Olympics: Ryan Lochte

Watch: Fatigue a factor for Ryan Lochte?

August, 2, 2012

Did fatigue play a role in Ryan Lochte's second-place finish in the 200-meter IM on Thursday, or was Michael Phelps just the stronger swimmer? ESPN.com's Wayne Drehs and Bonnie D. Ford discuss:


LONDON -- A quick look at the action from the London Aquatics Centre on Thursday night:

End of the road

Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte faced off in the 200-meter individual medley in what is almost certainly the last head-to-head meeting in a rivalry that captivated the world. In a thrilling race that lived up to its billing, Phelps won in 1:54.27, 0.63 seconds faster than Lochte, to earn his 16th Olympic gold medal (and 20th overall) and became the first swimmer to win the same individual event in three straight Summer Games.

The pesky breaststroke leg was the key for Phelps, but he out-split Lochte at every turn.

Both men did a double Thursday night. Lochte took bronze in the 200 backstroke and Phelps qualified first in the 100 butterfly semis just a few minutes after the 200 IM medals ceremony. There will almost certainly be a conversation about whether Lochte took on too many events in London, but that shouldn't diminish Phelps' accomplishment.

Phelps admitted to losing considerable motivation after his eight-gold-medal bonanza in Beijing four years ago, and who knows if he would have found that incentive had it not been for Lochte's emergence and superior performances over much of the past couple of seasons. The question now is whether anyone will be able to push Lochte the way Phelps did.

Breakthrough win

Tyler Clary, so long third fiddle to Lochte and Phelps, bested Lochte in the last 50 meters to win the 200 backstroke in an Olympic-record time of 1:53.41, while Lochte faded to third. Clary pointed to the sky after he touched the wall, a tribute to his late club coach in Fullerton, Calif., Kevin Perry.

Rebecca's Soni day

After setting a world record in Wednesday's 200 breaststroke semifinal, two-time defending Olympic champion Rebecca Soni bettered it by 0.41 seconds to become the first woman to repeat in the event.

Best of the rest

For Jessica Hardy, it was almost enough just to be there. Hardy, who was denied the chance to compete four years ago after a tainted supplement led to a positive doping test, didn't even expect to qualify in the 100 freestyle at the U.S. trials (she began her career as a breaststroker), yet she still made the final here and finished eighth. Missy Franklin, meanwhile, came in fifth in an event that is not her strongest. The two U.S. men in the 50 freestyle, Cullen Jones and Anthony Ervin, qualified for Friday night's finals in first and third position, respectively.

LONDON -- No matter what happens in the London Aquatics Centre pool Thursday night, one thing is almost certain: We are bound to see something we will never see again.
The flashbulb-inducing moment will come in the 200-meter individual medley final, where the two biggest stars in American swimming, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, will go head-to-head for likely the last time.

Phelps has said he plans to retire after these Games and insisted there will be no change-of-heart comeback in 2016. And after Thursday, although the duo will join forces in the 4x100 medley relay Saturday, only Phelps has an individual event remaining (100 butterfly); in terms of head-to-head matchups between the two American heavyweights, Thursday night will be it.

"We're going to race each other, and we're going to race each other hard," Phelps said. "It could be one of the races like trials where it comes down to the touch."

At the U.S. Olympic trials in June, Phelps edged Lochte by .09 of a second to win the 200 IM. It was one of his three victories against Lochte in four events. But his combined margin of victory in those races was a mere 0.3 of a second. The story in London has been a different one. Broken down into 50-meter splits, Lochte has been faster than Phelps 11 out of 12 times they've been in the pool at the same time.

For Phelps, Thursday night's final is an opportunity for payback after losing to Lochte by more than seven seconds in their 400 IM showdown that kicked off the Olympic swimming program Sunday night. For Lochte, it's yet another chance to prove he is far more than Robin to Phelps' Batman.

"We love racing each other," Phelps said. "Neither one of us wants to lose."

