Following U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte’s victory in the men’s 400-meter individual medley on Saturday, a race he won by 3.68 seconds and in which 14-time gold medalist Michael Phelps finished fourth, swimming pundits (myself included) were ready to anoint Lochte as the sport’s new superstar.
Two days later, it is clear that that conclusion came much too quickly.
Lochte’s star power began to fade on Sunday. He entered the pool with the lead as the anchor leg of the United States’ 400-meter freestyle relay, but lost the race to France’s Yannick Agnel, who finished .45 seconds ahead of Lochte after starting .55 seconds after him.
On Day 3, Agnel embarrassed Lochte again. Lochte was the favorite going into the 200-meter freestyle final, but the race was dominated by Agnel, who won gold with a time of 1:43.14. Lochte finished in fourth place with a time of 1:45.04, 1.90 seconds behind Agnel.
No longer does Lochte deserve comparison to Phelps, for he will not come close to matching Phelps’ accomplishments from his past two Olympics.
Phelps decided to drop the 200 free from his Olympic swimming program, but he has medaled twice previously in the event, including for one of his eight gold medals at the 2008 Games in Beijing.
Phelps competed in eight events, both in Beijing and at the 2004 Games in Athens, and only lost twice, with both of those losses coming in Athens. Lochte has only swam in three events thus far in London, and he has already lost twice.
Lochte still has three more chances to add to his gold-medal total: the 4x200-meter freestyle relay, 200-meter backstroke and 200-meter individual medley. While he is certainly the favorite to win the 200 IM and could win gold in all three, he has some serious work to do to even be considered the swimming star of the London Games.
After Monday’s race, Agnel has certainly dethroned Lochte as the star in the pool through three days of the Games. Agnel is 2-0 against Lochte, and he will have another chance to compete against Lochte in the 4x200 free on Tuesday.
Additionally, Agnel will pursue gold again in the 100-meter freestyle, which also begins Tuesday with qualification and semifinals.
Lochte is far from the dominant swimming force that Phelps was in Beijing. Through three days of the Games, Lochte has not even set himself apart as the best U.S. men’s swimmer.
Thus far, that title should currently be split with Matt Grevers, who won gold in the 100-meter backstroke on Monday and had a faster split in the qualification round of the 4x100 free relay (47.54 seconds) than Lochte did in the final (47.74).
For all the incredible moments of Michael Phelps’ record-breaking, eight gold-medal-winning performances in Beijing, the defining image was his incredible comeback in the 100-meter butterfly when he incredibly found a way to touch the wall before Serbia’s Milorad Cavic, beating him by one-hundredth of a second.
The lasting image of Lochte’s Games thus far? Losing to Agnel in the final 50 meters of the 4x100 free relay.
Phelps was an absolutely dominant force who had an aura of invincibility during the 2008 Olympic Games. After being beat handily by Agnel on consecutive days—and not even earning a medal in the 200 free—it has become clear that Lochte is very vincible.
Phelps may no longer be swimming’s greatest star, but he can rest assured that neither Lochte nor anyone else will come close to matching his dominance from the 2008 Games—and even from the 2004 Games, where he won six golds.
And depending on how well Phelps and Lochte each bounce back from their fourth-place finishes, there remains a legitimate chance that Phelps could win more golds in London than Lochte.
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Dan Hope is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist covering the 2012 Olympic Games. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.
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