London: The critics in London have virtually come to accept the fact that the Michael Phelps-Ryan Lochte rivalry has ended. Phelps has retired and Lochte, by common consent, is just not good enough to step into his rival’s shoes yet.
The latter may get his chance to shine at Rio in 2016, but for the moment, even though he is past his best, Phelps’s records will remain for a long time the ones to beat. And so ends one of the best rivalries that never took place in the world of swimming.
Which begs the question: Is Lochte overrated? Or does he just not have the same supreme mental strength as his iconic rival? The answer, sadly, is ‘yes’ to both questions.
The last chapter in this competition will be remembered for the fact that Phelps, despite his stunning wins, has been rendered mortal and that Lochte is fallible when asked to deliver on the highest stage of the competition. He is not perfect and he definitely cannot dominate his patch over the course of three Olympic Games as his predecessor did.
Lochte did proclaim before London that ‘this is my time’. He even set down a very significant marker with a gold medal in his first event, the 400IM, relegating Phelps to fourth place.
But thereafter his form went downhill, while Phelps’s own appetite for medals continued to grow.
There was a stark contrast between the two swimmers by the end of the competition in that Phelps appeared to be peaking, while Lochte was falling off the curve after reaching a plateau. His body language seemed to suggest that he had simply forgotten how to win. The only sign of life that Lochte displayed was an odd sense of humour, an ability to criticise himself and quirky tweets.
In making a post-swimming events assessment, it is stunning to note that Lochte had signed himself up for six events prior to London – overambitious at the very least. Clearly now he needs to recalibrate his expectations after getting a cruel reminder that his potential is not commensurate with his performance.
What’s more, the US media, who made such a fuss over their new poster boy, have been left embarrassed by their own predictions of Lochte. He lost a lead handed to him in the 4x100m freestyle relay, succumbing to France’s Yannick Angel, who gave him a lesson in freestyle swimming; and then, just for good measure, spanked him once again in the 200m freestyle. There was, as evidenced, an inability to learn on Lochte’s part. Or was it simply a case of hype over fact? The press, in their heightened sense of excitement, couldn’t see the woods for the trees.
Maybe it’s a case that Lochte is simply not another Phelps. After losing the 200m butterfly to Chad Le Clos by a touch, the American raced the South African once more in the 100m butterfly and made sure that there were no more miscalculations when a gold was there for the taking.
One could expect the impossible from the maestro. When he announced that he was going for eight gold medals in Beijing, the only voice of dissent came from Australia’s Ian Thorpe.
“He won’t make it,” Thorpe argued, and Phelps almost didn’t, as his longer hand span edged him through in one race. Everything else was a walk in the park, though.
The world of sport is cruel; it gives a lot, but it takes as much. Should Lochte not be able to perform at the peak of his powers in 2016, then he would perennially be known as US swimming’s never-was-has been.