Ryan Lochte won the gold medal in the men's 400-meter individual medley Saturday, beating Michael Phelps and the rest of a talented field at the London 2012 Olympics.
Lochte finished with a time of 4:05.18, beating Brazil's Thiago Pereira (4:08.86) and Japan's Kosuke Hagino (4:08.94). Phelps was fourth, at 4:09.28. Lochte sprang to an early lead in the butterfly, and solidified it with his backstroke.
The victory wasn't a surprise to Lochte, who said that he knew he was in good shape coming into the London Games. Still, the win seemed to take a while to sink in.
"I think I'm kind of in shock right now," he said after the race. But he soon seemed to be completely recovered — and showing the personality he's known for. According to the AP:
"About a half-hour after the race, the laid-back Floridian returned to the medal podium to receive the fourth gold medal of his career. Wearing diamond-studded grillz in his mouth and lime-green sneakers on the feet that powered him through the water faster than anyone else, Lochte strolled around the deck kissing his medal while Bruce Springsteen's 'Born in the USA' played over the
After accepting his medal, Lochte invited Pereira and Hagino onto the podium's top step along with him. There, the three grinned and posed for photographers, biting their medals.
During the race, Phelps swam in the pool's eighth lane, a position resulting from his unimpressive qualifying swim earlier in the day. That was a disadvantage in the race's final freestyle leg, as Phelps, who breathes to his right, could not easily keep track of the rest of the field.
But Phelps refused to blame the lane for his fourth-place finish — one of his rare Olympic events that hasn't ended with him on the podium.
"It was just a crappy race," he said. "I felt fine the first 200, then I don't know. They just swam a better race than me, a smarter race than me, and were better prepared than me. That's why they're on the medal stand."
NPR's Howard Berkes passes along this quote from Phelps: "I was trying to find a gear I couldn't find. It was a frustrating finish... but I am getting faster and I've got a bunch of other races to come. I hope to finish better than I started."
Many observers had been expecting a 1-2 American finish in this race — the only question, for many, was which of the two would win. Lochte has had a strangle-hold on the 400m individual medley since 2009, while Phelps holds the world record in the event. But in U.S. trials before the Summer Games, Lochte beat Phelps in the same race by nearly a second.
Still, neither American was the top seed coming into the race. The fastest qualifying time was turned in by Japan's Hagino, who set an Asian continental record at 4:10.01 — more than two seconds quicker than Lochte and three seconds faster than Phelps. He improved on that time in the final.
In losing the race, Phelps also lost his bid to become the first three-peat winner of the same Olympic swimming event.
"I know he gave it everything he had," Lochte said of Phelps. "I'm going to go talk to him in the dressing room."
GUY RAZ, HOST:
The first full day of competition at the Olympics in London featured a hyped showdown that turned out not to be a showdown at all. And the gold medal moment was the tiniest of margin. Now, if you're planning to tune in later to watch the tape-delay drama on TV, turn away from your radio for the next three minutes because this will be a spoiler.
NPR's Howard Berkes is watching the drama in real time in London, and he joins me now. Howard, let's not bury the lead here. American swimmers, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, in their first face-to-face matchup of these games, the men's 400-meter individual medley, Lochte blew Phelps out of the water to take the gold.
HOWARD BERKES, BYLINE: It was this big loud statement that Ryan Lochte made, which is these are not the Michael Phelps Olympics. He was on a world record pace during two of those legs of that medley, and he finished more than three seconds ahead of the closest swimmer. He really smoked that field and left behind in his spray was Michael Phelps who not only didn't win a medal but struggled to finish fourth.
RAZ: So Lochte gets the first gold medal for the U.S. in the Olympics. Phelps would seem to start with a pretty big blow to his confidence. What did he say after the race?
BERKES: He summed it up this way: It was just a crappy race. He was trying to find a gear that he couldn't find, he said. And, you know, this morning, Phelps barely made it into the final. He finished last in the preliminary heat, and he was forced to swim on an outside lane. That's probably something he hasn't done in a long time. That's where the slowest swimmers swim.
And it's also where you can see the rest of the field as you're going along. And what that did was give him a great view of Ryan Lochte swimming off into the distance.
RAZ: This really is Lochte's moment. I mean, he has been in Michael Phelps' shadow now for many years. Is he swimming out of that shadow?
BERKES: This is the Olympics in which, I think, he's hoping to do that. Of course, Michael Phelps still has opportunities to win medals and to become the athlete who has won the most medals ever in an Olympics. But it's really no surprise what happened tonight. Lochte has done well in the individual medley in the past. He has the fastest time this year. He beat Phelps at it at the U.S. Olympic trials before the games. So, you know, that's not a surprise. But, you know, second question from reporters after the race for Lochte was about Michael Phelps.
RAZ: Howard, anything else you've been watching there in London today that got you excited?
BERKES: My favorite moment of the day came in archery of all things and the very last section of the archery competition, which featured the U.S. team and the team from Italy. The U.S. had a nine-point lead, and so the Italian archer had to get his arrow in a tiny circle, the 10-point circle. And he pulls back the arrow, he pulls back the bow, and he's got his eyes trained on that target. And the arrow flies off and hits right on the line just inside the 10-point circle. Just by a hair, they won that gold medal, the Italian team. The Americans finished with a silver. It was an amazing moment.
RAZ: Wow. That's NPR's Howard Berkes reporting for us from London, of course, on the Olympics there. Howard, thanks.
BERKES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.