In Focus | Olympics London 2012

Lochte looks ready for Phelps’ mantle

American has a knack of picking up injuries from freak accidents

  • By Robin Chatterjee, Senior Associate Editor
  • Published: 15:45 July 29, 2012
  • Gulf News

Ryan Lochte
  • Image Credit: Los Angeles Times
  • Ryan Lochte of the United States shows off his gold medal won in the 400m Individual Medley on Saturday.

London

Here’s a synopsis of Ryan Lochte’s most significant moments: foot fracture (scooter accident before 2007 worlds); ankle sprain (chasing his Doberman, Carter, before the 2008 Olympic trials); a torn meniscus (break-dancing, before the 2009 short-course nationals); a groin strain (practising before the 2010 nationals) and a strained MCL (reaching for his cellphone in the backseat of his car, April 2011).

It’s not all bad news if you add a gold medal in London in the 400m medley after relegating Michael Phelps to fourth place.

If the law of averages holds, then chances are that Lochte will consistently have a major crash before something important before he goes on to win something significant. It’s just the way his story has been told so far. The accidents apart he is known to be a large-hearted athlete who never refuses a chance to be a role model for children.

Lochte could have had his moment with fortune four years ago in Beijing, but his ascent to the summit of world swimming was slowed down by the authority of Michael Phelps, who helped himself to eight gold medals in a single Olympics.

Phelps now has 14 individual golds, going into his final Olympic Games. By beating him comprehensively in the 400m medley Lochte has indicated that he is ready to take over the crown from his compatriot. Moreover, he has made the critics believe that the legend may have looked in the mirror and come face-to-face with his mortality.

“Four years is a long time,” said Lochte, putting Saturday’s triumph in perspective. ‘I’ve put in the hard work and now I can tell you I am ready. It feels fantastic.’

Lochte is not the most consistent individual — he does odd things. Which explains why he likes to surf off the coast of Florida (the waters are shark infested); lights up a bunch of rocket fireworks and then tries to jump and dodge them, as they go off at once, in an effort to avoid being hit?

He has positives as well. Like, for instance, he never forgets a defeat and keeps working at trying to alter the balance. This is why he works so hard and is so dedicated. Lochte lost to Phelps in the 200m and 400 IM 20 times, over a period of seven years, Lochte finally streaked ahead of his more celebrated rival in the 200m IM in the summer nationals in 2010 and as if to prove it was no fluke, he spanked him again in the 200m backstroke.

Most swimmers would have walked into a psychological wall with these win-loss averages but not Lochte. He preferred to flip the notion on its head by arguing that the reason Phelps was winning in the past was because he knew Lochte was gunning for him and this forced him to train harder.

In the Pan Pacific Championships two weeks later, Lochte helped himself to six gold medals and announced his credentials as the world’s top swimmer. He had finally caught up with his prey. To be fair to Phelps, it is fitting that if one great swimmer prepares to leave the stage another great swimmer eases in to takes his place. Judging by Lochte’s dominance on Saturday, the transfer of power in world swimming has been completed.

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