LONDON – Nothing whets the appetite more in Olympic swimming than a genuine rivalry and this year’s London Games promises one of the greatest duels in the pool ever seen with the clash between team-mates Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte putting the sport in a buzz.
If the men’s 200 metres freestyle at the 2004 Athens Olympics, featuring Phelps, Ian Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenband, was prematurely called the race of the century, then this might as well be the matchup of the millennium.
The two Americans will square off not once, but twice, in the 200 and 400m individual medleys, both lung-bursting events that drain every ounce of energy from swimmers but provide for compelling drama
For swimming fans, the wait is almost over with the 400 individual on tomorrow’s opening night of finals.
“This is going to be a special race,” said Gregg Troy, the head coach of the U.S. men’s team.
“I can’t imagine a better way to promote our sport than a race like this on the first day.”
Natalie Coughlin, the captain of the American women’s team, said the whole pool deck was excited about watching the pair duke it out over eight laps.
“It’s going to be an awesome race,” she said. “And it will have a lot of energy that hopefully gives us a lot of momentum going into the next eight days.”
Although Phelps won the 400 individual medley at the last two Olympics and would become the first male swimmer to win the same event three times if he’s victorious, he finds himself in the rare position as the underdog.
He dropped the gruelling event from his programme after the Beijing Olympics and was beaten by Lochte in the race at the U.S. Olympic Trials but says he has improved since then.
“I feel like my stroke is getting better and things are coming together but I can only control what I do. I can’t control what anyone else does,” he said.