Four years on, Phelps is virtually guaranteed to occupy a permanent place in the headlines in the 2012 London Olympics, but this time he might have company. What resembled a one-man show in Beijing could morph into an epic Olympic rivalry, as Phelps’s American teammate Ryan Lochte has emerged as a favorite to win several events, thanks to a spectacular season.
Lochte won five gold medals at the World Aquatics Championship and was named World Swimmer of the Year in 2011. While Phelps will always be the golden boy to many, Lochte’s good looks and relaxed personality could endear him to a wider audience when London rolls around. In November, Lochte, Phelps, and women’s team member Natalie Coughlin modeled the new superhero-esque, FINA-approved Speedo Fastskin3 swimsuit and space-age goggles. They asserted that, despite its advantages, the suit won’t deserve the credit for their wins.
Phelps and Lochte will likely square off in several events at the London Aquatics Centre — a state-of-the-art facility built for the upcoming Olympics. The two are friends away from the pool, but their rivalry in the water will be intensified further when Lochte announces how many events he plans to enter. At the world championships, Lochte swam in six events, but it’s believed he’s likely to add more to his program in an attempt to match either 1972 legend Mark Spitz (winner of seven golds) or Phelps’s haul of eight — or even aim for nine, which is uncharted territory in the Olympic pool.
Experts are already favoring Lochte over Phelps, as some have suggested Phelps’s best days are behind him, even though he’s only 26. However, Phelps, who relaxed his training routine during the first three years after the 2008 Olympics, has promised that his spectacular form from Beijing will return in time for the start of the Summer Games, setting up a monumental showdown to captivate the world.
Yahoo! Sports general assignment writer/reporter Martin Rogers spent seven years as a soccer writer for the London Daily Mirror, covering the English Premier League, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup, and international soccer. A journalism graduate from Harlow College, he is now based in Los Angeles and covers soccer, boxing, golf, and the Olympics.