INDIANAPOLIS — Michael Phelps wants to prove he’s still the world’s best swimmer.
Ryan Lochte believes he can still beat Phelps head-to-head.
Welcome to the next installment of the world’s hottest swimming rivalry, which will be replayed three times over the next three days at the Indianapolis Grand Prix. While the meet is filled with past Olympic medalists and future Olympic hopefuls, there are two swimmers everyone will be watching — including the rivals themselves.
“You find people who bring out the best in you, and he (Lochte) definitely brings out the best in me,” Phelps said Wednesday, less than 24 hours before the meet begins.
But Phelps acknowledges he hasn’t been himself in the run up to the London Olympics, the final event of his career.
On Wednesday, during an informal discussion at a local Boys and Girls Club, the 14-time Olympic gold medalist told about 100 children and workers his results over the past three years were “horrendous.” Just two months ago, a subpar performance in a preliminary heat even forced the most decorated American Olympian to swim in a consolation heat for the 100 freestyle in Austin, Texas. At least he won that race.
Things may be about to change for the record-setting swimmer from Baltimore, who reiterated he would retire following the Olympics.
After winning a record eight Olympic gold medals in Beijing four years ago, Phelps told the audience he’s finally rediscovered his passion for swimming, established new goals and rededicated himself to the sport that turned him into an international star. He declined to explain those goals.
Clearly, Phelps doesn’t plan to coast through his farewell tour, which explains why he’s entered in five events this week — the 100 free, the 100 and 200 fly, the 200 IM and the 400 IM, an event he once swore he would never compete in again.
“The biggest thing is if I want to achieve the goals I’ve set, I’ve got to be in tip-top shape,” Phelps said. “Part of that is swimming longer races. The 400 IM is the toughest race and the most painful one.”
Lochte hasn’t exactly been in top form recently, either.
After winning five gold medals and beating Phelps twice at last year’s world championships, he had a miserable performance at the U.S. winter nationals and, like Phelps, was relegated to that consolation heat in Austin.
Some of the poor times can attributed to his training schedule.
But when Phelps and Lochte are swimming against one another, good things tend to happen.
“No matter where I’m at in my times, I’m going to go up to the blocks and race — whether it’s Michael or anyone else,” Lochte said. “It’s fun. Every sport needs a good rivalry and I’m glad to have that rivalry with such a great athlete.”
For the Indy fans, this week could produce a rare treat.
Lochte also is scheduled to compete in five races and will face Phelps three times — in the 100 free and 100 fly on Thursday and perhaps the premier event of the weekend, Saturday’s matchup in the 200 IM. The contest pits the two fastest Americans in the event. It’s a rematch between the 2008 Olympic gold and bronze medalists. And Lochte will try to hang onto the world record in a pool that Phelps has been known to break records in.
And with Lochte pushing him, it could happen again.
“Every rivalry is different,” Phelps said. “(Ian) Crocker and I was different from what Ryan and I have. Ryan and I, we swim so many different strokes against each other. Crocker and I really only swam one event. But it is fun.”
Fans aren’t the only ones who will be watching.
Brendan Hansen, a former Olympic teammate of Lochte and Phelps, acknowledges he’s been paying attention, too, and believes it’s the kind of rivalry that can help the whole American team.
“What they have is a healthy rivalry,” said Hansen, who is attempting a comeback at age 30. “No matter what happens, going into London, those are two guys you can build off, that you can feed off of and they’re definitely going to be the backbone of this U.S. team.”
Regardless of what happens in Indy this week or at this summer’s Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb.
Other prominent swimmers competing in Indy include Missy Franklin, Cullen Jones, Kara Lynn Joyce, Dana Vollmer and Dara Torres.