Daniel Ochoa De Olza/AP
United States' Ryan Lochte reacts after finishing first in the men's 400-meter individual medley swimming final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park. Lochte won the first U.S. gold medal at the 2012 Summer Games.
United States' Ryan Lochte reacts after finishing first in the men's 400-meter individual medley swimming final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park. Lochte won the first U.S. gold medal at the 2012 Summer Games. Daniel Ochoa De Olza/AP
Ryan Lochte won the gold medal in the men's 400-meter individual medley Saturday, beating Michael Phelps and the rest of a talented field at the London 2012 Olympics.
Lochte finished with a time of 4:05.18, beating Brazil's Thiago Pereira (4:08.86) and Japan's Kosuke Hagino (4:08.94). Phelps was fourth, at 4:09.28. Lochte sprang to an early lead in the butterfly, and solidified it with his backstroke.
The victory wasn't a surprise to Lochte, who said that he knew he was in good shape coming into the London Games. Still, the win seemed to take a while to sink in.
"I think I'm kind of in shock right now," he said after the race. But he soon seemed to be completely recovered — and showing the personality he's known for. According to the AP:
"About a half-hour after the race, the laid-back Floridian returned to the medal podium to receive the fourth gold medal of his career. Wearing diamond-studded grillz in his mouth and lime-green sneakers on the feet that powered him through the water faster than anyone else, Lochte strolled around the deck kissing his medal while Bruce Springsteen's 'Born in the USA' played over the
After accepting his medal, Lochte invited Pereira and Hagino onto the podium's top step along with him. There, the three grinned and posed for photographers, biting their medals.
During the race, Phelps swam in the pool's eighth lane, a position resulting from his unimpressive qualifying swim earlier in the day. That was a disadvantage in the race's final freestyle leg, as Phelps, who breathes to his right, could not easily keep track of the rest of the field.
But Phelps refused to blame the lane for his fourth-place finish — one of his rare Olympic events that hasn't ended with him on the podium.
"It was just a crappy race," he said. "I felt fine the first 200, then I don't know. They just swam a better race than me, a smarter race than me, and were better prepared than me. That's why they're on the medal stand."
NPR's Howard Berkes passes along this quote from Phelps: "I was trying to find a gear I couldn't find. It was a frustrating finish... but I am getting faster and I've got a bunch of other races to come. I hope to finish better than I started."
Many observers had been expecting a 1-2 American finish in this race — the only question, for many, was which of the two would win. Lochte has had a strangle-hold on the 400m individual medley since 2009, while Phelps holds the world record in the event. But in U.S. trials before the Summer Games, Lochte beat Phelps in the same race by nearly a second.
Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images
Ryan Lochte smiles on the podium with his new gold medal after winning the men's 400m individual medley in London Saturday. Lochte is wearing a dental accessory known as grillz, in the shape of the American flag.
Still, neither American was the top seed coming into the race. The fastest qualifying time was turned in by Japan's Hagino, who set an Asian continental record at 4:10.01 — more than two seconds quicker than Lochte and three seconds faster than Phelps. He improved on that time in the final.
In losing the race, Phelps also lost his bid to become the first three-peat winner of the same Olympic swimming event.
"I know he gave it everything he had," Lochte said of Phelps. "I'm going to go talk to him in the dressing room."