Battle of the Titans Brewing: Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte in 2012; Lohn Lineups for 100 Breaststroke

Column by John Lohn, Swimming World senior writer

BASKING RIDGE, New Jersey, November 21. WE all know the biggest storyline heading into the 2012 Olympic Games in London will be the head-to-head showdowns between Michael Phelps, he of 16 Olympic medals, and Ryan Lochte, the man looking to unseat Phelps as Mr. Olympia. They're expected to clash in at least the 200 freestyle and 200 individual medley, events Lochte captured at last summer's World Championships in Shanghai.

At the recent Minnesota Grand Prix, Phelps produced some of the best November times of his career en route to five victories. Lochte, meanwhile, turned in pedestrian times by his standards. Of course, these opposite-end-of-the-spectrum performances have everything to do with where each man stands in his training cycle.

Lochte, who captured four individual gold medals at the World Champs, is hell bent on retaining the title he has held the past two years: Top swimmer in the world. He earned that honor with a flourish at the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships, then solidified his status in Shanghai. The key, though, is delivering on the biggest stage, known as the Olympics.

While Phelps and Bob Bowman are grinding out workouts in Baltimore, Lochte is undergoing his torture by Gregg Troy in Gainesville. He didn't take a break after his World Champs show, a decision Lochte is glad to have undertaken.

"I'm probably in the best physical shape of my entire career," Lochte said in an interview with Swimming World at the Eastern States Clinic. "After Worlds, I didn't take a break. I went into hard training and the practices I've been doing, I haven't done this much work since I trained distance my freshman year of college. This summer should be interesting."

Ryan Lochte's Clinic Interview

In his interview with Swimming World, Lochte indicated that Troy wanted his pupil to take a break after the World Championships. Lochte, however, had other ideas. It can be said that Lochte is obsessed with 2012 and hardly concerned with what shook out during this calendar year. At the same time, it's a guarantee Phelps is as focused, intent on finishing the finest Olympic career in history – in any sport – with an exclamation point.

"It was a huge confidence boost, just the outcome there," Lochte said of Shanghai. "At the same time, that was 2011 and it's over. It's a new year and a new training cycle, and what happened there is done. Yeah, I might have won a few races, but I'm back at the bottom. Whether swimmers think I'm hunted, I think I'm the hunter. That's how I train and look at things. The training I've been doing has put me in way better shape than I was going to Shanghai, so I know the summer can be something special."

Phelps, too, has been satisfied with the work he has assigned by Bowman. Prior to the Minnesota Grand Prix, Phelps spent three weeks in Colorado Springs, training at altitude. Bowman has routinely hammered his athletes during those training sessions. Such a workload was confirmed by Phelps during the Grand Prix stop.

"The last probably three or four weeks have been the most challenging week's I've had since before Beijing," Phelps said. "So, there's been a lot of work that's getting taken care of. We're on the right path. We just have to be able to stay on this path for the next couple months."

As we prepare for the final month of 2011, the London Games creep closer. The hype will only grow and soon we'll be treated to what should be some special duels. Can't wait.

**Wanted to get some discussion going on all-time finals, so during the next several months, we'll ask readers to put together historical eight-person championship finals in specific events. Fill out the field based on the greatest swimmers in history and post it in the comments section.

This Week: Men's and Women's 100 Breaststroke.

The Lohn Lineup (Alphabetical order): Fred Deburghgraeve; Brendan Hansen; John Hencken; Kosuke Kitajima; Steve Lundquist; Adrian Moorhouse; Norbert Rozsa; Nobutaka Taguchi.

In relation to some of the other events during this historical endeavor, this event came together relatively easily. If there is a question mark, it is Fred Deburghgraeve, the Belgian who won the 1996 Olympic gold medal. Kosuke Kitajima and Brendan Hansen are still building their portfolios and could meet again at the 2012 Olympics in London.

The Lohn Lineup (Alphabetical order): Catie Ball; Cathy Carr; Jessica Hardy; Penny Heyns; Leisel Jones; Luo Xuejuan; Samantha Riley; Rebecca Soni.

This was a much more difficult event to pick than on the male side, largely because of the East German dominance that was fueled by doping. Catie Ball was favored to win individual Olympic gold in 1968, but was hampered by illness. Some might debate the inclusion of Jessica Hardy, but her doping offense was much different than the systematic process instituted by East Germany.

**While North Baltimore Aquatic Club teammate Michael Phelps earned five triumphs at the Minnesota Grand Prix, Allison Schmitt was also superb coming off altitude training. Schmitt's top showing was a victory in the 200 freestyle, thanks to a clocking of 1:55.82. The effort of Schmitt puts the United States in contention for a pair of medals in the event at the Olympics, with Missy Franklin the other leading contender.

Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn