These days, mentioning Michael Phelps almost requires you to also bring up his counter-part, USA's Ryan Lochte. Ever since 2011's World Championship, when Lochte beat Phelps in the head to head races, the 200 freestyle and the 200 IM, Lochte has stepped up to become the premiere world swimming champion. Lochte took home four medals and the championship, Phelps only took home two.
But at that time, Phelps was taking a relaxed approach to training, opting to play golf (and smoke pot?) rather than train. His coach said he did about 30% of the work that he asked of Phelps. Today Phelps is giving swimming his full attention, knowing that he has the possibility of becoming the winningest Olympian of all time. And that's what Phelps cares about. He knows that in the future, no one will remember who won the 2011 world championship, but they will definitely remember who won the most Olympic gold medals of all time.
This will be Phelp's last Olympics and he needs 3 medals of any color to claim the world's record currently held by Larisa Laynina, a soviet gymnast who won 18 medals over three Olympics ending in 1964. Lochte plans to stay in the game for at least one more Olympics after this one. He has six medals in two Olympic games.
While Phelp's may be Mr. Olympian, Lochte says they constantly push each other to be better, through friendly competition. He spoke to USA Today about their relationship: "A lot of people ask me, 'Would I be the same athlete as I am today if he wasn't there?' No doubt about it, me and Michael, we push each other all the time."
Lochte has a good chance of swimming in nine events after today's qualifier, Phelps will likely swim in eight. But according to Lochte, he would swim in all 11 if he had the chance: "I would swim every event possible. That's what I love to do. I love just getting up on the blocks and racing the people next to you, trying to put your hand on the wall first," Lochte said during a press conference yesterday. "It doesn't matter what event, what stroke, I just love to race. I honestly don't know. If I could swim them, I would swim all 11, but I don't think my coach would allow that."
Lochte has been the best swimmer since Phelp's epic medal run in Beijing, but Phelps has rebounded well since posting mediocre numbers over the past two years. Both athletes are in peak physical condition, and you can expect both of them to go on a medal grabbing bonanza in July. Only time will tell, though, which one will emerge as the stand out star at this Olympic games. Overall, it's a good possibility that both will share the limelight. Phelps can and should take home the title of winningest Olympian after competing in eight events. Lochte, who is in his prime, and still has another Olympics ahead of him, has a good chance of beating Phelps in the medal count this year. It's going to be fun to watch.