Olympic Frenemies: When Your Buddy Is Your Rival

'Frenemies': American swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte i i

'Frenemies': American teammates Ryan Lochte (left) and Michael Phelps competed against each other in the men's 200-meter individual medley final at the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics on Friday. Phelps took the gold; Lochte got the bronze. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press hide caption

itoggle caption Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
'Frenemies': American swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte

'Frenemies': American teammates Ryan Lochte (left) and Michael Phelps competed against each other in the men's 200-meter individual medley final at the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics on Friday. Phelps took the gold; Lochte got the bronze.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Shawn Johnson receives a hug from Nastia Liukin, her friend, teammate and roommate i i

American gymnast Shawn Johnson (left) receives a hug from Nastia Liukin, her friend, teammate and roommate at the Olympic Athletes Village in Beijing. Johnson is the reigning all-around world champion, but Liukin took the gold in the women's individual all-around at the Olympics on Friday. Johnson got silver. hide caption

itoggle caption
Shawn Johnson receives a hug from Nastia Liukin, her friend, teammate and roommate

American gymnast Shawn Johnson (left) receives a hug from Nastia Liukin, her friend, teammate and roommate at the Olympic Athletes Village in Beijing. Johnson is the reigning all-around world champion, but Liukin took the gold in the women's individual all-around at the Olympics on Friday. Johnson got silver.

At the highest echelon of athletics, such as the Beijing Olympics, the air is rarefied and the roster is small. Within a sport, world-class competitors not only go up against the same familiar faces time and time again; they travel, eat, bunk and goof off with them, too.

Sometimes, as with American gymnasts Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin or swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, they are also teammates. Before the Olympics, Phelps was asked about racing against his good buddy Lochte. "He's a great friend and a great competitor," Phelps told The Associated Press. "I love racing him."

The Web site College On the Record calls these cordial rivals "frenemies," a combo of friends and enemies. But you can call them "chumpetitors" — chums and competitors. They are competitive and cooperative, with feelings of rivalry and camaraderie toggling back and forth.

You see the evidence: iciness, then niceness. Slugging, then hugging. Outdiving, then high-fiving.

The intensity of the Olympics shines a harsh light on these relationships. Back stories emerge. Swimming rivals Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe and Margaret Hoelzer of the United States, for instance, used to be roommates and training partners. They won NCAA championships together at Auburn University in Alabama. Now they battle on the international stage. They swim against each other in the 200-meter backstroke race on Day 8.

Other chumpetition at the Olympics has included members of the same team, like British swimmers Rebecca Adlington and Jo Jackson, and athletes on opposing teams, such as Japanese judo champion Ayumi Tanimoto, who went up against her friend/rival Lucie Decosse of France.

There have been famous professional sports frenemies through the ages, including tennis players Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova; golfers Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara; and basketballers Dirk Nowitski and Steve Nash.

Superstar athletes have to zone out all distractions in order to compete on lofty levels. "Good performance is about being engaged in the moment," says Richard Ginsburg, a sport psychology consultant at Harvard Medical School.

In other words, Ginsburg says, "Thoughts of the past and worries of the future are the enemies of the present. When Michael Phelps gets ready to race and he is at his best mentally, he's not thinking about who's next to him. He's thinking about how the water feels."

Competition, Ginsburg says, is often the opposite of what friendship is all about. Success is dependent on "the athlete's ability to shift the cognitive and emotional frame of mind."

He adds: "Pushing each other to the limit can be seen as a way to honor the friendship, as opposed to a way to challenge or undermine it."

And, for the peak performers, great competition among buddies can raise the level of everyone's game. With friends like that, who needs animus?

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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