Mon, September 23, 2013

Phelps falls to fourth in 400-IM final

Fails to add to medal total in first event at Olympics

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


Michael Phelps reacts after finishing fourth in the men's 400-metre individual medley during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre in London, England, July 28, 2012. (MICHAEL DALDER/Reuters)



LONDON - He may still leave here as the most decorated Olympian in history, but the Golden Boy isn't shining so brightly after a tidal wave rocked the Aquatic Centre Saturday night.

American swimmer Michael Phelps, a winner of 14 Olympic gold medals in his brilliant career, finished off the podium in his first race of the 2012 London Games. And the man who climbed to the top proclaimed himself the new prince of the pool.

Racing in dominant style throughout the men's 400-metre individual medley, fellow American Ryan Lochte destroyed the field -- and especially Phelps -- to make a statement that he is no longer content to swim in the shadow of his countryman.

"This is my year, I know it and I feel it," said Lochte, whose time of 4:05.18 was more than three seconds faster than silver medallist Thiago Pereira of Brazil. "I put in the hard work. I just feel inside my gut that this is my year."

He certainly started off the Games backing it up, taking the first medal awarded in the pool by decimating a field and stunning a capacity crowd that had come to witness the ongoing history that Phelps has provided over the past eight years.

How shocking was it? Phelps had won gold in the previous 13 Olympic races he had competed in and hadn't missed a medal at a Games since he was a 15-year-old racing in Sydney, Australia. You got the feeling that the Baltimore native knew the waves his result would create given the stunned and angry look on his face when he finally touched the wall so far behind in the wake of his fired-up rival.

"It was just a crappy race," said Phelps. "I felt fine for the first 200 (metres) and then I just don't know. (The medallists) just swam a better race than me, a smarter race than me and were more prepared.

"It's frustrating for sure, pretty upsetting. But I think the biggest thing is to get past this and try to move forward. I have a bunch of other races. Hopefully we can finish a lot better than we started."

As much as so many interests with a stake in these Games -- American broadcaster NBC, London organizers, those who clamoured for tickets to the pool -- wanted the Phelps fantasy to continue, there were ample warning signs that he wasn't going to be the dominant dude who had won eight gold in Beijing four years ago.

He can still leave here as the most prolific Olympian with three more medals in his six remaining races, but at age 27 Phelps might not be the dominant surge he once was.

At the U.S. trials last month, Lochte had shown that he might have Phelps number with a couple of wins, the latter paying the price, perhaps, for taking too much time off following Beijing. And then in Saturday's heat, Phelps just barely squeaked into the final with the eighth-fastest time.

"A lot of people say he's inhuman, but he's just like all of us," Lochte said. "He trains hard and that's what you have to learn. You have to find ways to beat him."

In Saturday's final, the first sense that Phelps might be on the ropes came during the backstroke portion when he slipped from second to third then eventually out of the medal hunt. Lochte knew he had him then and the final 150 metres became a dual spectacle of how much Lochte would win by and how many places Phelps would fall.

One of the few things not known about Phelps is how resilient he might be, mainly because he so rarely loses. He'll get a chance to return to form on Sunday when he competes for the U.S. in the 4x100 freestyle relay, a race Lochte is glad he won't be facing his teammate in.

"He's still one of the greatest swimmers in the world," Lochte said. "I'll tell you this: The rest of the races he's in, he'll light it up."

And perhaps return some of the shine that washed away Saturday night.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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