Now that the 2012 London Olympics have officially kicked off, swimming fans are in for some thrilling head to head confrontations in the pool. While most intense athletic rivalries tend to occur between athletes representing different countries, in this case, the most exciting showdown is expected to be between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte - Both part of Team USA.
Michael Phelps, the better-known of the two, is the reigning king of swimming. Having taken home eight at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he holds the record for most gold medals won in a single Olympics. Phelps has in total 16 Olympic medals (14 gold and 2 bronze), second only to Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina’s 18. In London, Phelps will be looking to add to his collection and even or break Latynina’s record. However, it will not be easy, thanks to teammate Ryan Lochte.
While the 27-year-old rival swimmer's collection of Olympic medals may not be as impressive as Phelps', the Florida-native is no stranger to winning important races and setting records. In fact, Lochte won two gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is also the current world record holder in the 200-meter Individual Medley (IM). In addition to that, he also took home the gold in the 400 IM at the 2011 World Championships, a victory that was largely overlooked because arch rival Phelps was not present.
Also, while Phelps projects himself as a serious swimmer, Lochte’s penchant to move on to the world of fashion after he is done with swimming, is a well-documented secret. He is known to sport diamond grills over his teeth whilst standing on the winner's podium, as well as, donning his self-designed flashy green and yellow sneakers when walking along the pool deck. But don’t let Lochte’s laid back attitude out of the pool fool you. Once the Florida native steps onto the starting blocks, he is as focused and competitive a swimmer, as Phelps.
This transformation was quite evident last night when the two rivals met in the first of the two races the two will be competing in together - The 400 Individual Medley. Lochte dominated the race right from the beginning and try as he did, Phelps could just not keep up. However, the biggest surprise was not that Lochte took the gold with his 4min 5.18sec picture perfect finish, but that Phelps did not medal at all - Something that has not happened since the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Even Phelps himself appeared stunned at the outcome!
So is the rivalry tilting in Lochte's favor? Not so fast say Phelps fans. For one, the 400 IM was something the swimmer decided to enter and train for just about a year ago, whilst Lochte has been preparing for the event for the last four years. Also, even Lochte admits that this setback will only make Phelps more determined and that the swimmer will come back firing on all cylinders at their next showdown - The 200 IM that is scheduled for later this week. Will this grit be enough to beat his determined teammate who has vowed to 'own' the 2012 Olympics? We shall all have to wait and see!