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Olympic swimming: Ryan Lochte leaves Michael Phelps far behind in the pool

By Paul Newberry

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, July 28 2012 11:03 p.m. MDT

Australia's Melanie Schlanger celebrates after her team finished first in the women's 4x100-meter freestyle relay swimming final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Saturday, July 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Associated Press

LONDON— Ryan Lochte strolled the deck of the Olympic Aquatics Centre wearing diamonds in his mouth and lime-green sneakers on the feet that powered him through the water faster than anyone else. Beaming, he chomped playfully on his gold medal while Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" blared throughout the massive arena.

Michael Phelps?

He was nowhere to be found.

Not during the race.

Not when it came time to hand out the medals.

On a stunner of an opening night at the pool in London, Phelps was routed by his American rival in the 400-meter individual medley, losing to Lochte by more than 4 seconds Saturday. That's not all: The winningest Olympian ever didn't win any medal at all, the first time that's happened in a race of this magnitude since he was a 15-year-old kid competing in just one event at the Sydney Games, a dozen years ago.

"It was horrible," Phelps told coach Bob Bowman when he climbed out.

Bowman's reply: "It was."

Lochte turned the much-anticipated duel with Phelps into a blowout, raising serious questions about whether the guy who has won 14 gold medals and 16 medals overall has anything left in the tank for his Olympic farewell.

Phelps is planning to retire as soon as he finishes the last of his seven races in London, but he looked ready to call it a career while struggling just to pull himself from the water when his first event was done.

He was totally spent.

He was thoroughly beaten, perhaps signaling a changing of the guard at the pool.

"This is my year," said Lochte, who popped in his grillz — diamond-studded mouth jewelry — for the victory ceremony. "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, the start of these games couldn't have been more out of character.

He barely qualified for the evening final, a performance that hinted at trouble ahead. Trouble indeed. Phelps struggled to a fourth-place finish, blown out by Lochte and beaten by Brazil's Thiago Pereira and Japan's Kosuke Hagino.

"It was just a crappy race," Phelps said. "I felt fine the first 200, then I don't know. They just swam a better race than me, a smarter race than me, and were better prepared than me. That's why they're on the medal stand."

Lochte took the gold with a time of 4 minutes, 5.18 seconds. Pereira (4:08.86) and Hagino (4:08.94) were well back but ahead of Phelps, who touched fourth in 4:09.28 — nearly 5.5 seconds off his world record from the Beijing Olympics and not nearly as fast as he went during the U.S. trials last month.

Since finishing fifth in his lone event at Sydney, the 200 butterfly, Phelps was 16-of-16 when it came to winning medals at the Olympics — 14 golds and two bronzes. That run is over.

Lochte climbed out of the pool with a big smile, waving to the crowd and looking about as fresh as he did at the start. He had predicted this would be his year and, for the first race of the Olympics at least, he was right on the mark.

"I think I'm kind of in shock right now," he said. As for Phelps, "I know he gave it everything he had. That's all you can ask for."

Phelps was trying to become the first male swimmer to win the same individual event at three straight Olympics. He'll have three more chances at a threepeat before he's done in London, having also won the 200 individual medley, plus the 100 and 200 butterfly, at Athens and Beijing.

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