Yin, yang of Phelps, Lochte
BEIJING -- Sorry, this is no Mozart versus Salieri duel in the pool -- though Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are no strangers to producing international classics.
They get along well, so much so that when Lochte said he wanted to give Phelps grillz for his birthday on June 30 during the U.S. Olympic trials, it was misinterpreted in some quarters as girls. Frankly, girls made more sense than urban teeth bling.
This is more the surfer vibe of Jeff Spicoli, as played by Sean Penn in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” versus the focused Pete Sampras. Phelps could probably rival Sampras with his deep knowledge of ESPN’s programming schedule and probably won’t be borrowing Lochte’s skateboard any time soon.
And so, the yin and yang of swim stars, Phelps and Lochte, will be on full display on the grand platform of the Olympics at the quirky venue known as the Water Cube. Phelps’ march toward the record seven-gold-medal performance by legend Mark Spitz in 1972 starts today with preliminaries of the 400-meter individual medley. He could conceivably win eight gold medals with a hectic program of five individual events and three relays.
“If I look back over the last four years, we did everything we could to prepare ourselves the best way we could for here,” said Phelps, who won eight medals at the Olympics in Athens, six of them gold. “Now it’s time to just get in the water and race.”
Phelps, in an interview last month at training camp at Stanford University, spoke about the legacy of Greece, in terms of what will help him this time in China.
“That was really one of the first times I was getting acclimatized to swimming that program,” he said. “Every race I pretty much went for it. Every semifinal, I went for it. I wasn’t controlling myself and trying to save physical and emotional energy. This time around, I’ve been able to manage my energy, manage my time better. Save what I need for the final.”
The 400 IM is the first event of two scheduled head-to-head confrontations between Phelps and Lochte, the other being the 200 IM. If their last meeting in the 400 IM, at the trials in Omaha, could be considered the appetizer, this race at the Olympics could be one sensational main course considering both went under Phelps’ existing world record in a stroke-for-stroke thriller, with Phelps winning in 4 minutes 5.25 seconds to Lochte’s 4:06.08.
“It’s going to be one of the best events at the Olympics to watch, in any sport,” said breaststroker Eric Shanteau. “Obviously, they’re great swimmers, but they’re plain great racers. When they get back there, you know something special is going to happen.”
Other elements are Lochte’s self-belief and ability to glide under the radar, unlike Phelps. Lochte, the 24-year-old from Daytona Beach, Fla., believes he can beat Phelps and has said as much.
“Honestly? I really don’t feel like swimmers feel like that,” Lochte said. “I bet there are some, but he’s so dominant in everything he swims, most swimmers are trying to get second because they don’t feel like they can beat him.
“That’s definitely not the case with me. I always feel like I can beat him.”
His effort in Omaha came a few weeks after he suffered a sprained left ankle, which curtailed his training and kept him out of the Santa Clara Invitational. Lochte said he hurt it chasing his puppy, but his father told the Miami Herald recently that it happened after a skateboarding trick went awry.
Lochte’s coach, Gregg Troy, had the look of a slightly aggrieved parent at swim practice Friday when asked how he handled the news of the ankle injury. “It’s pretty standard. We have something happen all the time,” he said.
Trying to stop Lochte from being Lochte isn’t the answer either.
“If you do that type of thing, he’s not who he is,” Troy said.