Michael Phelps will try one more time to make Ryan Lochte look like an amateur. Ryan Lochte will try one more time to make Michael Phelps look old and out of his league.
For the final time, two of the best swimmers of this generation will face each other. With a gold medal on the line once again, this could be the most anticipated event of London 2012.
The 200-meter individual medley final—which will be held on Thursday, August 2 at 3:19 p.m. ET—has massive implications for both American stars.
Lochte decisively won Round 1 versus Phelps when he took home the gold in the grueling 400-meter IM, beating his rival by more than four seconds.
Per the Associated Press, after his big win, Lochte decreed, "This is my year."
But is it? Or did Phelps just make a poor decision to swim an event he should have dropped from his regimen post-Beijing?
Phelps may not be the golden boy of 2012 Olympics, like he was four years ago—and that honor might be Lochte's to lose—but since that disastrous 400-meter IM, he hasn't looked nearly as out of his element.
Phelps garnered that record-breaking 19th medal he had set his sights on before embarking on this journey to London, he finished second in the 200-meter butterfly and he was solid during the 200-meter IM qualifier and semifinal.
The fact is, anything could happen when a gold medal is at stake. Here's a prediction of how Lochte and Phelps will finish on Thursday night.
Second Place: Ryan Lochte
Lochte may think this is his year, but his biggest adversary isn't quite done solidifying his legacy.
Sure, he might be the world record holder in the event—he set the mark of 1:54.00 at the 2011 World Championships—but Phelps can still beat him.
One of the biggest reasons why could be because Lochte doesn't really believe it.
Lochte dominated the 200-meter IM during qualification and the semifinals. He won his qualifying heat with a second-best overall time of 1:58.03, while his semifinal time of 1:56.13 was the best.
Lochte can win all of the qualifying and semifinal heats he wants. That's not what matters. What matters is saving gas in the tank for the race that actually counts.
At this point, Lochte has to think there's no way he can be stopped. That makes this the perfect time for Phelps to shock him and prove that the grizzled veteran isn't quite as grizzled as many assumed.
First Place: Michael Phelps
In the end, nobody really knows whether Phelps can still beat Lochte. Nobody really knows whether he's been laying off during the qualification and the semifinals so he can win some kind of mind game.
Either way, this is one of his last individual races, and it just so happens to be against his fiercest competition.
Phelps has to be well aware of that, and he has to be saving up everything he has left for one last shot at winning a gold—a gold that would be one of the most meaningful of his entire career.
Phelps and Lochte both swim their best when they're up against one another, and Phelps in particular is certainly going to get a little bit of extra motivation knowing what it would mean to beat Lochte one last time in this event. He, more than anyone, wants to get the last laugh.
And he can do it. He hasn't been too far off Lochte in the qualification (1:58.24) or in the semifinals (1:57.11). Just like Lochte, his times have been steadily improving, and he could be saving his best performance for his personal finale.
The fact that Phelps beat Lochte in the 200-meter IM in the Olympic Trials isn't incredibly pertinent. Most likely, neither of them was giving 100 percent because both of them were trying to maintain some kind of mental advantage. Still, it helps the tiniest bit to know that Phelps can still get the job done against the toughest competition.
Phelps' performance against Lochte in the 400-meter IM, however, is completely irrelevant. He shouldn't have been swimming in that event in the first place, and it's crazy to say that just because he looked out of his element in that one race, he's finished.
Just because he couldn't beat Lochte in the toughest event a week ago doesn't mean he can't do it now. This—the 200-meter IM—he can compete in, whether Lochte and the rest of the world believes it or not.
This is Michael Phelps' last chance to top his rival, and he's going to make it count.