Both swimmers have had a roller coaster of a week. After Lochte sent jaws dropping with his dominant 400 IM win, he was caught on the anchor leg of the 4x100 freestyle relay and then finished fourth in a deep field in Monday's 200 freestyle final. Afterward, Lochte's closest friend on the U.S. team, Cullen Jones, said he could tell the star wasn't himself.

"You have to know him really well to know he's down," Jones said. "He plays it off really well. You can tell he's lying through his teeth, or at least I can. But he's going to be all right. He's fine."

Lochte bounced back Wednesday, turning in the top preliminary and semifinal swims of the 200 IM and the second-fastest semifinal swim in the 200 back.

Phelps' week hasn't been any smoother. After failing to reach the podium in the 400 IM, he finished second in the 200 butterfly for the first time at a major international meet in 12 years. After winning eight gold medals four years ago in Beijing, he has stood atop the medal podium only once in London. That came in the 4x200 free relay, a victory that gave Phelps his record 19th Olympic medal.

The key Thursday night will be how well Phelps keeps up with Lochte on his weakest stroke, the breaststroke. Wednesday night, Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, was less than pleased with Phelps' breaststroke in the semifinals of the 200 IM and told his swimmer as much, prompting the latest bit of tension between the teacher and pupil who have worked together for more than 15 years.

"I yell at him about his breaststroke, and he gets mad and goes home in a pout," Bowman said afterward. "It wasn't yelling. He would say yelling. I said, 'Could you please get your breaststroke together so we can do the time you want to do in the final?' He said, 'Is there anything else I can do, boss?' I said, 'Yeah, I have a whole list of things, but right now I'm just concentrating on breaststroke.'"

Phelps' time of 1:57.11 in the semifinals has him seeded third, .98 of a second behind top-seeded Lochte. Lochte set the world record in the event during last year's world championships in Shanghai, becoming the first swimmer to set a world record after the banning of high-performance suits.

"Last night, I think Ryan and I both just wanted to get through," Phelps said. "That was pretty obvious."

Lochte will be challenged Thursday, as he is scheduled to swim the final of the 200 backstroke 31 minutes before his showdown with Phelps. Phelps, too, has another swim Thursday night (100 butterfly), but it's a semifinal heat that comes after the 200 IM.

Phelps is hoping a few minor mechanical tweaks will set himself up for victory.

"I think last night going into my breaststroke turn I was pretty slow," he said. "I wasn't really using my kickouts enough, so there are some small things I can do."

While Lochte was off Thursday morning, Phelps swam in the 100 fly prelims. He was in last place at 50 meters but came charging back to win in 51.71 seconds, the second-fastest time of the morning. He mentioned afterward it was the last preliminary swim of his career.

Thursday night will mark another ending, and everyone will be watching.

LONDON -- A quick look at the top stories from London Aquatics Centre on Wednesday night:

Marquee man

For the first time since Matt Biondi in 1988, an American man won one of the marquee events of the Olympic swimming program, the 100-meter freestyle. In a dramatic, come-from-behind victory, Nathan Adrian out-touched James Magnusson by one one-hundredth of a second to win gold.

At the 50-meter mark, Adrian was in third place by .04 seconds behind world-record holder Cesar Cielo of Brazil and Brent Hayden of Canada. But on the back half it became a race between Adrian and Magnusson, with Adrian reaching and touching the wall first. Adrian finished in 47.52 and Magnusson in 47.53.

After touching the wall, Adrian turned to look at the scoreboard, saw the "1" next to his name and unleashed an enormous smile. He then held his head in his hands as he began to cry.

Phelps versus Lochte, Part II

Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte have said that when they're in the pool at the same time, neither one wants to lose. So even though Wednesday night's 200 individual medley was merely a semifinal, an appetizer for Thursday night's main event, it still meant something. A lot, in fact.

