Ryan Lochte, USA Swimming Get Wake-Up Call as Michael Phelps Era Fades

Alessandro Miglio@@AlexMiglioFeatured ColumnistJuly 30, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 29:  Ryan Lochte of the United States looks on after competing in the Men's 200m Freestyle heat 5 on Day 2 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on July 29, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Ryan Lochte looked ashen when he cost the U.S. Olympic swimming team a gold medal in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay on Sunday in London. That was nothing compared to missing the podium entirely in the 200-meter freestyle a day later.

The 200 free may not be Lochte's best race, but he was the reigning world champion. 

Perhaps Lochte should have waited until his Olympic run was over to fully celebrate. His gold-medal triumph in the 400 individual medley looked like the start of something special, and he went out to celebrate like he was finished racing, not getting to bed until 2 a.m. (per Jason Devaney of NBC Olympics):

After swimming what has to be characterized as the best races of his career last night, Ryan Lochte was totally exhausted this morning.

Can you blame him?

Two failures later, it appears so.

France's Yannick Agnel has been Lochte's demon at these Olympics. After catching the American to capture France's first Olympic gold medal in the 4x100 free relay, Agnel outswam the field in the 200 free, winning by nearly two seconds.

Phelps had a good time in the relay, but his own disastrous failure to medal in the 400 individual medley raised questions about motivation and preparedness

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Lochte and Phelps were supposed to bring home a bunch of gold and silver medals for Team USA. What looked like a sure-fire medal cache by the American men suddenly looks like it could be much smaller and less golden if the last two days of swimming are any indication.

The truth of the matter is that Phelps spoiled us. The reason eight gold medals had never been achieved in a single Games before Beijing was because it was truly an amazing feat. Mark Spitz held the previous record of seven, which was set 40 years ago at the 1972 Munich Games.

Perhaps Lochte and Phelps have gotten in deeper than they should have, entering six and seven events respectively, all with high hopes. They have combined for two medals in three events thus far, a far cry from what was expected from the duo.

They have time to salvage what is shaping up to be a disastrous Olympic run based on expectations, however.

Phelps has four more events and Lochte three, and both are strong in their upcoming races. Lochte is a gold-medal threat in the 200 backstroke, and the U.S. team should have a strong swim in the 4x200 freestyle, while Phelps is still the class of the pool in the 100- and 200-meter butterfly. Both should help the U.S. team swim well in the 4x100 medley relay as well.

Thankfully for Team USA, Matt Grevers, Nick Thoman and Missy Franklin shined in their races after Lochte's failure in the 200 free.

Phelps and Lochte might recapture some of the magic they seem to have lost along the way.

Bitter disappointment awaits otherwise.

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