American swimmer Ryan Lochte may not capture gold medals out from underneath teammate Michael Phelps in the two races they'll compete, but Lochte is already stealing headlines and fans.
Phelps' Olympic triumphs are well documented at this point.
An eight-time winner in Beijing in 2008, Phelps finished first in every single event he raced. Eight events in itself is a massive undertaking—winning all eight of them is astonishing.
It's all in a day's work for Phelps who looks to add three more gold medals to finish his Olympic career as the most decorated athlete of all time.
This year he'll have stiff competition and it comes from his own team.
Ryan Lochte—nearly an afterthought at the 2008 games—is storming into London with immense momentum.
If anyone can give Phelps a run (er, swim) for their money, it's Lochte.
Here are a couple of reasons why Lochte has a legitimate shot at uprooting Phelps' dominance this year.
Who Wants It More?
What has Phelps done in between Beijing and London?
Well, first he celebrated 2008's feats with bong hits of marijuana—it's an action numerous individuals participate in and a mistake he has since apologized for.
But as the caliber of Olympian Phelps is, it didn't do his reputation any favors. He continued the party, allegedly putting on 25 pounds of extra weight in the process.
Earlier this year, he announced his retirement.
It makes you wonder how focused on this year's event he can be when he's already talking about the future and retirement.
Then even his own teammate called him out.
Tyler Clary told Jim Alexander of the Press-Enterprise:
"I saw a real lack of preparation. Basically, he was a swimmer that didn’t want to be there. They can talk about all of these goals and plans and preparation they have. I saw it. I know. It’s different. And I saw somebody that has basically been asking to get beat for the longest time.”
Comments in his interview with ESPN's Jenine Edwards on "Sunday Conversation" indicate Phelps doesn't even like the water, calling swimming boring. He's also looking forward to "doing nothing."
That's fair. He's earned that right after intense, lifelong Olympic training.
But if it's that awful, if you're already looking ahead, why compete still?
While Phelps has been unmotivated, Lochte has kicked his training regiment into overdrive.
His diet changed. He participates in "Strongman" workouts.
Two gold medals weren't good enough in 2008 and they won't satisfy in 2012.
You may not believe in the hype of "wanting it more," but when one man comes in salivating at the thought of warm beds and sandy beaches and the other only has eyes for gold, desire plays a factor.
Outside of Dara Torres, swimmers don't generally have long Olympic careers.
In the interview linked above, Phelps tells Edwards he does not want to swim over 30. Even at this point, more gold medals are like "toppings on an ice cream sundae."
Lochte seems to be Phelps' elder with the talk of Beijing being his last competition and labeling London as a comeback.
Yet, Lochte too is only 27.
While not even Ray Lewis can motivate Phelps to continue (video, 3:02), Lochte is motivated to improve upon his two gold medal wins in 2008, beat Phelps, raise awareness for muscular dystrophy and simply relax and have fun.
Recent Head-to-Head Competitions
In Olympic trials, the two were much closer than anticipated.
Lochte beat Phelps in the 400-meter IM by a full second while Phelps won the 200-meter IM by less than one-tenth of a second (h/t: Josh Alper, NBCNewYork.com).
Granted, it's trials.
When it comes to the Olympic Games, motivation and effort rise and the athletes step it up.
In 2008, Phelps hardly had competition, leaving everyone in the dust. This year, Lochte has placed himself square on Phelps' radar.
It's Lochte who has the momentum.
Compare swimming to baseball for a moment. A team can dominate the 162-game season and still lose to the team that crept into playoffs via wild card.
Why? Motivation and momentum.
Phelps is swimming in seven events. He needs three gold medals to earn a new place in the record books.
Lochte is swimming in four individual events—two of them against Phelps.
Should Phelps win the minimum of three, he becomes the greatest athlete of all time. If he wins all seven events, it's an addition to a collection that will be difficult to challenge.
That's exactly why Lochte is a lock to steal some of Phelps' thunder.
Phelps is a "been there, done that" athlete. Viewers saw him pull off these astonishing feats four years ago.
Lochte is a hard-working yet confident athlete who wants to be there and wants to win. He's not there for extra goodies on his ice cream.
The fact that there is anyone at all who may be able to beat the Michael Phelps tells you his thunder is already slowly being taken away.
Without Lochte, there would be no "rivalry."
Remember, Phelps is only in London because of Lochte—to prove he is still the best in the world.
The Summer Olympics in London will determine who comes out on top—master or apprentice, monster or creator.
Phelps created Lochte—and now Lochte's the ultimate underdog to root for.