Michael Phelps: Star Will Stay Face of US Swimming Regardless of London Results

Sam R. Quinn@SamQuinn_Senior Analyst IIIJuly 30, 2012

OMAHA, NE - JUNE 30:  (L-R) Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps look on after they competed in the championship final of the Men's 200 m Individual Medley during Day Six of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials at CenturyLink Center on June 30, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

They say if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.

There are exceptions to every rule, and the most famous rivalry at the 2012 London Olympics is that exception.

Ryan Lochte may have been pegged by many as the heir apparent to the American swimming throne, but no matter what he does, he will never be able to steal the show from Michael Phelps.

Much has been made of the pending changing of that guard. That's no surprise, as Phelps claims this is his last Olympics and Lochte has provided no reason for us to believe that he won't be back in 2016 in Brazil.

There's no doubt that Lochte is one of the best swimmers in the world. You could make the case that he has surpassed the "Baltimore Bullet" as the top competitor in the United States. But to believe that he will be a star like Phelps is unreasonable.

Phelps served as inspiration for Americans everywhere when he won eight medals apiece in 2004 and 2008 to become the poster boy for the Olympics.

No American has ever done what Phelps did four years ago when he increased his medal total to 16. At 23 years old, Phelps became a cultural icon of epic proportions, something that Lochte has long missed out on becoming.

Lochte will always play second-fiddle to Phelps no matter how many medals he wins. It's highly unlikely that he can reach the unfathomable total that Phelps has accumulated these last eight years, but it wouldn't matter even if he did.

It doesn't even make sense to tab Lochte as the next greatest American swimmer. If Lochte was substantially younger than his legendary teammate, it would be reasonable to call him the next great thing in American swimming.

However, he's less than two months younger than the man with 14 gold medals. Phelps has stated that he won't be back in 2016, leaving Lochte as the new sheriff in town, but there's no comparing Lochte's resume to Phelps'.

Whatever happens in London over these next couple of weeks should bear no impact on Phelps' legacy. He could have walked away after Beijing and still be known as the greatest swimmer in history. Even if he left the sport after Athens, he would have been among the top American swimmers of all time.

This isn't a knock on Lochte's abilities, but the pedigree of Michael Phelps is impossible to match.