Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte’s rivalry is a top story of the 2012 Summer Olympics, and the two have met multiple times since Beijing 2008. However, the numbers don’t reveal the difference in attitude that has taken them in opposite directions since the last Olympiad.
It seems as though Phelps only cares about his Olympic legacy, while Lochte is in it to win both Olympic and World gold. Not to say Phelps likes to lose—he clearly doesn’t—but in the two years after the 2008 Olympics, he “tuned out” from the sport.
Lochte won both head-to-head races by a combined half-second at the 2011 FINA World Championships, while Phelps skipped practice to go to Las Vegas. His coach, Bob Bowman, became concerned that Phelps wouldn’t have enough time to snap out of his daze and prepare properly for the 2012 Games.
Phelps’ biggest rival started to take over. After losing to Phelps in every competitive race before the 2011 Worlds, Lochte won the double over Phelps, breaking his 200-meter individual medley world record in the process and gaining some momentum as a result.
Lochte told Outside Magazine this month:
“It was a huge confidence boost. I always knew I was capable of beating Michael—I always feel like I can win—but once it happened, I knew that I could do it again and again. … After 2008, I said enough is enough. I’ve got to do some things differently to make sure that (losing to Phelps) never happens again.”
Since then, he has kept that promise—sort of.
In the 2011-2012 USA Swimming Grand Prix series, Phelps won every matchup. However, the two always seem to be in different parts of their training regimens, and those races are seen as just training with competition (“little quizzes…little building blocks,” Phelps called them).
What might be more indicative of each swimmer’s form is the workload they took on at the last Grand Prix meet at which they raced, in Charlotte, NC. They only went head-to-head once, but Phelps only raced twice, while Lochte took part in seven races.
Lochte is working hard to surpass Phelps before the poster child of swimming retires. He certainly has been training more intensely, which could be considered a victory.
The 27-year-old has been preparing like a madman since 2008. He is often exhausted after tune-up meets, taking on workloads larger than he would ever do at major competitions.
Phelps, on the other hand, finally felt like his old self again just in time to kick his training into high gear and try to catch up with Lochte. Based on U.S. Olympic Trials seeding, they are still on the same level.
The two are scheduled to meet in seven different events at the trials this month, but they will probably only directly compete in two events in London—the 200-meter freestyle and 200-meter individual medley, just like at the World Championships.
Despite the paths they have taken to the Olympics—Phelps’ route somewhat interrupted by outside distractions, Lochte’s more reminiscent of boot-camp style training—the races will be close once again. They will likely be decided by just a fingertip’s length.
If there’s anything we can learn from Lochte and Phelps, it’s that different motivation and different training routines can still lead to the same medal podium.
Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte Head-to-Head Schedule and Results
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2012 U.S. Olympic Trials — June 25-July 2 (scheduled)
400-meter individual medley — Seeded 1st. Lochte. Seeded 3rd. Phelps. 200-meter freestyle — 1. Lochte. 2. Phelps. 200-meter butterfly — 1. Phelps. 99. Lochte. 100-meter freestyle — 2. Phelps. 6. Lochte. 200-meter backstroke — 1. Lochte. 3. Phelps. 200-meter individual medley — 1. Lochte. 2. Phelps. 100-meter butterfly — 1. Phelps. 5. Lochte.
Charlotte UltraSwim Grand Prix — May 10-13
200-meter freestyle — 2. Phelps (1:48.01). 6. Lochte (1:49.7).
Indianapolis Grand Prix — March 29-31
100-meter freestyle — 2. Phelps (48.74). 9. Lochte (19.46 in consolation final). 100-meter butterfly — 1. Phelps (52.23). 9. Lochte (52.32 in consolation final). 200-meter individual medley — 1. Phelps (1:56.32). 3. Lochte (1:59.37).
Austin Grand Prix — Jan. 13-15
100-meter freestyle — 9. Phelps (49.14 in B final). 15. Lochte (50.58 in B final). 100-meter backstroke — 3. Phelps (54.09). 6. Lochte (56.47). 200-meter individual medley — 1. Phelps (1:58.52). 2. Lochte (2:00.3).
2011 FINA World Championships — July 16-31, 2011
200-meter freestyle — 1. Lochte (1:44.44). 2. Phelps (1:44.79). 200-meter individual medley — 1. Lochte (1:54). 2. Phelps (1:54.16).