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DFTBA Sports: Olympic Swimming

31/07/2012

Following Danny Boyle’s remarkable opening ceremony, much of the talk surrounding the London 2012 Olympics Games has been surrounding what occurs in the pool. Following Michael Phelps’ legendary performance at the ’08 Games, at which he collected eight gold medals. As a result of this feat and the emergence of fellow American Ryan Lochte as an elite competitor, the impending battle between the pair over the course of these Games was billed as one for the ages.

The first event pitting the two against one another was the 400-meter individual medley on Saturday. It turned out to be Lochte’s day, as he held a slender advantage for most of the race before pulling away on the final lap to win with ease. This wasn’t the shocker though, as he was a fine swimmer in his own right. The big surprise was the poor showing put in by Phelps, who finished a measly fourth, completely outside of the medal positions. In fact, Phelps had barely managed to even qualify, finishing only 0.07 seconds quicker than the swimmer who came ninth. Phelps had pulled out of a number of events so that he could focus on a smaller number of races, but it appeared as though his effort to conserve energy was futile. For all intents and purposes, his moment had passed, and now it was Lochte’s time to shine.

The next day, Lochte and Phelps teamed up for the 4×100 relay. A loaded Australian team featuring James “The Missile” Magnussen was heavily favoured in the run-up to the race, but the US team would have fancied their chances, despite Phelps apparent lack of form. The two teams were head-to-head at the front of the pack before Phelps’ leg, in which he opened a body’s length advantage for Lochte in the final 100. As he finished his first 50 meters, Australia had slipped away, leaving only France as his competition for gold. With only 25 meters to go, the win was all but in the bag, but Lochte inexplicably let up, allowing the French team to sneak in and grab the gold in the last few strokes. Phelps finished with the fastest leg of the team, leaving it all in the pool, but his teammate and rival couldn’t capitalise, leaving with only a silver medal. Perhaps Lochte’s 400-meter gold was a fluke.

On Monday it certainly started to look that way, as he missed the podium entirely in the final of the 200-meter freestyle, finishing a disappointing fourth. It had been presumed that Lochte would dominate in Phelps’ place when the latter fell out of form, but, so far, just the single gold seemed to be the height of it. With only three events left for Lochte, he certainly won’t match Phelps’ record of eight, but hoping for that was unreasonable. Mark Spitz’s record of seven medals in a single Games stood for 36 years, it’s entirely possible that Phelps’ could stand for that long, considering the immensity of the challenge facing anyone looking to tackle it. We took Phelps’ performance in Beijing to be the norm and expected it to be matched this year, when it was in fact utterly unprecedented, and probably won’t be matched for decades.

While there are a massive number of athletes participating in the Olympics, approximately 10,500 competing in 302 events in 26 different sports, there are only a handful of superstars. Those that seem to dwarf all those around them both physically and with their personalities. Athletes that transcend the Games, bringing a plethora of journalists around the wherever they go. Phelps and Lochte are among them, hence the focus on swimming by the media to this point. I know I personally haven’t seen too many field hockey players trending on Twitter or being the focal point of articles and news pieces across the world. But there is one man who is yet to feature at London 2012. One man who, like Phelps, broke onto the scene in 2008 and created a cult of personality around himself, but to a whole other level. One man who eats McNuggets before every race. It is, of course, Usain Bolt. The 100-meter dash is at 4:50 ET on the 5th. Be there, or be square.

~Liam

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