By Zach Bigalke
Yesterday at the FINA World Championships in Shanghai, Ryan Lochte got his second straight victory over Michael Phelps to assert a potential changing of the guard among the American contenders in the pool ahead of next year’s London Olympiad. Following up his 200m freestyle win over the 14-time Olympic gold medalist, Lochte edged out Phelps to the wall in the 200m individual medley and immediately turned back toward the clock.
Why was this first world record set at this year’s world championships so significant? Quite simply, it is the first time that one of the slew of world-record numbers (which were lowered by aerodynamic polyurethane swimsuits over the past few years) has fallen since the ban on the new-age suits that had turned athletes into torpedoes.
In lowering his own world-record time (one set at the 2009 Worlds in Rome in Speedo’s next-generation LZR Racer suit) by a tenth of a second, Lochte proved that there was more to the surge in record times in recent years than just performance-enhancing technology. By touching the wall in 1:54 flat, he showed that — even in a more traditional suit — he is still the fastest man in the pool at the moment. And if he can break world records, so too will more fall in the future… no matter what the swimsuits look like, our athletes are inevitably bound to get physically better.
Now we are left to wonder what this will all mean for the two American swimming superstars. Will Phelps — who thought he had the race won when he touched the wall, before seeing Lochte’s world-record time flashed on the screen — use this as motivation to shed away the lack of fitness that has plagued his rare forays into the pool since Beijing? Will Lochte use the confidence gained from finally defeating his rival on the biggest stage to surge ahead and become the next dominant American Olympic swimmer?
We really can’t yet answer those questions for certain, the Olympics still a year away. But we can rewatch the classic duel between these two men, gutting it out side by side for a shot at history in the Chinese waters…
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