LONDON, United Kingdom – Ryan Lochte won the 400m medley gold on Saturday as Olympic superstar Michael Phelps was shut out of the medals in a race billed as a cut-throat duel between the US team-mates.
Instead Lochte thrashed 14-time Olympic gold medallist Phelps, winning in 4min 05.18sec.
He was comfortably in front of Brazilian Thiago Pereira, who took silver in 4:08.86 with Japan’s Kosuke Hagino claiming bronze with an Asian record of 4:08.94.
“It feels amazing knowing the hard work has paid off after the last four years,” said Lochte, who settled for bronze in the 400m medley behind Phelps in Beijing but has emerged from Phelps’ shadow in the last two years.
“I have said it before, but this is my year,” Lochte said. “I can feel it.
“I have trained my butt off for four years and there is no better way than to start with an Olympic gold.
“It gives me a lot of energy and I will carry this though the games now.”
Phelps was fourth in 4:09.28 — the first time since he was a 15-year-old at his first Olympics in Sydney that he failed to medal in an Olympic final. He was fifth in the 200m fly in 2000.
“It’s weird not having Michael with me on the podium,” Lochte admitted. “But to me he is one of the greatest, whatever happens he will be remembered as one of the greats. He gave 110 percent and that is all you can ask.”
Since Sydney, Phelps had won six gold and two bronze in Athens, and of course his vaunted eight golds in eight events in Beijing four years ago.
“It was just a crappy race,” Phelps said. “I felt fine the first 200 and then I couldn’t really go the last 100.
“They swam a better race than me, they swam a smarter race than me and that is why they are on the podium,” he added.
Phelps was in trouble from the time he barely scraped into the final, putting himself in the unfavorable outside lane eight. He had never been seeded lower than fourth in an Olympic final.
“I was lucky to get into the final,” Phelps admitted. “After the heat I figured I’d be fourth or fifth.”
The writing was on the wall when the opening butterfly leg — typically one of his strong suits — left him in second.
He never led, and once Lochte had gained the lead from South African Chad le Clos by the end of the fly, the race appeared to be his to lose.
As Lochte inexorably extended his lead, Phelps was locked in a battle with Pereira and Hagino that he was destined to lose.
“It’s just really frustrating to start off on a bad note like this,” said Phelps, who is slated to swim seven events. “It’s pretty upsetting.
The flop denied Phelps in his first bid to become the first male swimmer to win the same event at three successive Olympics. He’ll have a chance at trebles in the 100m and 200m butterfly and the 200m medley, but Japanese breaststroker Kosuke Kitajima also has two shots at the achievement.
“The biggest thing now is to try and get past this and move forward,” Phelps said. “I have a bunch of races and hopefully we can finish this a lot better than we started.
Lochte, who beat Phelps in the 400m medley for the first time at the US trials in June, said this victory stoked his confidence for their expected showdown in the 200m medley.
“There is some pride in beating him,” Lochte said. “He hasn’t lost a 400 IM in the last two Olympics and it gives me a lot of confidence knowing I can do this over and over again. It will help me for the rest of the Olympics.” – Agence France-Presse
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