Michael Phelps departed the mixed zone, leaving behind four words.
“Losses always motivate me,” he said.
Words rarely uttered by Phelps because the losses happen so infrequently, and certainly not in the individual medley events.
But long-time rival Ryan Lochte not only upset Phelps in the 200-meter individual medley, he did so in a decisive manner, winning in 1 minute 54.84 seconds at the U.S. national championships in Irvine on Friday night.
Phelps was second in 1:55.94 and Tyler Clary third in 1:59.19. It was the first time Lochte beat Phelps in a major national or international meet.
“That hurt, holy crap,” Phelps said. “I was saying to Ryan when we were sitting in the pool, I was like, ‘Dude, I think about 20 meters left, I just saw you pass me like I was standing still.’ I kind of ran into a brick wall.”
Said Lochte: “I’ve beaten him before, but this is my first, I guess, like, big national meet. It feels good.”
Phelps’ winning streak in championship races in the 200 individual medley (long-course meters) had stood at 38, and he had defeated Lochte 17 straight times.
Phelps had been aiming for the 1:55 range but didn’t quite expect his body to shut down the way it did. Lochte took the lead on the breaststroke leg and put down the hammer on the freestyle leg.
“Just physically I felt like my body shut down,” Phelps said. “My legs, and I felt like I couldn’t turn over my arms. When I came off the wall, I tried to do an underwater kick and it really didn’t work so well. I was just hoping the wall was going to come as fast as it could.”
Not only did Lochte pull off an impressive double — he placed second in the strong 100 freestyle field about 35 minutes before the grueling individual medley.
“I mean, I wish I didn’t do the 100 free before because I think I could have gone a lot faster in the 200 IM,” said Lochte, who holds the world record in this event, having won it last year at the world championships.
Lochte thought about scratching from the individual medleys because he had been unable to practice his breaststroke because of an injured groin. “I’ve been babying it for almost a month now,” Lochte said. “I think it’s just rested.”
Phelps was funny when he was asked about Lochte’s fitness level. “He always says that, man,” Phelps said. “He always says something’s wrong or he’s not going to swim well. He always gets up and does something. Ryan is always someone who is going to overcome something.
“I wouldn’t say he’s sandbagging…. You can always count on him putting up a good time — no matter what state he’s in.”
Other winners were Nathan Adrian in the 100 freestyle (48.41), Elizabeth Beisel in the 200 backstroke (2:08.50) and Kathleen Hersey in the 200 butterfly (2:07.00).
Local star and Olympian Jason Lezak put in an inspiring performance, tying for third in the 100 freestyle with Garrett Weber-Gale, and made the Pan Pacific team, an impressive feat, at 34, no less.
He tired down the stretch and was asked how the finish felt. ‘“How did it look? I tried to hold my stroke and felt it kind of falling apart,” Lezak said.
Adrian, on whether he could fathom swimming as long as Lezak:
“No, honestly. I mean, I have thought about it and in his position, he was my age 10 years back. And 10 years back for me was 11 years old. And I can’t remember that.”
Adrian is 21, though, not 24. So he is 13 years younger than Lezak. But you get the idea … Lezak’s longevity is impressive.