It was further proof that if Phelps wants to beat Lochte, he'll need to figure out a way to get out in front of his rival during the butterfly and backstroke legs. On Wednesday, Phelps held a .06-second advantage midway through the race before Lochte overtook Phelps on the breaststroke and then pulled away on the freestyle, winning by more than a second. Lochte's final time of 1:56.13 was the fastest in the semifinals. Phelps' 1:57.11 was third. Laszlo Cseh of Hungary was second (1:56.74) and has a chance to spoil the Phelps-Lochte party.

Phelps will have one advantage Thursday: He will be fully rested, while Lochte will be coming off an earlier final in the 200 backstroke.

The new leading ladies

Missy Franklin said Wednesday morning that one of the highlights of her Olympics has been receiving congratulatory tweets from two of her favorite singers, Justin Bieber and Scotty McCreery.

After her performance Wednesday night, she may be in line for more Twitter love. Franklin entered the 100 freestyle semis with the seventh-fastest preliminary time but sped through Lane 7 during the semis in 54.26, the third-fastest semifinal time of the night.

A little less than two hours later, she led off the Americans' winning 4x200 freestyle relay, giving Franklin, Allison Schmitt and Dana Vollmer their second gold medal of these Games. Shannon Vreeland won her first gold as part of the relay.

But it was Schmitt who stole the show, turning a half-second deficit into a 1.49-second, Olympic-record victory (7:44.41). With Schmitt being just 20 years old and Franklin 17, the future of the U.S. women's swim team appears bright.

LONDON -- A quick look at the top stories from the London Aquatics Centre on Tuesday night:

An unlikely path to history

Although Michael Phelps had never come right out and said it, most believed he came back to London with his eye on becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time. He needed two medals to tie and three to pass Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina, who won 18 medals from 1956 to 1964. On Tuesday night, Phelps passed Latynina, but did so in surprising fashion.

Phelps hadn't lost in his signature event, the 200-meter butterfly, at a major individual competition since 2000. But in Tuesday's final, he was out-touched at the wall after leading the entire race, losing to South Africa's Chad le Clos by .05 seconds. Le Clos, who swam the event in 1:52.96, described his victory as "the greatest moment of my life." Phelps entered the race with the top eight times in the 200 fly, as well as the top time this year. Le Clos' previous personal best was 1:54.34. While a sour-faced Phelps stood to receive his silver medal, le Clos was overcome with emotion.

Phelps' smile would return later in the night, though, as he, Ryan Lochte, Conor Dwyer and Ricky Berens helped the U.S. win gold in the 4x200 free relay, beating France by more than three seconds. Phelps swam the anchor leg and was all smiles after the race when it was announced to the crowd that he set the mark for the most medals ever by an Olympian.

Golden girl

Lost in the wake of Missy Franklin's rise to stardom this year has been the emergence of another young American swimmer, Allison Schmitt. Schmitt took a year off at the University of Georgia to train at the North Baltimore Athletic Club with Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, and she saw the ultimate results of that choice, winning Olympic gold Tuesday for the first time in the 200 freestyle.

"I couldn't be happier," Schmitt said. "I couldn't see anything other than the racer next to me, so I didn't know where I was or what the time was."

Schmitt was in fourth place after the first 50, but took control from there, blowing away a field that included world-record holder Federica Pellegrini, as well as Franklin, and cruising to the wall nearly two seconds faster than France's Camille Muffat, who finished second. Schmitt's time (1:53.61) was an Olympic record, nearly a second faster than her previous best and the second-fastest time in the event.

Silencing her critics ... or adding to them?

China's Ye Shiwen must have the thickest skin of any 16-year-old girl in the world. With a swirl of controversy surrounding her stunning success here this week, she won her second gold of the week, using yet another blistering split in her freestyle leg to win the 200-meter individual medley in an Olympic record 2:07.57.

Shiwen turned at 150 meters in third place, more than a second behind American Caitlin Leverenz, but then looked like she was shot out of a rocket on her last 50, beating Australia's Alicia Coutts by more than a half second to win.

Earlier Tuesday, her father criticized the Western media for suggesting Shiwen's success might be chemically enhanced. He told Chinese media outlet Tencent: "The Western media has always been arrogant and suspicious of Chinese people."

