Lochte wants what Phelps has, but Phelps wants it more

Phelps shows true measure of himself with another gold to raise historic medal total to 20

LONDON — Every goofy smile Michael Phelps broke into spontaneously Thursday night after one of the most impressive victories of his legendary swimming career conveyed relief.

"To do something no male has done in the sport is something," Phelps said sheepishly. "That is a pretty cool feeling."

In contrast, sitting to Phelps' side, every forced grin rival Ryan Lochte mustered after completing an Olympic experience much different from the one he promised masked regret.

"I would have loved to have gotten all golds in my events, but you know what? It didn't happen," Lochte said. "I'm going to have to live with that and move on."

Before America moves on and stops paying attention to swimming for another four years, consider the magic that happened inside the Aquatics Centre. I heard the term "Phelpsian" used to describe the effort of the most accomplished Olympian ever. In the sports thesaurus, "Jordanesque" is a synonym.

In the finale of the swimming rivalry that carried a sport and captivated a country for eight years, Phelps beat Lochte in the 200-meter individual medley, leading from start to finish to take Olympic gold.

But this was more than that.

This was Phelps, on the brink of retirement, using sheer will to increase his medal total to 20 and enhance his legacy by becoming the first male swimmer to win an individual event in three straight Olympics.

This was a proud champion refusing to go out anywhere but on top, humble beating Hollywood.

This was Phelps wanting it more.

This was Phelps winning his first individual gold here but, just as significantly in the world in which we live, Lochte losing his last chance to meet his own lofty expectations from his pre-Olympics celebrity tour.

Maybe Lochte's mom was wrong when she told the "Today" show her son liked one-night stands.

This wasn't much of one for Lochte, this final chance to prove it all was worth the wait. No, this was passing out after pouring the wine, all talk and no action.

"Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don't," Lochte said. "I can't be too disappointed. I am coming home with five Olympic medals, so that's something to be proud of."

It is. Except for Lochte, who set the standard at winning six gold medals.

Nobody forced Lochte to tell Matt Lauer — can "Today" stop booking the Lochtes now? — that these would be the Olympics that "Ryan Lochte takes over." When an athlete starts referring to himself in the third person, it announces the first sign of trouble.

"I have to go into every swim meet, every Olympics, thinking this is my time," Lochte said. "If I didn't I wouldn't be the same athlete I was today."

We might never look at Lochte the athlete in the same way again after he went 2-for-6 on golds. That's pretty good for a second baseman but not for a guy who bragged this would be the Olympics he shed second-banana status. Friday is Lochte's 28th birthday, but I doubt it will be a happy one.

Standing next to Phelps on the medal stand, Lochte smiled and waved, accepting silver. His face was a picture of resignation — certainly not a photo for the cover of Time or Sports Illustrated.

What happened to Lochte on his way to Olympic immortality? An Olympic immortal got in the way.

After the 400 IM Saturday, it was as if Lochte exhaled after winning and, motivated by going medalless, Phelps found something extra. Phelps got mad. Lochte got satisfied.

Lochte's only other gold came in the 800 relay. His next will have to come in Rio. Between now and 2016, Lochte can relive what went wrong. His approach in two races Thursday summed up Lochte's Olympic experience: starting too quickly and lacking stamina to finish strong. The races starting 31 minutes apart didn't help Lochte. Neither did having U.S. teammate Tyler Clary, the gold-medal winner in the 200 back, and Phelps peak at the right time. Or, for Lochte, the wrong time.

"I think it was just the excitement, being in the Olympics, being a lot faster than I was in 2008," Lochte said.

As Lochte settles for bronze and silver, that will motivate him to dominate a pool without Phelps.

"It's going to be weird not having him," Lochte said. "Hopefully, in the next four years, I can create a rivalry with someone else."

Maybe Lochte's next rivalry won't be as one-sided as this one will be forever remembered.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh
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