Fourteen-time gold medalist Michael Phelps is human after all.
Ryan Lochte, his friend, fellow 27-year-old and U.S. teammate, won the 400-meter individual medley last night at the London Olympics by a margin of almost four seconds.
Phelps, the two-time Olympic champion in the event, struggled from the start and finished fourth. It was the first time he hasn’t won a medal in an Olympic race since 2000.
“ A lot of people say Michael is inhuman but you know what, he’s just like all of us,” Lochte said in a news conference. “He trains harder though. He knows how to win and that’s what you really have to learn.”
Phelps, who had scraped into the final, described his race as “frustrating.”
“That’s all I can say,” the 27-year-old told reporters. “It’s pretty upsetting. But I think the biggest thing now is just to try to get past this and move forward. I have a bunch of other races and hopefully we can finish a lot better than we started. That’s what I’m going to try to do.”
The two men are scheduled to race again in the 200-meter individual medley on Aug. 2.
Swimming events decided today are the women’s 100-meter butterfly, the men’s 100-meter breaststroke, the women’s 400- meter freestyle and the men’s 400-meter freestyle relays.
Lochte, a 27-year-old American, yesterday won the first final at the Aquatics Centre in 4 minutes, 5.18 seconds. The event includes 100 meters each of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.
Lochte led from the start and extended his advantage after the second leg. He won by 3.68 seconds. Thiago Pereira, 26, of Brazil took the silver and Kosuke Hagino, 17, of Japan won the bronze.
Bob Bowman, Phelps’ coach, couldn’t explain the swimmer’s worst result in an Olympic final since he was a 15-year-old rookie at the Sydney Games.
“I honestly don’t think it was a fitness issue,” Bowman told reporters. “I thought he was in a good place mentally.”
Phelps remains two short of tying the record 18 Olympic medals won by former Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina.
He took two years out after winning a record eight gold medals in Beijing before returning to the pool in 2010. At that time he said he wouldn’t return to the 400 medley but changed his mind a year later.
Lochte, a Floridian who’s 11 months older than Phelps, has credited his recent successes to a fitness plan that includes rolling large tires, tossing kegs and dragging heavy chains. Although Lochte won two gold medals in Beijing in 2008, he’d been overshadowed by Phelps.
The tables turned after Beijing, as Lochte won 15 gold medals at the following three world championships. Lochte, who took bronze in the 400-meter individual medley in Beijing, won the event at the 2009 and 2011 world championships. At last month’s U.S. swimming trials in Omaha, Nebraska, he beat Phelps in the event in a personal best of 4:07.06.
“This is my year,” Lochte said yesterday. “I feel it because I’ve put in a lot of hard work. I’ve trained my butt off for four years and I just feel inside my gut that this is my year. There’s no better way to start this Olympics than with in my first race getting a gold.”
Among those in the crowd was Michelle Obama, the wife of the U.S. president. The crowd cheered “USA, USA,” after Lochte won the race, and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” played before the medal ceremony, the first gold of the games for the American team.
The men’s 400-meter freestyle was won by Yang Sun, 20, of China in a time of 3:40.14. South Korea’s Park Tae-Hwan finished second, while Peter Vanderkaay of the U.S. got the bronze.
Park, the Olympic champion in Beijing, had successfully appealed his disqualification for a false start in winning his heat.
The Korean Swimming Federation lodged a protest that was upheld by the technical commission of FINA, international swimming’s governing body.
China’s 16-year-old Shiwen Ye won the women’s 400-meter individual medley in a world-record time of 4:28.43. It was the first world record set in the London swimming competition.
Australia’s team of Alicia Coutts, Cate Campbell, Brittany Elmslie, 18, and Melanie Schlanger, 25, won the women’s 400- meter freestyle relay in an Olympic-record 3:33.15. The Netherlands, 2008 champion, took the silver medal and the U.S. the bronze.
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