LONDON — Michael Phelps might be one day from retirement, but this is still his time.
Phelps, the old master, vanquished Ryan Lochte one last time on Thursday. Tyler Clary, for so long the understudy to the two headline acts in American swimming, whipped Lochte too.
That left Lochte 0-for-2 in gold medals on Thursday, 2-for-6 in London. To Americans conditioned by Phelps’ 8-for-8 golden run in Beijing, Lochte’s oft-repeated “This is my time” proclamation appeared awfully hollow.
“Yeah, I wanted to get all gold in my events,” Lochte said. “It didn’t happen. I’m going to have to live with that.”
Phelps increased his Olympic-record medal count to 20 by winning gold in the 200-meter individual medley, becoming the first male swimmer to win an event in three consecutive Olympics.
“It’s pretty cool and pretty special to three-peat,” Phelps said. “It’s cool to add that to the resume.”
Lochte took silver in the 200 IM and bronze in the 200 backstroke, behind Clary and Japan’s Ryosuke Irie. Not only did Clary win his first Olympic medal, he set an Olympic record.
“I’m on cloud nine,” said Clary. “I want more of this.”
Rebecca Soni won gold in the women’s 200 breaststroke, setting a world record in the event for the second consecutive day. Soni, the former USC star whose behavior defines reserved and restrained, practically exploded in joy when she saw her record time posted on the scoreboard.
“I didn’t want to look,” she said. “I was scared to look. I’m so happy I can’t believe it.”
By winning two medals on Thursday, Lochte increased his career total to 11. Phelps is the only American man with more.
In six events in London, Lochte won five medals — two gold, two silver, one bronze.
“A little bit above average,” he said.
Lochte faded toward the end of four races; he dropped from first to third over the final 50 meters of the 200 backstroke on Thursday. The U.S. coaches did not select him for the medley relay on Saturday.
Gregg Troy, the coach for Lochte, took exception to the suggestion that Lochte did not swim well.
“How many people walk out with five medals? I mean, it’s way above average,” Troy said. “You come with real high expectations. Sometimes you get them. Sometimes you don’t.”
To hold Lochte to the standard Phelps set in 2008, Troy said, is ridiculous.
“Anyone who doesn’t realize what Michael did in Beijing isn’t paying attention,” Troy said. “It’s never been done before. It’s probably never going to be done again.
“You see where Michael this week was fantastic, and it’s still not quite Beijing.”
Yet, Troy conceded he and Lochte might have to consider a less strenuous event schedule for the 2016 Games. Lochte turns 27 Friday, the same age as Phelps.
Phelps has two gold medals, two silver medals and two events to go here. He is the one who is retiring, and yet he could depart London with more gold medals and more total medals than Lochte.
“All the brutal workouts I put my body through? I’m getting older,” Lochte said. “It’s time to change my training a little and take it down a notch.”
Yet the retirement of Phelps does not necessarily mean Lochte will emerge as the undisputed star of American swimming. Missy Franklin, the teen sensation, has two gold medals here and could win two more.
Soni and Dana Vollmer set world records here. Matt Grevers and Allison Schmitt set Olympic records.
And so did Clary, who wasted no time declaring his candidacy for the 2016 team.
“I’m just using this as a stepping stone for Rio now,” he said.
Clary, 23, jumped out of the shadow of Lochte in the most uncomfortable of ways last month, when he challenged Phelps’ work ethic in an interview with his hometown Press-Enterprise.
For a few weeks, that was what passed for a U.S. swimming controversy. Then the Games started, and Phelps lost the 400 IM to Lochte, and lo and behold Phelps’ coach called the defeat “ultimately a fitness issue.” Then Phelps lost the 200 fly in the final split-second, and lo and behold Phelps himself said he occasionally came “sort of lazy into the wall.”
Consider Clary once bitten, twice shy. After he beat Lochte, Clary artfully deflected the question of whether he ought to be the one declaring, “This is my time.”
“Hey, if that’s what people want to say, then go for it,” Clary said. “That’s what people do nowadays.”
(c)2012 Los Angeles Times
Distributed by MCT Information Services