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By John Lohn
OMAHA, Nebraska, June 30. WHAT Ryan Lochte pulled off at the United States Olympic Trials on Saturday night wasn't unusual by his standards. As has been the case numerous times during his career, he contested a triple, racing three events in one session. What was different, however, was the magnitude of the feat.
Lochte is more than accustomed to dealing with grueling workouts. In the pool, he's regularly beaten down by the training regimens put together by coach Gregg Troy, the man who will guide the United States Men's Olympic Team in London. On land, he's routinely pounded by the strongman workouts designed by his strength coach, Matt DeLancey.
Regardless of the nature of the pain infliction, Lochte works his way through the hurt. The 27-year-old has long been aware of the potential payoff — an Olympic performance of Phelpsian stature. On the sixth night of the Olympic Trials, Lochte took advantage of his energy reserve to wow the crowd of 14,000-plus at the CenturyLink Center.
Contesting three races in the span of one hour, Lochte opened with a victory in the 200 backstroke (1:54.54), then placed second behind Michael Phelps in the 200 individual medley. For good measure, the Gator Swim Club star secured a berth in the championship final of the 100 butterfly by tying for sixth in the semifinals. It was a spectacular showing by a guy who will be one of the stars of the London Games, alongside Phelps, his longtime rival.
Managing a hefty schedule was always a focus of Lochte, although it was never quite clear how many events he would actually race. He's taken this week on a day-by-basis, making decisions with Troy that made the most sense. That approach was evident when Lochte addressed the issue of his program at a pre-meet press conference.
“In 2008, Michael Phelps set the limit, eight world records and eight gold medals,” Lochte said. “That's amazing. But he's human. He's not a fish or anything like that. He's just like all of us, and he trained really hard to get there. So I know it's possible, and I know eight is possible. I'm not going for a number. The reason why I swim is because I love swimming. I love to race. I'm going to step on the blocks and race as many times as my body can handle. I don't know if that will be one or it could be eleven. We'll just have to wait and see.”
Lochte's schedule is not unprecedented, as Phelps tackled the same program at the 2004 Olympic Trials in Long Beach. When Phelps tripled, he took second place behind Aaron Peirsol in the 200 backstroke, won the 200 individual medley and prevailed in his heat of the 100 butterfly. After the meet, Phelps dropped the 200 back from his program.
There was some buzz among media members and fans about Lochte's decision, with many of those individuals surprised by his choice to triple up. Why? Both championship finals in which he participated preceded the 100 fly, which gave Lochte a freeroll at the event. More, Lochte did have some quality time — 30 minutes to be exact — between the conclusion of the 200 medley and the start of the fly, where he had to do nothing more than finish in the top eight in order to advance to the final.
Since winning four individual gold medals at last summer's World Championships in Shanghai, Lochte has been building for his triple challenge. That preparation could be seen during the Grand Prix season, where a broken-down Lochte often competed in three events per session. Placement was never the concern during those Grand Prix meets. Instead, the focus was all about grooming Lochte for bigger moments.
While Lochte was able to handle the triple at the Olympic Trials, he was rightfully exhausted at the end of the session, evident when he walked off the deck gasping for air and with a hand on his hip. Repeating the task will be much more difficult at the Olympic Games. Sure, he'll be the favorite to win the 200 backstroke, but getting past a fresh Phelps in the 200 medley will be one heck of a chore. Meanwhile, getting through the semifinals of the 100 fly will be like negotiating a mine field. Already this year, 10 men have gone faster than the 52-second mark.
Lochte, though, loves a challenge, and this is one of the biggest tests the sport has seen.
“Tonight was probably the most pain I have ever endured in a swimming competition,” Lochte said.
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