Typically when somebody walks away from the Olympic Games with five medals earned in six events, it is not at all a disappointment. It is difficult enough to earn one, let alone five. The thing is, however, most people aren't Ryan Lochte and the expectation for more than just one individual gold isn't there like it was for him.
Lochte might not have been under so much pressure to carry the torch for U.S. Swimming if he hadn't declared the London Games "my time." Now it wasn't so directly calling out Michael Phelps—Lochte's American teammate and in case you didn't know by now, greatest swimmer and Olympian of all-time—as it was just Lochte being Lochte and asserting what he believed he was capable of doing.
"I feel like that," Lochte said. "I don't know if it's going to happen, but I definitely feel like that. Just all that hard work, all those hours in the pool, I feel like it's about to pay off." -Paul Newberry, AP
And he was capable of beating Phelps.
Coming into these Olympic Games, Lochte had six medals from Athens and Beijing and was the defending world champion in five events including both the 200- and 400-meter IM, both races that he beat Phelps in at worlds.
Lochte had no reason to doubt that he would once again win five gold medals like he did at worlds. He had no doubt he could medal in six events like he did at worlds. And up until the U.S. Olympic Trials, he had no doubt he could beat Michael Phelps like he did at worlds.
London 2012 started great for Ryan "My Time" Lochte as he won the gold, beating out Phelps and crushing the rest of his competition by nearly four seconds in the 400-meter IM.
It was affirmation for Lochte. He had defended his claim that these were going to be his Olympic Games and up until the moment the National Anthem ended, he was right.
After this swim however, Lochte's star faded fast as Phelps once again became the star of the Games. After a disappointing fourth-place finish in the 400 IM, it was all Phelps for the rest of the London Games. He swam a great relay leg as Lochte faltered, leaving the U.S. with a silver not a gold.
Then Lochte failed once again as France's Yannick Agnel and two more swimmers got the best of him, keeping him from the podium in the 200-meter free.
Not medaling in this event was huge not just for Lochte's confidence, but for his own place in Olympic history. Coming into the 2012 London Games, Lochte had done something not even Michael Phelps could do, and that was medal in every event he ever entered in the Olympic Games.
Entering the 200 free he had participated in nine Olympic events from three Olympic Games and had nine medals to show for it. When he walked away from the pool, it was 9-of-10.
It seemed pretty certain at this point that Lochte's star, shining as bright as the trademark sparkling grillz he wore in his mouth in both 2010 and 2011, had dimmed significantly. Talk of him going six-for-six in golds had already been dismissed by the relay silver, but now, talks of him going six-for-six in medals was also washed away. Not to mention, both him and Phelps recorded a fourth-place finish, so the playing field had just about evened in terms of who would rule the London Games.
Then there was the 4x200-free relay, the event that as it turned out, cemented Phelps' legacy and pushed Lochte just further into the shadows.
Relegated from the anchor to the lead off spot, Lochte admitted that going into the 200-meter free, he felt his confidence was down after failing to get it done in the first relay. Going into this relay however, Lochte said he was "back to (himself)."
It certainly showed as he put together a solid starting time, giving it to Conor Dwyer, who then lengthened the lead before passing it to Ricky Berens, who began to pull away before ceding to Phelps, a lead that neither of the men could or would relinquish.
"I told those guys I wanted a big lead," Phelps said. "I was like, 'You better give me a big lead going into the last lap,' and they gave it to me. I just wanted to hold on. I thanked them for being able to allow me to have this moment." - Paul Newberry AP via The Huffington Post
All four of the men, Lochte included, knew that they were playing a role in history. With the relay gold, Phelps, coming off a disappointing silver in the 200-meter fly, had notched 19 medals in his illustrious and storied Olympic career. It passed the former mark of 18 held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.
For Lochte and for Team USA, this was a great moment. As his teammate, he could cheer for Phelps, not worry about competing against him. Well, at least he could do so for a day.
Next up for Lochte was a grueling double which saw him get in the pool for his signature event, the 200-meter back, and then less than 30 minutes later get back in the pool to race Phelps in the 200-meter IM.
He managed to medal in the 200 back, but it wasn't the color the defending world and Olympic champion of this event had hoped for. With a bit of a puzzled and surprised look on his face, Lochte could only sigh when he saw the No. 3 next to his name. A bronze medal—not quite the result the best swimmer in the world in this event had hoped for.
So he smiled for pictures, shook the hands of the IOC officials as they placed the medal around his neck and then did a beeline for the pool to stay warm before his next event began.
This was the one that really mattered—the 200 IM.
Lochte had beaten Phelps in the first IM, but this was the one that Phelps had won at Olympic Trials. When they took the pool, it was neck-and-neck as everyone expected, but on his best stroke, the fly leg, Phelps took a bit of a lead. Lochte started to close, however, and given another 50 or so meters, might have had the distance to track down Phelps.
As it was, Phelps took the gold and Lochte forced a smile as once again he was bested by his rival. Once again, Phelps could stand atop the podium as the greatest swimmer of these and all of his past Olympic Games. Lochte, who claimed the silver, was once again just second best.
So with his Olympic Games over and with five more medals to his name, Lochte by no means had a bad showing. Maybe if you consider expectations placed upon him by others and himself, it wasn't what he wanted, but still, he had one of the best Olympics of all swimmers, Phelps included.
It will be interesting to see what Lochte will do heading into Rio 2016. He has already announced that unlike Phelps, he will be back for the 2016 edition of the Olympic Games, but what events he will swim remains to be seen.
At 28, it was hard enough swimming that 200 back-200 IM double, but at 32, the age he will be in Rio, it seems nearly impossible. Even the training he does—lifting boat chains, flipping tires—it has to be taxing on his body. At 32, it is doubtful he will be able to keep all of this up.
The best bet for Lochte could be to turn to the sprint events, the 50- and 100-meter swims. He also should spread out his events as much as possible. As he told Bob Costas last night as he was interviewed on NBC, he wants to continue to swim for as long as he finds it fun and has every intention of swimming every event his body will allow him.
What that means for Rio? What his body can possibly take?
We will just have to wait and see.
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