Lochte Knocks The Rest For Six (All Gold)
Dec 19, 2010 - Craig Lord
Much talk of Ryan Lochte "emerging from the shadow of Michael Phelps" and questions such as "is he as good as..." thrown to the wind as the glitteratti filtered through the door, the ball danced out, the music fading, the techno-confetti about to be swept up by others.
Dubai 2010 was not about shadows and the height of plinths, though parallels are appropriate when it comes to the caped crusaders of the race pool. Not so much Batman and Robin as Batman and Spiderman, Similar but not the same, one now at play while the other's away getting ready for a brighter day. Both have a touch of derring-do about them, both are capable of bursts of energy, speed, skill and a focus of fury truly rare even among the rare.
Lochte was a precision missile homing in on his targets all week, cool, collected, taking one race at a time on the way to stockpiling six gold medals and a couple of relay trophies that may contribute to his hunger through a career backed by Speedo until 2016, such is the faith placed in the man in green boots. Just four world records went, and both of those fell to him in solo events, the others shared by quartets.
Today, Lochte panned three gold nuggets, his Sunday prayer at the alter of aquatic brilliance and his week-long devotion to dolphinkind leaving no room for doubt: he was not only swimmer of the meet but swimmer of the year. He can do it long, he can it short, he can stay cool, collected and in control when the pressure is off and when the pressure is on, he knows how to win and how to beat, from behind and from the front, he senses his chance, his peripheral, cognitive knowledge of pace and the people around him a step or five up from mortal.
He won the 200m free, claimed the 400 medley crown in a world mark, then the 200m medley, helped national quartets and by the end had become the first man to win all three medley titles at two successive championships. In the 200m and 400m medley, he has won the past three titles in each. His treasury is stacked at a record 22 world s/c medals.
The backstroke in Lochte's back to back today was pure poetry in aquaplaning, his fifth gold a fast formality, his sixth in the relay a show in which he teased, tormented and then terrorised a specialist who beyond the company of a quartet might well assume himself the superior force. No room for assumption with Lochte.
Nor with the woman of the meet, teammate Rebecca Soni , a high-riding micro-wave of energy, arms and legs working piston like in pursuit of resistance-free forward flow. Good as she is, the best of it was when we saw what Soni already knew to be true: Leisel [Jones] is potentially as lethal as she has ever been. Many thought the 100m a fait accompli. Not when Miss Jones is in the next lane, and, ten years after winning Olympic silver, still learning tricks than can be trained to trip up the unaware. Her triple tally contributed to an American trouncing of all about her.
Easy to find pockets of vulnerability in the US camp but easy too to spot the 12 golds and the fact that Russian, Spain and any one of China, France, Netherlands and Brazil combined got less. Not hard either to note that Russia and China combined would match US on overall medals but lag badly the gold standard. Not that world is not finding answers.
Soni competed for the women's overall crown with Spanish breakthrough Mireia Belmonte, who took gold in the 200m medley , silver in the 800m free, gold in the 400m medley and before than in the same opening day session gold in the 200m butterfly. A range of options are open to the versatile Belmonte of Barcelona as she makes her way as Spain's big hope in Shanghai next July.
Some thorns in the side of US success are part of the US success themselves, of course. Take Oussama Mellouli, eight years in LA and on an amazing journey that in time will transcend sport, the swimmer already a megastar back home and among Tunisian and Arab communities here in this part of the world and well beyond it. Mellouli won the 1,500m crown in a morning race that overshot noon courtesy of a man from Rwanda who had a thing to learn from Henry Taylor in 1908 and all that. Olympic champion and confident in his own abilities and experience, he has looked the part all week. Mellouli that is.
So has Cesar Cielo. Back home now in Brazil, away from Auburn and Brett Hawke most of the time, at least in physical presence, and training with Alberto Pinto, Cielo is a moving master-class in sprint, his determination to hold on under pressure from Fabien Gilot in the 100m not desperate but driven, stroke holding firm to the end despite the opening speed that no-one can match, not now or ever in the past.
If Cesar was emperor of sprint in the desert oasis of a magnificent complex that forms part of a construction master plan but has yet to find a long-term purpose, then the empress was Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED). Her dazzling dash and a 2010 form in general, one blown off course by viral meningitis back on a summer camp from which she could not recover in time for the long-course season, suggested that her aim must now be less about battle with those she left in her wake this week and more to do with the foe she is yet to face as an equal on her newfound scale of speed. The likes of Britta Steffen and comeback queens Libby Trickett and her own former teammate Marleen Veldhuis. Imagine the scrap for places at the Dutch division next year and in 2012.
In terms of teams below the superpower, Russia looks to be on a better path - the likes of Stanislav Donets a class apart - while China is clearly rising and will be a powerhouse to watch come Shanghai. Some were not at best and many were inclined to read too much into Australia slide down the medals table, particularly before Galvez's golden sigh of relief. The Dolphins have been there before, lived through the rollercoasters of "worst performance since..." to "best performance since..." at the same meet from one day to the next. Tenth overall on the medals table, they won more medals than the squad second to the USA, Russia, and placed a healthy quota in finals at a meet with a few big guns missing.
Important in short-course racing not to place too much importance on things that may be far less relevant come the less merciful beast called long-course. Paul Biedermann (GER), despite a terrific 400m win, was lumpy and inconsistent, while Yannick Agnel, like Biedermann showing moments of spark that will shine once more come the moment, was off colour, at least in terms of the expectations of others.
The biggest case of a swimmer there but not really in it was Federica Pellegrini (ITA), who looked to be on a training camp designed to help her get through the rough before the days return when she will face the likes of Rebecca Adlington (GBR), away in Australia for a couple of months in which she, in common with the vast majority of British swimmers, decided that Budapest and Delhi this year and early March trials for Shanghai world titles next year all made for a frenetic enough pace at a time when long-term preparation is at a critical phase. Much will change again, for better or for worse, in the next seven months.
Take a look at the medals table and ponder whether it would be possible to imagine a similar table by the time Shanghai sends us all home again. Meantime, the small pool is growing up. The more short-course can attract the very best in peak form, the more in tune with the bigger pool will world records become when we get down to the softness or steeliness of standards on the clock.
There was much crowing in certain quarters when the world-record count in Dubai got to four. The weekend woke all up to the fact that 17 finals of truly phenomenal athleticism and competitive poke went by without a single global standard being set, even where some targets might have said to have been "soft", relatively speaking, of course. Desert venues (and this was a very grand venue indeed) are not the only change in the swimming seascape. The world-record record book is a false prophet of progress. Look instead to the textile standard and the level of pressure on the past by a current generation looking to the future.