Phelps: Ryan Lochte Has Brought the Most Out of Me
By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
They are inextricably intertwined as the sun creeps out from the shadows, threatening to set on two concurrent careers that have covered more continents and won more medals than any Olympic pair in history.
The golden boys grew into men along the way, on their very own, quite unique paths with divergent issues and challenges. But the tracks from those parallel journeys have usually been no more than a swim lane or two apart. It still is now, as an historical and golden era winds down for the dynamic duo. And as symmetrical as the events and medals are, the collective success is unparalleled.
Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are always connected by greatness, always near each other on the results sheets and in the record books, one usually a step away -- and above or below -- the other on the podium, gold around the neck of one, silver and a steely resolve in the other who “settled” for silver on a given night.
Phelps, the unquestioned best swimmer in the world, of all-time, in Olympic history, since water splashed the Earth, will tell you up front that among the biggest reasons -- and motivation -- for his success, is Ryan Lochte.
“I can look back throughout my career and say he is probably the one who brought the most out of me,” Phelps said. “I’ve met a lot of people that I have raced, and I guess I have a history with, but with Ryan it is something special. We have been racing since 2004 -- that was his first Olympic team in Athens. And we’ve known each other ever since. We swim the same exact races every single meet.”
As a competitive motivation, Lochte has helped propel Phelps to the stratospheric heights he has attained as he approaches his fifth, and likely (positively, he claims), final Olympic Games. And vice versa on this two-way street that seems to always meet at the medals stand.
“Ryan and I have had a lot of races with one another.” Phelps said last month in Austin. “A lot.”
At the Arena Pro Swim Series at Austin in the 200 IM final, Phelps was in lane 4. And who was his biggest competition? Lochte of course, and despite being the current world record-holder, Lochte was over in lane 7, though he had put in a lot of work the day before to claim the 400 IM.
“I didn’t like that he was that far away,” Phelps said. “I like having him kind of closer to me, so I can see him. I said to him before we came out, ‘I know you’re going to be out there and I know it’ll be a dogfight the last 50.’”
According to Phelps, Lochte didn’t know if he’d be there at the end of the final this time.
“Oh no,” Lochte answered back, according to Phelps, “that’s not how it’s going to be,”
And of course it was exactly that way. Despite a star-studded field of international medalists flanking them both, Phelps came home in 1:58 flat to win, and Lochte was 1:58.43 for second. No matter what, said Phelps -- who had put in some work of his own with the 200 free and 100 fly the previous day -- Lochte will find his way to the front.
“That’s always how it is,” Phelps said. “He’s always somebody who is really fun to race.”
And while Phelps claimed it was good to win in Austin, he cautioned reporters not to make too much of it.
“It’s good to be able to take one, but he will fight back though,” Phelps said. “I know that. He’s not somebody who will roll over.”
They did the same thing at the 2012 Olympic Trials, with Phelps claiming the 200 IM and second in the 400 IM. Lochte won the 400 IM at Trials, and at the Olympics, and was second in the 200 IM at Trials, and the Olympics. Phelps’ success in the 200 IM is unmatched -- he won it in ‘04, ‘08 and ‘12 (he won silver in his signature 200 butterfly, the only event he has swam in all of his Olympic Games, including 2000).
Part of Phelps’ evolution into ambassador and senior statesman has included a new openness, including sharing his appreciation and respect for Lochte. In fact Phelps still marvels at what Lochte did in London in the 400 IM.
And Phelps -- who was fourth in the 400 IM in London -- said Lochte’s resolve that night showed the world what he could do as Lochte became the first person not named Michael Phelps to win Olympic gold in the 400 IM since 2000.
Though Phelps is proud of Lochte’s effort that night, he wishes he had brought his own A game, and it’s a lesson he hopes buoys Lochte’s chances of repeating if Lochte does the 400 IM in Rio.
“I was probably capable of medaling in that race,” Phelps said of London. He paused and smiled, “but when I saw the kid in the heat before me go 4:08 in the morning, I was like, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have swam this race’ -- I wasn’t quite ready to see that.”
Phelps recovered nicely, and left London with four gold medals and two silvers.
Lochte, despite like Phelps having a busy program in Austin, still won the 400 IM the day before the 200 IM final. Phelps no longer competes in the 400 IM, but the swim computer that is Phelps’ brain wasn’t shut off before that race or even while watching it. He told Lochte the night before the final Lochte would go a 4:12 -- Lochte did, and won.
Knowing what goes into winning that race, Phelps said Lochte can win it again in Rio, if Lochte is properly prepared, a lesson Phelps learned in London.
“I think that’s the biggest thing: if he does do it, that he has to get mentally ready for it,” Phelps said. “Because talent wise, he can do it.”