SHANGHAI — Ryan Lochte rescued the United States from impending defeat in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay at the world championships with a gutty swim after he won the 200 backstroke.
There’s not much he hasn’t done this week, collecting five medals — four gold — and the only world record so far. That kind of success used to be the domain of Michael Phelps.
Now it’s Lochte’s world and Phelps is just swimming in his wake.
“If you go by medals alone, I would say yes. It’s a definite change of the guard,” said American Tyler Clary, third in the 200 back. “The cool thing about swimming is your times speak for themselves. In pretty much every one of his races, he’s won it hands down.”
Phelps also has five medals, but just one individual gold with two days remaining.
“Unfortunately, Lochte’s not doing the fly, so that’s a big opening for him,” Australia’s Geoff Huegill said, laughing.
Lochte carried his teammates in the relay Friday after Phelps and Ricky Berens lost the lead. Lochte trailed France’s Fabien Gilot by half a body length until the final 100 meters, when he moved ahead off his second turn.
From there, Lochte increased his lead to nearly two body lengths and cruised into the wall with a time of 7 minutes, 2.67 seconds. The Americans have won the event in every international competition since the 2004 Athens Olympics.
“We had a pretty good fight to keep it,” Phelps said. “I don’t think there’s anybody else we want to have on the end of the relay than Ryan. We all set it up and he brought it home.”
In his only final of the night, Phelps led off the relay and was briefly under world-record pace on his opening lap against old rival Paul Biedermann of Germany. Phelps led after 100 meters, then dropped to third while swimming slower than Biedermann on his final two laps.
“I would’ve liked to have swum a little faster on the leadoff,” Phelps said. “But I think I’ve said that almost every day so far — hopefully with more training I can swim faster.”
Peter Vanderkaay restored the Americans’ lead before Berens lost it again on the third leg, leaving Lochte to put them back on top.
“Once we hit around the 75 (meter) mark, I knew it was over,” Lochte said. “I knew I had a lot of energy left, and I was going to hit that second wall and just go for it.”
That’s what Lochte did earlier in the 200 back, leading all the way to win by 1.15 seconds over Japan’s Ryosuke Irie and regain the title he first won in 2007.
Lochte touched in 1:52.96, giving the United States its seventh consecutive world title in the event. Irie finished in 1:54.11, and Clary took the bronze at 1:54.69.
“I don’t think that was a good time for me,” Lochte said. “There are some things I got to work on.”
Earlier in the meet, Lochte won the 200 free and 200 individual medley, beating Phelps both times. He also set a world record in the 200 IM — the first world mark since high-tech bodysuits were banned 19 months ago.
“I have a lot of confidence, especially what happened last year,” said Lochte, who won six golds to Phelps’ five at the Pan Pacific championships a year ago.
Earlier, Phelps led the 100 butterfly semifinals in 51.47. He won’t be facing Milorad Cavic in Saturday’s final. The American-born Serb who nearly spoiled Phelps’ bid for eight golds at the Beijing Olympics failed to advance out of the morning heats as he recovers from back surgery.
Lochte’s performances highlighted the most successful night yet for the U.S., with Rebecca Soni winning the 200 breaststroke to go with her earlier title in the 100 breast.
After easily moving through the prelims and semifinals, Soni struggled the second half of the race, touching in 2:21.47 to hold off a late rally by Yuliya Efimova of Russia. Efimova took silver in 2:22.22 and Martha McCabe of Canada earned bronze at 2:24.81.
“It felt great the first 100 and then I was trying to hold on at the end,” Soni said. “I ran out of gas.”
Still, it was a satisfying turnaround from 2009, when Soni was 1.5 seconds ahead of world-record pace halfway through the race and then dropped to fourth on the last lap.
“I try to put that in the past,” she said. “I proved I can win the gold medal.”
Denmark’s Jeanette Ottesen and Aliaksandra Herasimenia of Belarus finished in a dead heat for gold in the 100 freestyle at 53.45 seconds. Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands took the bronze at 53.66.
World record holder Britta Steffen dropped out after finishing 16th in Thursday’s preliminaries. The German swept both the 50 and 100 free at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and at the worlds two years ago in Rome.
It was the second time in these championships that there was a dead heat for gold, after Camille Lacourt and Jeremy Stravius of France shared the top spot on the podium in the men’s 100 backstroke Tuesday.
Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima of Japan endured a bitter disappointment in the men’s 200 breast.
He was on world-record pace with one lap to go, but got overtaken by defending champion Daniel Gyurta of Hungary.
Gyurta finished in 2:08.41, while Kitajima took the silver at 2:08.63. Christian vom Lehn of Germany earned the bronze in 2:09.06.
“It’s probably the biggest day of my life because ever since I started taking part in the world championships in 2003, I’ve tried to catch (Kitajima) and now I’ve succeeded,” Gyurta said.
Earlier, Kitajima was fourth in the 100 breast.
“We had a good, exciting race,” he said in a barely audible voice. “Having all these younger swimmers come up will motivate me and challenge me for the Olympics.”