Hurricane Ryan Lochte lapped up his role as the pioneer who proved that man is greater than material and that the shiny suits of yore need prove no barrier to progress. He spoke after setting the first world long-course record, of 1:54.00 over 200m medley, since the January 1, 2010 ban on booster bodysuits.
The American said tonight that he had proved "hey, it's possible" after cutting 0.1sec off the standard he set when winning the crown two years ago in Rome during eight days of racing that witnessed a farcical 43 world records. In the bargain he beat Michael Phelps, by 0.16sec, the Olympic champion at his best ever, in any suit.
"It was definitely something. I wanted to do something that everybody thought wasn't possible," Lochte said. The media up in the stands had certainly thought it possible, after Lochte, who often raced in 50% polyurethane jammers during the rubber era, fell a hand shy of his target last year at Pan Pacific Championships. Tonight's the night, some declared before the race - and so it proved as the two giants of their generation locked horns.
"Since they banned those suits everybody thought a world record would never get touched again. I just wanted to show everyone that can happen," said Lochte. He did that but just as with camels and eyes of needles it may be easier for him to defeat Phelps over 200m medley again at London 2012 next year (not at all easy, to say the least) than it will be for a woman to, for example, to get down to a 2:06.15 200m medley any time soon.
Some of the standards set in 2009 are so far out that they remind the swimming world of what life was like for many women swimmers around the world when faced with the "impossible" task of beating East Germans on steroids. Some did beat them, the vast majority never did. Meanwhile, 11 global textile standards have been established in the past five days but carry no official weight. If official records are rare right now, cliches are not.
"That's why we have records, they're meant to get broken," Lochte said. "After all that hard work I've done this year and all that dedication, everyone can start realising 'hey it's possible'. So hopefully a lot more records will fall."
Phelps noted the edge that drove the teammates, friends on land, foe in the wash, to uncharted waters: "Leading into this meet I knew there were going to be some and I felt this was going to be the first to go. Whoever won had to break a world record. It says a lot we're still able to do those times and to think that's still possible. It's not impossible for us to see world records right now. We all saw that tonight. I think we're going to start seeing more."
Hold tight. Next target for Lochte, 1:51.92 over 200m backstroke, while teammate Rebecca Soni (USA) on 2:21.03 in the semis of the 200m breaststroke, has 0.91sec to go to match Canadian Annamay Pierse's mark from Rome 2009. In time, James Magnussen (AUS) looks like a man capable of a missing below 47sec, while Sun Yang (CHN) is in shape to have another pop at Grant Hackett's monument to going the distance, the 1500m on the last day holding promise for the loudest cheer of the week at a packed natatorium, an estimated 15,000 in the house tonight.
Victory for Lochte prompted him to use his favourite made-up word: "One word describes that race - jeah!"
Two defeats had Phelps noting: "They both sort of told me the same thing, I need to be in better shape. If I want to be faster the work has to be there and it has to be there consistently." Bob Bowman added: "We're usually on the other end of the close ones," said Bob Bowman, Phelps' coach.
"I thought I had it on the last stroke," said Phelps, who glided a little into the wall. "After thinking about it, I probably could have rushed another stroke in there and maybe gotten to the wall faster."
Defeat has always stung Phelps into more self-improvement and Bowman believed that the past would be mirrored in the future. "This is something that will stick with him," Bowman said. "He's got the picture now."
Lochte and his coach Gregg Troy deflected any notion that the torch of the superhero has passed from Phelps to the Gator at the gates. "I don't know if we're going to call a few hundredths of a second surpassing Michael Phelps," Troy said, "but it puts us in a good lead."
One thing for sure, the rivalry gives the US a good lead to, Lochte on three medals - two gold - and Phelps on four medals - one gold - and the US leading the way at the championships on gold and overall counts.
After Five Of Eight days: