Great athletes have someone who pushes them to be better. Whether that motivation comes from a rival or a teammate doesn’t matter; what matters is that the athlete tries even harder to succeed.
Magic Johnson had Larry Bird, and that rivalry revitalized the NBA.
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal battled and bickered, but led the Los Angeles Lakers to three NBA titles together.
Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa demanded the best of each other during the thrilling 1998 home run race.
Dwyane Wade and LeBron James had their differences this season, but the Miami Heat wound up as NBA champions.
Now, Kevin Durant will make sure he does even more work than LeBron this offseason to try and ensure the Oklahoma City Thunder don’t get embarrassed in the NBA Finals again.
The point is that every great athlete has a nemesis. Michael Phelps is no exception.
Once the 2012 London Olympics are over, Ryan Lochte will take over as the face of Team USA swimming. Lochte’s moment in the sun will inevitably come, but Phelps is trying to make sure these Olympics are his last hurrah.
Whether they are swimming together as part of a relay or against each other in an individual race, they’ll push each other to the absolute limits of their athleticism, leaving everyone else struggling in their wake.
But the most important part of this rivalry happens outside the pool, in the training room.
Lochte has to know in the back of his mind that when he’s tired of lifting weights or eating healthy, Phelps is just getting started.
That drive will help push Team USA to the top during these Olympics, with Lochte and Phelps leading the way.
These Olympics should still be dominated by Phelps, but Lochte will be even closer than he was in 2008 and has the potential to pull off an upset in one or two of the individual races.
Fans will certainly see two swimmers at the peaks of their careers battling to prove to London that they are the best in the world, making it one of the most exciting Olympics in recent memory.
Then, after Phelps has ridden off into the sunset, it’ll be up to Team USA to provide Lochte with another rival to keep him at the top of his game.