One of the biggest swimming days of the London Olympics takes place this afternoon, as Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps are set for their huge showdown in the 200-meter IM finals.
A win for Ryan Lochte asserts his current dominance over Phelps in both of the individual medleys, while a win for Phelps reinstates his status as the swimmer to beat in London.
All signs seemingly point to a Lochte triumph. He posted a dominant victory in the 400 IM to begin the Games, and has cruised through the 200 IM qualifying—ahead of Phelps.
Lochte also is the world-record holder in this event, setting the standard of 1 minute, 54.00 seconds at the 2011 World Championships, where he out-touched Phelps by a tenth of a second.
However, it will be Phelps who wears the gold after all is said and done.
For starters, Lochte will be coming off his 200-meter backstroke final a mere 22 minutes before the 200 IM. The backstroke is Lochte's specialty, and you know that he will give everything he has to make sure his Beijing gold is properly defended.
Beating Phelps when you are fresh is one thing, but beating him while fatigued is nearly impossible.
Phelps will be the freshest one in the pool tonight, as his second swim, the 100-meter butterfly semifinals, isn't until after the 200 IM.
Additionally, let's examine the two swimmer's paths since the initial 400 IM victory for Lochte.
Lochte followed up his first gold by celebrating until 2:00 a.m., and cost Team USA a gold medal in the 4x100 freestyle relay. He then failed to medal in the 200-meter freestyle, finishing fourth.
Phelps swam a blistering 47.1 split in the same 4x100 free relay, and anchored the U.S. team to a gold in the 4x200 free (a team that Lochte was also a part of).
Phelps's only slip since the 400 IM came in his signature event, the 200-meter butterfly. There he inexplicably coasted to the wall, and was nipped by South African Chad Le Clos.
Some might view that race as a sign of vulnerability.
On the flip-side, it could be added fuel to the fire. Phelps hates to lose more than any other competitor on the planet. But to be out-touched in your signature event by five hundredths of a second?
You can bet his blood was boiling.
And it still is.
I almost pity Ryan Lochte.
You see, when Phelps decides to flip that intangible switch, it's simply over for the rest of the field.
That switch was certainly resting in the off position for most of the Games, until Le Clos unwittingly flipped it on just two nights ago.
Now, don't get me wrong. Lochte most surely will make it close. Like U.S. Trials close. But the end result will be the same.
My favorite part of the Phelps vs. Lochte saga came yesterday during the 200 IM semis. Lochte pulled ahead over the final 50 meters, but Phelps' demeanor seemed to say only one thing:
Have your fun now, Ryan. I'll see you in the finals.