Now that NBC has finally shown the men’s 400-meter individual medley from the London 2012 Aquatics Centre, I can let you all know that Ryan Lochte of the United States cruised to a gold medal finish this afternoon, outpacing Michael Phelps and the rest of the field by so much that after he finished he had time to turn around, check out the scoreboard, and then calmly watch the battle for second and third in the race (Brazil’s Thiago Pereira took silver, almost 4 seconds behind Lochte, and Japan’s Kosuke Hagino earned the bronze medal in this race. Michael Phelps, the man who won gold in this race at the 2008 Olympics, finished just off the podium in 4th place, after what he called a “crappy race”.
While most of the attention at the Aquatics Centre focuses on Phelps and his quest to become the most decorated Olympian of all-time (he already has that distinction when it comes to the United States), this other kid from Upstate New York wanted to prove that he belonged there as well. Ryan Lochte was born in Rochester, New York and spent his early childhood in Canandaigua before his family moved to Port Orange, Florida so that his father could coach swimming (see where he gets it?) and he now has the world’s attention, after putting up the third best time in the preliminary round this morning and then dominating the field in the afternoon’s final.
Many people thought that today’s race may come to down to a show down between Lochte and his friendly rival in Phelps. Phelps snuck into the final, placing 8th in the prelims and moving on by the slimmest of margins (.07 seconds). Questions have been raised about Phelps motivation (this is the final Olympic Games that he will be compete in) and also with his race strategies in this particular medley, but today none of that really mattered. Phelps didn’t lose this race, Lochte won it. Still, it is kind of hard to imagine Phelps not winning gold for the first time in an Olympic swim since 2004, and even more incredibly not receiving a medal for the first time since placing 5th in the 200 meter butterfly during the 2000 Sydney Olympics (as a 15 year old and the youngest male to make a U.S. swim team in 68 years), but that is exactly what happened.
In the opening night at the pool, Lochte shocked even himself with the performance that he put in. It has to be an incredible feeling to win a gold medal in any Olympic event and know that you are the best in the world at anything, but to do it by beating a rival, and more importantly a friend, has to make it feel even better. Lochte, a sport management graduate from the University of Florida, does have the self-confidence that borders on arrogance that many current and former Southeastern Conference athletes do, but tonight he’s allowed to celebrate just a little. To his credit, he still has some of that Upstate New York charm as well, so I won’t hold his poor college choice against him too badly.
Tomorrow is a new day and these guys are back in the pool once again early in the day as they will be for most of the next week, so there will be plenty of opportunities for Lochte to prove himself and for Phelps to recover from what will probably be remembered as the worst public swim of his career. If there’s one thing that today’s event can show us is that there will be plenty of buzz coming from the Aquatics Centre between now and London 2012’s closing ceremony. It doesn’t get much better than that.