Big Letdown for Phelps as Lochte and Chinese Swimmers Take Limelight
2012 London Summer Olympics
The greatest swimmer of all time, Michael Phelps, came to the London Games with an air of invincibility after his eight-gold haul at the Beijing Games four summers back.
But just one 'race' in the pool and that unshakeable spirit has been shaken just when the 27-year-old is on the threshold of an immortal record --- of clinching more than 18 Olympic medals of any hue by an individual, which Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina has so resolutely guarded for 48 years.
Phelps, needing three more medals to overhaul the record, suffered his first Olympic defeat in eight years to finish fourth in the 400m individual medley, an event he was supposed to dominate from start to finish. The event was dominated this time around by another American answering to the name of Ryan Lochte, who snapped the gold in 4:05.18 min. Brazil's Thiago Pereira was second in 4:08.86, while Japan's Kosuke Hagino was a close third in 4:08.94.
Phelps, who will ring down curtains on his illustrious career spanning four Olympics, was a distant fourth in 4:09.28, more than five second adrift of his world record. Ryan Lochte has always played the perennial bridesmaid to Phelps, but his awesome form saw him clinch the World Championship title in 400m IM at Shanghai last year, thus mounting a real challenge to Phelps' supremacy.
The hyped rivalry between Phelps and Lochte never materialized. In fact, Lochte looked bewildered after the race, not knowing how to explain his win or how to face the global media.
The signs were ominous in the early-morning heats when Phelps timed 4min 13.33sec, his unhurried pace seeing him make the final by the skin of his teeth. But, still there was an aura of invincibility when he took the pool in his first final at London in the evening.
Phelps had perhaps got out on the wrong side of bed.
Later, a distraught Phelps was quoted as telling the media: "It was just a crappy race … I felt fine the first 200 and then I couldn't really go the last 100." The legend will have another half-a-dozen chances to prove he is still the best in the business and that second opportunity will come.
Lochte was not the only one cornering limelight on Saturday evening. China's Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen registered their name in the record books with amazing performances. While Sun became the Dragon country's first male Olympic gold-medallist in the pool, with an awesome swim in the 400m freestyle, Ye, only 16, smashed the 400m medley world record, clocking 4:28.43. She was more than a second faster than the defending champion from Australia, Stephanie Rice, who had timed 4:29.45 in Beijing four years back.
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