China's anti-doping chief also chimed in, insisting it isn't right for people to single out Chinese swimmers who produce good results. "We never questioned Michael Phelps when he bagged eight gold medals in Beijing," he told state news agency Xinhua.

LONDON -- Michael Phelps knew the drill all too well. Two nights earlier, he had stood in the same spot, in the same interview area, and answered questions about what went wrong, why he failed and whether or not his confidence was shaken.

Phelps had finished fourth in his much-anticipated showdown with Ryan Lochte in the 400-meter individual medley, failing to win gold in his first Olympic final in eight years.

On Monday night, it was Lochte who had seemingly disappointed, finishing fourth in the men's 200 freestyle final, an event he had won a year earlier at the world championships.

So what went wrong? With a deep field featuring five of the fastest times in 2012, Lochte said he miscalculated and took the swim out too fast.

"I'm a back-half swimmer, but I knew if I wanted to be in the race, I'd have to go out fast," he said. "But I guess I did take it out a little too fast. I'll live and learn, and hopefully next time that mistake won't happen. At this level, you have to put everything into it. You can't hold back. I put everything into it and I guess it wasn't there."

If you were looking for disappointment or frustration, panic or worry, you weren't going to find it, Lochte said. Phelps, of course, understood. On the bus ride over to the pool Monday, he told a USA Swimming staffer he thought it would take a high 1-minute, 43-second time to win the event. Lochte's fastest time in the 200 free was the 1:44.44 he swam to win gold at last year's worlds in Shanghai. For Lochte to get a 1:43 on Monday night, Phelps said he suggested his teammate rely on one of his strengths, his underwater abilities.

Phelps defeated Lochte at the U.S. trials in Omaha, Neb., by 0.05 but announced the day after trials he wouldn't swim the event in London.

"It's a tough race," Phelps said. "I thought it was going to be 43 high, but that was an incredible swim. A race like that is tough to come off of, but Ryan is a great racer. He's a champion. He's going to be able to build off that, and put a lot of energy and focus into the races he has left."

Lochte seemed characteristically unfazed. A night after getting caught by France's Yannick Agnel in the final leg of the 4x100 freestyle relay, Lochte lost to Agnel again in the 200 free. But as he walked through the media interview area, Lochte was more focused on watching Missy Franklin's swim in the 100 backstroke final than he was panicking about what he needed to fix.

"Whatever happened last night, happened last night. You have to get over it and move on," he said. "Whatever happened tonight ... I have a couple of more races left. Just have to forget about it and move on."

As for Phelps, he had an interesting moment of his own Monday, admitting he tried to peek up at the scoreboard halfway through his 200 fly semifinal heat to see his split.

"That's not really like me," he said. "But I knew we were all together."

Phelps said his goal was to swim a "controlled race." He won his heat with a time of 1:54.53 and will be seeded fourth for Tuesday night's final. American teammate Tyler Clary's time of 1:54.93 has him seeded fifth.

"I'm fine with that," Phelps said. "Some of these guys close really well. I just wanted to set myself up [to not be] in Lane 8, move myself to the middle."

Lochte's next swim will come Tuesday in the men's 4x200-meter relay. His next individual swim comes Wednesday, when he will again square off against Phelps in the preliminary and possibly semifinal heats of the 200 individual medley. The final is Thursday night.

LONDON -- So perhaps we all got a bit ahead of ourselves. Perhaps the billboards, articles and interviews were a bit much. Or maybe they all should have just come with an asterisk.

Because that Saturday night 400-meter individual medley showdown between Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps the world has been hyping for months? It came within seven hundredths of a second of never happening. That's how close Phelps came to not qualifying for the final.

Phelps and coach Bob Bowman have been raving all week about how strong Phelps looked in training, but his 4:13.33 time barely edged out Hungary's Laszlo Cseh, the 2008 silver medalist, and sent Phelps to the last spot of the 400 IM final.

Lochte, who appeared to coast for the last 25 meters, finished second in his heat and third overall, with a time of 4:12.35.

