Heading into two of his strongest events, Ryan Lochte is in prime position to take home Olympic gold in both the 200-meter backstroke and the 200-meter individual medley.
Lochte has disappointed so far in London, inasmuch as a swimmer with two gold medals in four races can disappoint. He cruised to victory in the 400-meter individual medley and set up the win for the 4x200 freestyle team with a strong opening leg.
However, the hype surrounding Lochte was that 2012 was his time to surpass Michael Phelps as the premier American swimmer. That plan is still in progress, though it has hit some bumps along the way.
The most notable misstep was Lochte's performance in the 4x100 freestyle. He began the anchor lap with a commanding lead, but France's Yannick Agnel made up a full one-second differential to catch Lochte and wrest the gold from the Americans.
With a fourth-place finish in the 200-meter freestyle as well, Lochte has not yet lived up to his role as the heir apparent of American swimming. No one was expecting him to put on a performance like Phelps did in Beijing, but no one was expecting him to squander leads and miss medals, either.
That's all about to change. Now that Lochte has put the freestyle events behind him, he can redeem himself in his favored disciplines.
Lochte is at his best when he kicks off the wall, covering more ground underwater than just about any swimmer in the world. Because of that, he has an advantage in longer races with slower strokes. The 200-meter result was below what he is capable of, but the 100-meter freestyle is just not his race.
The backstroke and individual medley are much more Lochte's speed.
With the backstroke, he jumps out to the lead with his impeccable technique, torquing his body to generate speed. When you factor in his kicks, it's difficult to imagine anyone keeping pace with him in the back final.
The individual medley will be more interesting. It will be the final Olympic duel between Lochte and Phelps, who won the 200-meter IM in both 2004 and 2008.
However, 2012 is Lochte's time. He holds the world record in the 200-meter IM, and he beat Phelps by nearly a full second in qualifying. It's reminiscent of what Lochte did in the 400-meter IM, in which Lochte also holds the world record and Phelps also won in Athens and Beijing.
Comparing two swimmers midway through a 400-meter race is an inexact predictor for a 200-meter event, but Lochte finished his fourth lap of the 400-meter IM nearly two and a half seconds faster than Phelps.
Lochte's margin of victory will likely be closer to the roughly one-second qualifying edge, but as with the backstroke, an IM win is as close to a sure thing as you can get. After some stumbles in the freestyle, Lochte's coming-out party starts now.