Ryan Lochte vs. Michael Phelps: A Battle of the Titans

Column by John Lohn

SANTA BARBARA, California, August 9. THE buzz of the swimming world over the weekend revolved around what went down on the fourth night of action at the United States Nationals in Irvine. In case you missed it, Ryan Lochte finally upstaged Michael Phelps in a major event, claiming a comfortable victory in the 200 individual medley.

Posting the fastest time ever recorded in a textile suit, Lochte clocked a performance of 1:54.84, not far off the world record he established last summer while wearing a techsuit at the World Championships in Rome. Phelps, meanwhile, touched the wall in 1:55.94, clearly still building toward the shape he'll need for next year's World Champs in Shanghai and the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Going forward, Lochte's triumph does a few things for the sport. First and foremost, it sets the stage for some highly anticipated duels between the friendly rivals through the London Games. The 200 medley has long been the event in which Lochte was suspected of being able to get the best of the greatest swimmer in history, and we now have the proof that it can be done.

That brings us to the second aspect of what Lochte's win brings to the table. Over the years, especially the past few, Lochte has repeatedly stated a belief he could defeat Phelps. But until that scenario actually unfolded, doesn't it make sense that there was some lingering doubt? Now that it has happened, could Lochte have an added surge in confidence and, perhaps, defeat Phelps in another discipline, say the 200 freestyle.

Lochte has stated a few times that he has ambitions of tackling a schedule similar to that of Phelps' on the international stage. He clearly has the versatility to pull off the feat, what with his ability in the medley events, backstroke and improving freestyle showings. Just before he notched his win over Phelps, Lochte posted a second-place finish in the 100 freestyle behind Nathan Adrian. Don't be stunned if we see Lochte go after an eight-event slate for the 2012 Olympics.

Conversely, expect Phelps to take something from his setback. We all know how talented Phelps is in the pool, with 16 Olympic medals and the most national titles of anyone in history. But as much as Phelps' talent speaks, his mental edge and inner drive is downright scary. No one hates to lose as much as Bob Bowman's pupil.

Phelps and Bowman have both revealed that Phelps hasn't done the work necessary to compete at the highest level possible. Considering Phelps' track record, it figures the greatest Olympian in history will ratchet up the intensity in practice and rededicate himself to an arduous schedule as his last World Championships and Olympics approach. For all Phelps has accomplished, he's indicated there are a few things he still wants to achieve, and it is certain he will not bow out of the sport giving anything less than a supreme effort.

One of the best parts of this summer of swimming is that we won't have to wait too long to see Phelps and Lochte battle once again in the 200 IM. Another showdown should take place at the Pan Pacific Championships in less than two weeks, back in Irvine. Whether Lochte maintains his roll or Phelps returns to the alpha dog slot will soon be determined. For now, though, the result from Nationals did enough on its own. Lochte proved he has the ammo to knock off Phelps, and Phelps likely had his fire reignited as he prepares – according to his timeline – to close out a special legacy.