But the story was Phelps almost starting his last Olympics in disastrous fashion.

"I don't know," Phelps said after his swim. "That one didn't feel too good. I think the only thing that matters is getting a spot. You can't win the gold medal in the morning."

Phelps' comments came before the final heat had finished. At the time, he said he thought he would be seeded fourth or fifth in the final. Instead, he is seeded eighth and will swim out of the dreaded Lane 8. Most swimmers will tell you it's far more challenging to win a race from the outside lanes as the water is less smooth and you're unable to see most of the top competition. That's why top-seeded swimmers are usually in Lanes 4 and 5.

But don't think for a minute that Lochte or top-seeded Kosuke Hagino (4:10.01) from Japan will overlook Phelps.

"You know what, it's hard, it's a tough field," Lochte said after his heat. "But he's in, so you can't count him out. Even though he just squeaked in eighth place, he's a racer. We're going to do everything we can to go 1-2 tonight."

Not since 1992 has an American man not stood atop the medal podium in the 400 IM. And in the history of the event, dating back to 1964, the U.S. has failed to finish in one of the top two spots just once, in 1984.

Phelps could become the first swimmer in history to win gold in the same event in three straight Olympics, but that now appears to be a long shot. (Japan's Kosuke Kitajima, who finished with the second-fastest preliminary time in the 100 breaststroke Saturday morning has to be considered the favorite to accomplish that feat in the final of the event Sunday night.)

One theory: Swimming stroke-for-stroke with defending silver medalist Cseh, who was in the lane next to him, Phelps could have had a false sense of confidence that he was OK timewise, not realizing the slower pace. Phelps trailed Cseh going into the final 100 meters but caught him during the freestyle segment to win his heat. If he hadn't, we really would have had an opening day shocker.

"I don't know," Phelps said. "I just wanted to try to get some good underwaters, get some good turns, carry my speed. A final spot is a final spot."

Lochte was equally unhappy with his results. "It didn't feel so good, but that was my first race," he said. "My first race is always my worst. I'm glad I got the cobwebs out."

One American who didn't have any trouble getting a spot in the next round of her event was Dana Vollmer, who set an Olympic and American record with a time of 56.25 in the 100 butterfly prelims. At the Olympic trials in Omaha, Neb., Vollmer said she has her eyes set on becoming the first woman to swim the 100 fly in less than 56 seconds, and it appears that goal might become a reality. Vollmer was 0.66 seconds under world-record pace at the turn. She'll swim in the semis of the event Saturday night, and the finals are scheduled for Sunday night.

"I'm always more nervous for my first swim than the rest," she said. "To start off that fast is really a confidence booster."

Watch: T.J. Quinn on Phelps-Lochte rivalry

July, 26, 2012

ESPN's T.J. Quinn discusses the Michael Phelps-Ryan Lochte rivalry, why Phelps held his own news conference and the mood before the Opening Ceremonies.

OMAHA, Neb. -- Rookie Olympic men's coach Gregg Troy of the University of Florida started his tenure off with a bang Monday night, as four swimmers with Gators connections punched their tickets to London.

The famous Gator "chomp" was visible in the stands as student-athletes and post-graduate club swimmers who compete for the Gators Swim Club bared their competitive teeth.

Troy was "coach of the day," said his veteran counterpart Jon Urbanchek, the ex-University of Michigan coach who is wrapping up his career with the Fullerton Aquatics Sports Team (FAST).

Ryan Lochte, UF class of 2007, kicked things off with a drubbing of rival Michael Phelps in the 400-meter individual medley. Triple Olympic medalist Peter Vanderkaay, who trains alongside Lochte at the club, qualified first in the 400 freestyle, followed by teammate Conor Dwyer. Student-athlete Elizabeth Beisel bookended the evening by finishing first in the 400 IM, the event she won at last year's world championships.

