between Lochte and Phelps as the “two greatest swimmers in the world battling for supremacy.” This makes for entertaining television, and surely millions of viewers worldwide will tune in to see which swimmer comes out on top.
CBC Sports' swimming analyst Byron MacDonald believes that Lochte has awoken a sleeping giant in Phelps. “[Lochte] beat him and it pissed him off,” MacDonald told Care. “He hates to lose, probably more than any other swimmer certainly than I’ve ever seen. It motivates the hell out of him. Even when he’s lost to one or two swimmers in the past, it has really motivated him.”
So, will Phelps’ newfound motivation be enough for him to defend his title as the world’s greatest swimmer? Or will Lochte’s extensive training prove to be too much for Phelps to keep up with? We will have to tune in later this summer to see who will be crowned king of the pool.