London 2012: Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte—Will This Be the Last Time?

Galvin KilroeContributor IIIJuly 3, 2012

OMAHA, NE - JUNE 27:  (L-R) Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps during the medal ceremony for the championship final of the Men's 200 m Freestyle during Day Three of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials at CenturyLink Center on June 27, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

The soon-to-be most successful Olympian of all-time announced this will be his last Olympic games, but should we believe him?  While this has gone largely unquestioned by NBC, perhaps to enhance the ratings of these Games, expect to see Phelps in Rio, competing. 

Phelps has been adamant for years that he will not swim in another Olympics.  Door closed, right?  Move on to the other storylines floating around.  Ryan Lochte has surpassed Phelps. Phelps took too much time off from training, and his absence from the pool will hinder his performance.  Finally, will Michael Phelps attempt to swim the same events from his gold-laden 2008 performance?

Phelps answered that for us yesterday, with an unequivocal "No."  He will not swim the 200-meter freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics.  No big deal—he’s conserving energy to maximize his gold medal intake for these Games. 


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Phelps dropped out of an event for which he set the world record in Sydney.  Relatively new to the race in 2004 he earned the bronze, in what has been dubbed “The Race of the Century.” 

He was defeated by the man many expected to be remembered as the greatest swimmer of all-time, Ian Thorpe, who conceded this title and retired out of a Bjorn Borg like inability to be No. 2.  Speaking of No. 2, Dutch legend Pieter van den Hoogenband, a one-time Male World Swimmer of the Year, finished with silver ahead of Phelps.

The way the 200-meter free unfolded in 2004 made Phelps’ world record in 2008 that much sweeter.  Many swimming enthusiasts doubted he would be able to improve enough in this event to make eight gold medals a viable possibility in 2008. 

Phelps dropping it is significant, because an event that should seemingly mean a lot to him simply doesn’t.  Phelps has a good if not better chance of winning this event than he does the 400-meter individual medley, an event Lochte has beaten him in several times, most recently at the 2012 US Olympic Trials or his worrisome 100-meter fly. 

Phelps, a notoriously slow starter in the 100-meter fly, barely edged Ian Crocker out of the gold by four-hundredths of a second in 2004, and he out-touched Serbian Milorad Cavic by one-hundredth of a second despite touching the wall after Cavic’s initial, less forceful contact.

What all of this means is that Phelps is trying to go MJ.  No, not Michael Johnson—Michael Jordan.  Phelps is going for three-peats.

Aside:  Microsoft Word is trying to tell me peats is incorrect, because it is unfamiliar with the concept of three-peats. Hopefully they correct the term after Michael Phelps becomes the first swimmer to win an individual event in three consecutive Olympicsin four different events.

If you didn’t read the aside, Michael Phelps is attempting to become the first swimmer to ever win gold in an individual event three consecutive times, in not one, but four events.  That is why he dropped the 200-meter freestyle—it’s not part of the history he is going for.

Assuming Phelps wins a few of these events, you can bet he will be back to become the first person to ever win four consecutive individual events at an Olympics.  After these Olympics, he will reap endorsement money and quietly train, maintaining that he is retired. 

As Rio approaches and his endorsement dollars start to get threatened by people that will actually be competing, Phelps will announce he’s back. 

Don’t expect an “I’m back” statement, but whatever he does will make the news. Winning an event or two in 2016 will put about 20 million in Phelps' coffers, which factored in with the chance to cement his legacy as the greatest swimmer of all-time for centuries to come will be too difficult for Phelps to pass up. 

Oh, and one more thing—Phelps' mom, the loving lady that is always poolside, wants him to swim.  Translation: This wealthy GOAT and momma’s boy will compete in Rio.

Expect Phelps to win four individual gold medals in London.  The 200-meter fly is his most solid event, he looks unbeatable in the 200-meter individual medley, and I think he held back a little in the 400 individual medley.  With a full taper in effect, he will beat Lochte, and for some unknown reason, I like him to pull a victory out of the back of his Speedo in the 100-meter fly, even if this defies logic. 

That means Phelps will for sure be going after his fourth consecutive gold medals in the 200 individual medley and 200-meter fly in Rio.  Expect him to train as if he will swim the 400-meter individual medley, but if his time isn’t there, he will drop it.  Since he will still be the best in the 200 meter fly, he may take another stab at the 100-meter fly, and if there was ever a person who could miraculously win this event again, by the skin of their fingertips, it would be Phelps. 

Back to reality—at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Phelps will earn two individual gold medals in the 200-meter individual medley and 200-meter fly.    

If Phelps doesn’t swim in Rio, we will be forced to endure a Spitzian attempt at a return past his prime in pursuit of one final payday.

One final thought: After retiring in 2016 with at least one gold medal in an individual event, Phelps in old age will be coaxed out of retirement with a promise of a giant paycheck if he can qualify for an event, and an even bigger one if he medals.  And don’t put this herculean feat past him. After all, the Olympics were started by the Greeks, and Michael Phelps is Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer of all-time.