"I think it's a true testament to [Troy's] coaching and a testament to the program," she said. "The first three [trials winners] happen to be three Gators, and he is the best coach in the world. I'm so fortunate to be able to swim for him. It's not always fun, but we make it fun, and we work really hard, and it's nice that it's all paying off."

Troy demurred at the notion of taking credit. "It's all them," he said.

"We've got a pretty close team. They're all into what one another does. I actually think what the guys did in the 400 hurt Elizabeth in the IM. She got distracted a little bit. Ryan winning the first event sets a little bit of a tone, for sure."

Said Lochte: "Like I said earlier, this is our time. We put in the work and I guess we're just ready and we just went out there ... it started with me and we're a team, and feeding off each other and helping each other throughout the meet."

OMAHA, Neb. -- Though his top time in this morning's preliminary heat for the 400-meter individual medley was more than four seconds faster than Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte knows it won't be that easy Monday night.

"That was the easiest 4:14 that he's ever done, that I've ever seen in the whole entire world," Lochte said. "It looked really, really smooth. Tonight is definitely going to be a dogfight, and it's not just me and Michael; it's Tyler Clary too."

The top two finishers in Monday night's final will be the first two members named to the U.S. team that will head to London next month.

Though he insists his body is not yet in top swimming form, Lochte won his heat with a time of 4:10.66. Phelps won the third-to-last heat in 4:14.72, just one second off his trials prelim time before Beijing in 2008.

"I knew I couldn't let anybody get close," Phelps said.

Clary, seeded second in the event, logged the fourth-best time of the morning with 4:15.88. He has said his goal in the final is 4:08.

"As you could probably tell from the last 100, I was just chilling out this morning, seeing what everyone else was gonna do,'' Clary said. "Backstroke felt good. I want to negative split my breaststroke [in the final]."

Lochte was scheduled to swim in the 400-meter freestyle Monday, but he said after the 400 IM that he wouldn't swim the event and that it was just a backup in case he "messed up" in the IM.

"Good thing I didn't mess up," he said.

There had been much suspense leading up to Monday as to whether Phelps would swim the event. After Beijing, he said he'd never swim the IM again. Over the weekend, Lochte predicted Phelps would swim the event at trials, while Clary suggested he wouldn't. Phelps said after Monday's prelims he had known for a while that he'd be swimming.

"It'll be a more interesting race now," Clary said. "It doesn't change my game plan. All I can do is control myself."

Michael PhelpsAP Photo/Mark HumphreyMichael Phelps wasn't taking the bait Saturday when reporters asked about the 400IM race.

OMAHA, Neb. -- The U.S. Olympic swim trials are starting with a cliffhanger before a single drop of water is displaced. And Michael Phelps isn't about to spoil it.

Phelps is entered in Monday's 400-meter individual medley, the first race of the meet. He is the two-time defending Olympic champion in the event and has held the world record since 2002, breaking his own mark seven times since. He said he wanted no part of the four-minute-plus meat grinder after the 2008 Olympics, but later changed his mind and has raced it several times this season.

The IM would kick off the widely anticipated serial showdown between Phelps and rival Ryan Lochte in dramatic fashion, and Phelps' former University of Michigan teammate Tyler Clary has said he's confident he can finish in the top two.

Yet not everyone is convinced Phelps is actually going to take the plunge.

"We've got a couple hours to decide, right?" Phelps said, spreading his hands wide and smiling mischievously. "In 24 hours, you guys will know."

He wouldn't even take the bait on my follow-up question about when he'll shave his bushy mustache. "I can't give that away," he said. "If I shave tomorrow, that would mean I'm swimming the 400 IM. It'll come off when the rest of my body hair comes off."

Swimmers have until early Sunday evening to scratch from Monday morning's events.

Clary said he doesn't expect Phelps to swim, "but stranger things have happened."

Clary, who broke Phelps' American record in the short-course 400-yard IM in 2009, is seeded second in the event behind Lochte and ahead of Phelps. He theorized that the 400 IM might not fit in with the rest of Phelps' goals, and said the 16-time Olympic medalist knows he can pass on it without hurting the U.S. team.

