The expected rivalry between Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps never really materialized in London Saturday, as Lochte whipped Phelps and the rest of the field by more than three seconds in the 400 individual medley to open the Olympic swim meet.
The biggest news, though, was Phelps finished fourth -- off the medal stand for the first time in his last 17 Olympic events.
Here's a sneak peek at my column from England:
LONDON – Michael Phelps showed his vulnerability in the very first race of the Olympic swim meet Saturday night, finishing fourth as U.S. teammate Ryan Lochte easily won the 400 individual medley to earn America its first gold medal of these Summer Olympics.
What was supposed to be a rivalry turned into a rout, with Lochte leading the field by about three body lengths when the race ended. Phelps, who nearly missed qualifying for the final, was never in real contention and was out-touched at the wall for third.
The moods of the two best male swimmers in the U.S. couldn’t have been more different afterward. “I’ve said this before – this is my year,” Lochte exulted.
“Frustrating,” Phelps said. “It was pretty upsetting. But the biggest thing now is trying to get past this and move forward. I have a bunch of other races and hopefully we can finish a lot better than how we started.”
Brazil’s Thiago Pereira and Japan’s Kosuke Hagino separated Lochte and Phelps by finishing second and third, respectively. Phelps’ world record of 4:03.84 set in a high-tech swimsuit in the 2008 Olympics was not seriously threatened by Lochte (4:05.18), but Phelps was nearly six seconds off his pace from 2008. Lochte led almost wire-to-wire, winning by more than three seconds in what is generally considered swimming’s most grueling race.
Phelps called it “a crappy race” afterward while Lochte alternated between celebration and surprise. “When I touched the wall, I guess I was in shock,” he said. “I think I still am – that I finally won.”
As for not having Phelps with him on the medal stand, Lochte said: “Tell you what, it’s weird.”
More to come online and in Saturday's Observer.