Move over Phelps, there's a new All-American hero but Rising Sun is greatest threat for rapid Ryan
22:24 GMT, 29 July 2012
22:26 GMT, 29 July 2012
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Ryan Lochte might well have sparked a revolution in swimming training, proving that flipping giant tyres and dragging chains does work when it comes to winning gold medals and beating Michael Phelps.
But the desire to emulate Phelps and dominate men’s swimming at this Olympics in the manner his fellow American did four years ago could be difficult.
The first setback actually came on Sunday night, when he was caught and passed by France’s Yannick Agnel in the final leg of the 4x100m freestyle relay.
His three American colleagues, among them Phelps, had handed him a commanding lead. But Lochte was unable to hold off Agnel, France taking gold with the American multi-medal collectors forced to settle for silver.
Second best: Adrian Nathan, Ryan Lochte, Cullen Jones and Michael Phelps with the silver medals won on day two
A further challenge will now follow for Lochte, this time in the form of China’s Sun Yang.
As well as winning the women’s 400m individual medley on the first night of finals at the London Aquatics centre, China celebrated their first male swimming gold.
Sun was immense in the 400m freestyle, crushing the reigning Olympic and world champion, Tae-Hwan Park, with a time that was only 0.07sec down on a world record set with the now-banned bodysuits.
Swimming experts consider Sun the perfect freestyler. The stroke is immaculate, the 6ft 6in frame ideal.
But it remained a stunning performance when it represented more than a three second improvement on his silver medal swim in Shanghai last year.
It was there, in the same meet, that he also destroyed the one swimming record to have survived the tech-suit era; the 1500m mark set by Australian giant Grant Hackett 10 years earlier.
In touching in 14min 34.14sec, Sun shaved almost half a second off Hackett’s best while also finishing 10 seconds clear of the silver medal swim. It no doubt helps that Sun now trains in Australia under the guidance of Hackett’s former coach, Denis Cotterell.
Whether Sun can be as successful at the shorter distances remains to be seen, but he kicked off yesterday by going head-to-head with Lochte in the heats of the 200m freestyle and beating the world champion.
On Sunday they progressed through different semi-finals — with Sun raising a single finger in the air to mark qualifying as the fastest of the eight finalists — and this evening they will meet again in what promises to be another fascinating encounter. Lochte insisted there was no cause for alarm after his morning swim, complaining he remained tired from his efforts the previous evening and a late night. ‘I did not get to bed until 2am,’ he said.
Whatever happens this evening, Lochte will win more golds. He is unstoppable in the 200m backstroke and a clear favourite to beat Phelps and the rest of the field again in the 200m individual medley.
‘This is my year,’ he said with a smile that revealed the diamond-studded mouth jewellery he likes to wear. ‘I know it and I feel it, because I’ve put in hard work. I’ve trained my butt off for four years and there’s no better way to start this Olympics off than getting gold.’
For Phelps, what happens now is less certain. He arrived in London as favourite in the 100m and 200m butterfly, but in the medley he did not look his usual imperious self.
Threat: Sun Yang celebrates winning his men's 200m freestyle semi-final
It was a poor imitation of a once great champion who had slipped to fourth by the end, but the signs it was going to happen may have been there when he gave that press conference at the Main Press Centre last week.
After amassing 14 gold medals already — and 17 medals in total — Phelps might just be lacking in hunger at the grand old age of 27.
When he spoke of ‘being here to have fun’ he did not sound like a man determined to see off the challenge of Lochte. When he spoke of it being his ‘last ever’ 400IM — a killer of a race he openly admits he has never enjoyed — it sounded like he was even struggling to drag himself on to the starting block.
It was horrible,’ Phelps told his coach, Bob Bowman, when he climbed out of the water. ‘It was,’ came the reply.
The duel in the pool it most certainly was not, with Phelps complaining afterwards of tired legs he only hopes recover enough to allow him to retire in some style at the end of these Games.
By last night there were some more encouraging signs, not least the time Phelps recorded on his relay leg. He was second only to Agnel, touching in a blistering 47.15 that was more than half a second quicker than Lochte.
The silver medal, however, was have been less welcome.