"It's not going to change what I do in the pool on Monday night, whether or not he's in it," Clary said. "I'm gonna throw down and swim the best race I've got."

Lochte, the reigning world champion in the event, said simply, "I sure hope he is," when asked to predict whether Phelps will be on deck for the preliminary heats. "He's the world's best swimmer, ever. I love racing against him. It's fun."

Phelps has raced the 400 IM several times this season, edging Clary at the Indianapolis Grand Prix and winning the event in Austin earlier this month without either Lochte or Clary in the field.

Lochte-PhelpsAP Photo/Mark HumphreyRyan Lochte and Michael Phelps could face off as many as six times at the U.S. trials.

OMAHA, Neb. -- Some 48 hours before the culmination of their highly anticipated showdown at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, the two greatest swimmers in the world shared a moment here Saturday afternoon.

It wasn't much. A handshake. A half-hug. A how-are-you. Then, Ryan Lochte, with his lime-green backpack, and Michael Phelps, with his bushy moustache, were on their way. But the five-second exchange, sandwiched between two 30-minute sessions of Lochte and Phelps talking about beating each other, made for compelling theatre.

For this is the headline story of next week's trials. Sure, the main goal is to take 1,829 qualified swimmers and fill 52 U.S. slots for London, but the majority of questions that filled the interview room Saturday were about the Lochte-Phelps rivalry and just who is going to come out on top this summer.

Just as compelling as their brief interaction was what the two superstars had to say. Up first was the cool and confident Lochte, reminding everyone yet again that he feels like this is "his time." He added that he loves his rivalry with Phelps and believes the interest surrounding the two of them butting heads this summer could potentially "change the sport."

Then came the ultra-calm Phelps, coyly refusing to say whether or not he'll swim Monday's 400 IM, insisting he's trying to enjoy his final Olympic run and selling the narrative of being an underdog. Yes, an underdog.

"He's the world-record holder, the world champion in a couple events," Phelps said of Lochte. "He has been lighting up the last couple of years in the swimming world. I guess you could say people are trying to catch him."

Whether or not this is what Phelps truly thinks, you can believe it's what coach Bob Bowman has been telling him. When asked at the end of his press conference if Lochte's confidence affects him, Phelps admitted it does serve as added motivation. He hears what people say, he sees what they type on Twitter, when they tag him and Lochte, and he often finds it "frustrating."

Phelps compared it to 2003, when Australian coach Don Talbot said the American was unproven; or in 2008, when another Aussie, Ian Thorpe, said winning eight gold medals could not be done, it was impossible. Now it's Lochte providing a little added inspiration with Phelps refusing to fire back.

"I've never once said anything publicly. I never will," Phelps said. "That's not how I am. I let the swimming do whatever talking it needs to, has to, will do, whatever. That's how I've been [in] my career and that's how I'm going to finish it. A lot of people can talk the talk, but they can't walk the walk."

When asked Saturday who the best swimmer was at this meet, Lochte deferred. With Lochte currently entered in 11 events this week and Phelps seven, the pair could potentially go up against each other as many as six times. Scratches are likely, but there's no question all eyes will be on both of them anytime they're together on deck.

"I'm just going to have to let that swimming talk this week, and then next week you guys can decide who is best," Lochte said.

At the 2009 swimming world championships in Rome, the suits overshadowed the athletes who inhabited them.

Those second skins that incorporated buoyant polyurethane -- simply referred to as "rubber suits" by the swimmers -- could take a half-hour or more to wriggle into, a worthwhile endeavor because they slashed precious seconds from personal bests. World records tumbled. Many in the sport protested, while some contended that technology should be allowed to progress unimpeded.

The many prevailed, and the controversial suits were banned by FINA, swimming's world governing body. Over the past two seasons, the athletes have inched toward the rubber-aided records wearing more conventional "textile" suits, and this year the ultra-talented Ryan Lochte punched through the fabric wall and broke the world record in the 200-meter individual medley.

