Ryan Lochte was supposed to prove himself as Team USA's go-to swimmer in London. He was supposed to be better than Michael Phelps at this point in each athlete's career, but Lochte's performance as the anchor of Team USA's 4x100 freestyle relay team did nothing to prove that point.
In fact, it did the opposite. Lochte didn't prove Phelps' overwhelming prowess, but he showed that he isn't ready to be the indubitable "top dog." In order to do that, he must perform at his best on an individual level as well as on a team level.
Lochte's teammates didn't have to give him the anchor leg. He's considered the best, but that doesn't mean his three talented teammates had to hand over the reins that easily. Phelps is still Phelps, whether that's clear or not. Reputation alone could have earned him the final leg in this major contest.
Instead, they gave it to Lochte. He carried a lead into his 100-meter portion of the race, but he blew it down the stretch. Yannick Agnel never gave up, and France wound up winning the coveted gold medal.
This doesn't demolish Lochte's 2012 Summer Olympic resume, but it certainly taints it. Phelps, as the team's second leg, swam the group's fastest leg and immediately set the bar high for his American teammate. Lochte was expected to take that opportunity and "run" with it, but he didn't. He followed up Phelps' excellent performance with a flop.
That's not how you take the torch from the world's greatest swimmer. Doing anything less than that in London will be a disappointment for a Lochte's immense reputation.
Adding to the disappointment is the specific race that Lochte chose to do this in. The 4x100 freestyle was one of the greatest races in Olympic history in Beijing. The anchor that year, Jason Lezak, chased down the competition and earned Phelps another gold medal.
That magnifies Lochte's slip-up. He didn't damage Phelps' overall quest. The silver medal leaves him one short of tying the all-time Olympic record for most medals won, but American fans expected more from this team because of the comeback in 2008.
We knew all eyes would be on Lochte in London, but this terrible stretch on Sunday increases his exposure.
He can run the show on an individual level, but he will remember these 100 meters the most. It's going to be the one glaring hole on his otherwise outstanding Olympic resume.
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