As Phelps forlornly tried to figure out what happened, how he finished out of the medals in an Olympic race for the first time since the 2000 Summer Games, Lochte matter-of-factly announced himself the boy of the summer.
“This is my year,” Lochte said. “I feel it. I’ve put in the hard work. I’ve trained my butt off for four years. I just feel it inside my gut. This is my year. There’s no better way to start than by getting a gold.”
Lochte, who touched the wall in 4 minutes 5.18 seconds, was so dominant he had time to turn around, examine the scoreboard and then watch the earnest battle for second and third that ensued behind him. Brazil’s Thiago Pereira claimed the silver in 4:08.86 – 3.68 seconds behind Lochte — and Japan’s Kosuke Hagino got the bronze in 4:08.94. Phelps finished in 4:09.28.
After the race, Phelps yanked off his cap and goggles, stunned. Having claimed the last qualifying spot for the final with a strangely slow swim in the morning heats, Phelps had gotten stuck out in Lane 8, but he said the distant lane wasn’t his problem.
Neither Phelps nor his longtime coach Bob Bowman could find an explanation for the result, which was about two seconds slower than Phelps swam at the U.S. Olympic trials in July and more than five seconds slower than the world record he set in 2008. Bowman said he thought his star pupil would go three to four seconds faster.
“It’s pretty upsetting,” Phelps said. “I think the biggest thing now is trying to get past this and move forward. . . . I have a bunch of other races. Hopefully, I will finish better than I started.”
Said Bowman: “He said it was horrible, and it was. That was an accurate assessment.”
The race had been billed as a historic clash between the two best performers the event has ever seen. Phelps had won the previous two Olympic titles in the event; Lochte had claimed the last two world championships. Phelps had dominated in the event before 2008; Lochte has owned it since, including at the recent U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha, when he beat Phelps for the only time in three head-to-head finals.
Lochte hasn’t lost a major competition in the 400 medley since 2008, but Phelps has never failed to show up when it really mattered. Lochte raised his arms to the crowd — which offered him a brief “U-S-A!” chant — before receiving his gold medal. Though he grinned and enjoyed the moment, he said he felt strange without Phelps nearby.
“It’s weird not having Michael with me on the medal stand,” Lochte said. “I’m really surprised that he didn’t medal, just because whenever Michael swims, he’s always on the medal stand no matter what.”