Ryan Lochte tried to claim these London Games as his own in the pool on Thursday night with what would have amounted to a quite extraordinary achievement. Trouble was, a guy by the name of Michael Phelps was in no mood to let him.
Lochte was ambitious. At 7.48pm he would attempt to win the 200 metres backstroke and 31 minutes after that he would go for gold again in the 200m individual medley. It would not have been a record. That particular honour belongs to Kornelia Ender, a muscle-bound East German woman who collected two gold medals in the space of 27 minutes in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. But Ender did not have someone of the quality of Phelps to contend with, nor a younger, perhaps hungrier, back-stroke specialist called Tyler Clary.
It all proved something of a nightmare for Lochte and an evening to savour for his fellow Americans. Clary took Lochte’s Olympic crown in the first race before Phelps became the first male swimmer to win an event at three consecutive Games. Beaten by Lochte in the longer medley last weekend, Phelps exacted his revenge in some style to take his 16th Olympic gold and 20th in all, extending that record he set earlier in the week. He got a call from Barack Obama after number 19, the US president even telling him to say hi to his Mom. Perhaps Her Majesty the Queen will drop him a line this time.
In fairness to Lochte, he looked tired in his second race. He had tried to keep his muscles loose by swimming up and down the diving pool between the two events but no amount of tyre lifting or chain pulling could prepare him for a physical test as gruelling as this. Phelps surged into the lead in the opening butterfly leg that remains his speciality and Lochte was unable to make any real impression when his strongest strokes came later in the race. The fact that this was the last ever encounter between these two great swimmers must have made victory all the more satisfying for Phelps. Pleasing too must have been his success in preventing Lochte from becoming the outright king of the Aquatics Centre.
Two wins last night would have taken Lochte’s tally to four golds. As it is they have two apiece, with Phelps able to grab another individual medal in the 100m fly before one last effort in the medley relay that will mark his retirement. Lochte revealed on Thursday that he will not take part in that relay. Lochte looked stunned by the manner in which he lost his 200m backstroke Olympic title. He appeared to be in total control and was in front after emerging from the final turn. But the exact same time he recorded to win in Beijing, a time that stood as the Olympic record, was not good enough on this occasion. In the final straight he was passed by both Clary and Ryosuke Irie, with the American touching ahead of the Japanese swimmer to take gold in 1:53.41.