[+] EnlargeRyan Lochte
Getty ImagesRyan Lochte says any improvements he makes in his races will be by his efforts, not his apparel.

So when eight Americans and one Canadian swimmer stalked onto a runway in Manhattan on Wednesday wearing new Speedo gear that meets the current rules but also comes with the promise of better biomechanical efficiency, it was hard to sort out what that meant. Where is the line between performance-enhancing and performance-optimizing? Will future records forever be linked to fashion eras, with invisible asterisks dotting the archives?

"The only thing I'll say to that is this -- the suit can't swim itself," said three-time world championship medalist Tyler Clary, the individual-medley standout and former swimmer for the Michigan Wolverines. "You still have to put in the training. You still have to have the mental aptitude to put together a race. The suits can't and never will take that away from somebody until you start putting in a living bio-exo-skeleton."

Athletes like Clary are clearly offended by the idea that they are mere passengers on a high-tech train, but they also want to believe they are competing with state-of-the-art apparel. The Speedo Fastskin3 -- debuted around the world Wednesday and billed as a "system" that integrates the design of suit, goggles and cap -- is the latest attempt at achieving that balance.

The woven suit still requires considerable effort to tug on but is made of permeable material that compresses key parts of a swimmer's body to streamline it. Minus the option of full body coverage, now limited by FINA rules, Speedo designers turned their attention to reducing the drag caused by accessories.

The new goggles are said to be more hydro-dynamic and permit peripheral vision, an innovation especially valued by backstrokers, who often have trouble gauging where their competition is because they're facing the sky or the ceiling and are screened by splashing. It will come into play underwater, too. Michael Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, speculated the 16-time Olympic medalist would save valuable fractions of seconds because he won't be tempted to turn his head to look at his rivals when he pushes off the wall on a turn.

Athletes with long tresses stand to benefit from a "hair management system" (and who among us couldn't use that on a given day?) in the form of a tight-fitting, cloth do-rag imprinted with arrows that show how to pack hair into a streamlined bun on the nape of the neck. A slick, thicker cap layers over that.

Natalie Coughlin demonstrated for reporters, dividing her nearly waist-length hair into two hanks which then magically disappeared under the cloth cap. She likened the resulting shape of her head to the tapered helmet worn by cyclists.

"The drag we have in the pool is similar to 60 or 70 mph on land," the 11-time Olympic medalist said. "So if you're driving down the highway and you stick your hand outside, going from having your hand turned flat out to turning your hand just the slightest increment will make the biggest difference. And that's what swimming is about, finding those places where you can shave time."

The swimmers who strutted their stuff Wednesday are all sponsored by Speedo, and several of them have participated in the development and testing process over the past four years. They praised the gear for comfort and its potential contribution to their success, as would be expected. Those compliments could be tested soon; the swimwear is approved for competition starting Jan. 1, and several athletes said they plan to don it for the Austin Grand Prix event later that month.

However, when it comes time for the Olympic trials in late June and the London Olympics a month later, anyone, regardless of sponsorship, will be able to race in the Fastskin3. Speedo president Jim Gerson said the company will provide it on request to any swimmer and he does not anticipate the supply crunch that ensued at the same juncture with the first generation of high-tech suits in 2008.

The bottom line: Once swimmers take their marks, they can't afford to fixate on what they're wearing, negatively or positively. Freestyle sprinter Nathan Adrian said what he most values is feeling that he's not behind when he steps up to the starting blocks.

"I choose to race in the best suit given what the rules are," he said.

Lochte said he thinks he'll break his 200 IM record, but emphasized he wants to correct the infinitesimal mistakes he made in that swim rather than leaning on an advantage conferred by apparel.

"It's the swimmer propelling the suit and not the other way around," Coughlin said firmly. "It's an Olympic year; people are training very well and this is what all of us have dreamt about and focused on, so people are going to be fast, regardless. Give us a baby pool and we'll figure out a way to be fast."

Watch: Inside The Edge with Ryan Lochte

June, 14, 2011

Ryan Lochte on training for the Olympics: