Jason Devaney, NBC Olympics
LONDON – The 200m IM is Michael Phelps’ baby.
Well, it used to be.
After winning gold at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, Phelps has moved behind American rival Ryan Lochte in the race. Lochte earned a victory at the 2009 World Championships (Phelps did not swim it at the meet), and then beat Phelps head to head at the 2011 Worlds – and broke the world record to boot.
In the latest edition of the rivalry, Phelps out-swam Lochte to win at Olympic Trials last month. To Lochte’s credit, the race happened on a night when he swam three races in about an hour (Phelps swam two). And both men said they were not fully rested for the meet.
Tonight, Lochte will get his chance to beat Phelps on the sports world’s grandest stage at the Olympics.
Schedule-wise, Phelps has the advantage because the 200m IM is his first of two races tonight (100m butterfly semis is the other). Lochte has the 200m backstroke final 31 minutes before the 200m IM begins. That’s a tight turnaround and both guys know it.
“The double is going to be tough but I’ve done the training so I feel good,” Lochte said.
Part of Lochte’s training for this night was swimming that triple at Trials. It took a lot out of him and he had to sit down before walking down the stairs from the pool area to the lower level of the arena. He and his coach Gregg Troy said they hoped the undertaking would pay off once they got to London.
Phelps and Lochte are racing against each other in two races at this meet – the 200m IM and the 400m IM, the later of which Lochte won on the first day of the Games. Phelps finished fourth.
The 200m IM, however, is expected to be much closer. It’s not as physically taxing as the 400, so Phelps’ lack of training for two-plus years after Beijing shouldn’t come into play. It’s just two warriors doing battle in a 50m pool – Phelps, the lean swimming machine and Lochte, the bulked-up giant who does a strongman workout on Sundays.
Despite their contrasting builds, the showdown could be the best race at the swimming competition here in London. And it will surely rank high on the list of top events across all the sports.
“You can guarantee that we’re going to race each other and we’re going to race each other hard,” Phelps said. “It’s one of the races where, like at Trials, it comes down to the touch. I know I have to try to hit every turn well and try to build momentum.”
Phelps got his hand on the wall in 1:54.84 at Trials, with Lochte .09 of a second behind him. Lochte’s world record is 1:54.00. Tonight, Phelps is in lane 3 and Lochte’s in lane 4.
Seeing a world record swim from one of these guys tonight is a definite possibility. It will be Phelps’ final time racing against Lochte before he retires in a few days when he’s done swimming in London.
As if he needed any more motivation to win, that can only help his cause.
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