Last week, we told you that after winning eight gold medals in Beijing, Michael Phelps wasn’t quite the same. Good? Yes. World-class? Yes. But Ryan Lochte, the brightest star in the U.S. swimming scene, was challenging his throne. There was the 200-meter individual medley at the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai, where Lochte topped Phelps’s personal best by setting a world record. There was the 200-meter freestyle at the same venue, a thrilling race that saw Lochte beat Phelps by .35 seconds. And most recently, Lochte took down Phelps last Monday in the 400-meter individual medley at the U.S. Olympic trials, though Phelps qualified for London by finishing second.
Just a week ago, it was all Lochte, and his brash words to ESPN The Magazine — “Once I beat someone, they won’t beat me again” — had the ring of truth.
But a lot can change in a week. In their final three clashes in Omaha, Phelps pulled off a clean sweep and reversed the post-Beijing narrative in one fell swoop.
It started in the 200-meter freestyle, where Phelps, wearing the white cap, pulls off an incredible win in the last 50 meters (for a better, non-embeddable look at the event, go here)
continued on Saturday in the 200-meter individual medley, where they swam the two fastest times in the world in 2012, but Phelps managed to stay even in the breaststroke before winning again in the last 50 freestyle meters. (Again, head to NBC to see the [really awesome] video.)
and finished at the 100-meter butterfly Sunday, one of Phelps’s weakest events, when he hit the 50-meter mark in sixth place of eight swimmers. But Rowdy Gaines, in another of his classic calls, told the story of the last 50: “BUT DID YOU SEE THE TURN?! DID YOU SEE THE TURN, DAN?!” (In the list of the greatest things about the Summer Olympics, Rowdy Gaines belongs in the top five.) Phelps closed like a banshee to edge Tyler McGill and secure an eight-event program for his second straight Olympics.
It’s not like anybody completely counted Phelps out, after what he did in Beijing, but there was a definite sense that the legend had faded, and that Lochte was the new superstar. But over the past few days, it’s all coming back: the top form, the pressure performances, the dramatic finishes. The trials are over for Phelps, but he’s whetted the national appetite for what should be an incredible week at the Aquatics Centre in London.