Today, SwimNews launches its 2012 Olympic Games special, complete with an event-by-event guide to all 32 races at the London Aquatics Centre, stunning picture gallery, German language service and a trawl through history.
Supplementing our online previews is a 32-page book of race guides that include:
You can download a page at a time or the entire book of 32 events for a small fee. Support our work and arm yourself with knowledge and context. We take this opportunity to thank Arena for its valuable support in getting our project off the ground.
Former Canadian international and now broadcast and print journalist Karin Helmstaedt will be at the pool alongside me for SwimNews, with Nick Thierry providing on-the-hour updates of the world rankings as events unfold. German journalist Sabrina Knoll will also file a daily take on events in German, a SwimNews first. We will collate all our day-by-day articles in a London 2012 section under special events in the "News" menu on our home page.
Follow us @swimnewscom for some instant colour, headline alerts and fun on the run as we go.
In the pool, there'll be a story at every turn. Few, if any, at the Games, will come bigger than the showdown we consider here at the launch of our London 2012 special: a clash between the two greatest all-rounders swimming has known, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps.
Phelps also happens to be the greatest Olympian of all time. He's a man with 14 gold medals from two Olympic Games, his first outing at Sydney 2000 placing him in the final of the 200m butterfly at the age of 15. His legacy assured, London is his swansong, Lochte the man who could temper his gold rush.
Here's how the Phelps Vs Lochte Show pans out:
Phelps Vs Lochte Day By Day (July 28 - August 4)
Day 1: 400IM heats and final - Lochte beat Phelps at US trials. Victory for Phelps would make him the first man in swimming history to win the same Olympic title at three Games, joining the two women already in the club, Dawn Fraser, AUS (100m freestyle 1956, 1960, 1964) and Krisztina Egerszegi, HUN (200m backstroke, 1988, 1992, 1996)
Medal forecast: 1 each
Day 2: Lochte takes on the 200m freestyle heats and semi-finals without Phelps, who opted out after winning the race at US trials; Phelps reserves his energy for the 4x100m free final, in which Australia has an advantage of more than 1.5sec on paper
Medal forecast: Phelps, 2, Lochte 1* (Phelps, already the most decorated man in Olympic history, matches the Olympic record 18-medal tally of Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, 1956-64; (*Lochte would get a relay medal as well if he races in the morning heats, a team decision on the day)
Day 3: Lochte races in the 200m freestyle final as world champion seeking Olympic gold; Phelps takes on the heats and semi of his signature 200m butterfly
Medal forecast: Phelps 2, Lochte 2
Day 4: Phelps races for gold in his signature 200m butterfly, a second event in which he could win the same crown at three Games and one in which he would become the first man ever to make it to the same final at four Olympic Games - he raced in the Sydney 2000 final as a 15-year-old, finishing 5th (a medal of any colour would make Phelps the most decorated Olympian in history, at 19 one beyond Latynina's total).
Phelps and Lochte then join forces with teammates in a bid for gold in the 4x200m freestyle final, the US the favourites for the crown
Medal forecast: Phelps 4, Lochte 3
Day 5: Lochte has a tougher 48 hours than Phelps: he takes on heats and semis of the 200m backstroke and medley, the two events overlapping and dictating 1200m of racing in four sessions.
Phelps and Lochte meet each other in the 200m medley: Phelps defends the crown and Lochte defends his status as world champion and record holder. The gap between the two at their best: 0.16sec.
No medals to be won this day
Day 6: A day in Olympic history not to be missed - Lochte defends his 200m backstroke crown, gets a breather while the women's 200m backstroke semis decide the last eight for that final, and then returns to the fray for the event that will settle the argument between the two most versatile swimmers in history
After Phelps clashes with Lochte in the 200m medley final (a third event in which Phelps can win the same event at a third Games), he then races in semis for a place in the 100m butterfly.
Medal forecast: Phelps 5, Lochte 5
Day 7: Lochte celebrates his 28th birthday with a rest; Phelps attempts to defend the 100m butterfly crown, victory also delivering another membership of the triple-crown club, after triumph at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008; victory would also tie him with Latynina at 14 Olympic medals in individual events, Phelps leading that league with 9 golds in 10 medals going into London 2012.
Medal forecast: Phelps 6, Lochte 5
Day 8: Both men conclude their London 2012 campaigns in the 4x100m medley final, the US quartet favourite for gold.
Medal forecast: Phelps 7, Lochte 6* (or seven, depending on the 4x100 free)
The colour we leave to the thrill of the moment. If it all pans out like that, it would mean:
Some meat on the bones of their rivalry (a version of this article was published in The Sunday Times):
What do you give a man who has everything? Silver is what Ryan Lochte has in mind as a leaving present for his US teammate Michael Phelps, the greatest gold panner in Olympic history who will wave goodbye to racing at the London Aquatics Centre the moment the medley relay is done on August 4.
By then, Lochte will be done too as far as his main mission is concerned: on August 3, he aims not only to celebrate his 28th birthday with rest on the seventh day of swimming but intends to raise a toast to his new status as the greatest all-rounder who stole the 200m and 400m medley crowns from the greatest Olympian.
There is more than the pride of two men at stake: Phelps' extraordinary endeavours, his treasury topped by 14 Olympic gold medals and 23 world titles, have reaped rewards financial and promotional for his sport, NBC, the Olympic paymasters, giving swimming a billboard above track and field (Usain Bolt is not American and didn’t win as much) even before the eight gold medals had been won in Beijing.
On the back of Phelps, USA Swimming has seen membership and participation soar, struck deals with Disney, packed 14,000 into a pool for eight days of domestic trials in Omaha and toasted TV ratings of 5 million and more viewers on NBC who actually tuned into watch 90 minutes of live swimming each day.
Who will keep the boom times rolling when Phelps waves goodbye? Lochte, says Lochte, who intends to race on to Rio 2016 and out-Phelps Phelps.
He is the only man ever to have beaten the Baltimore Bullet - and twice at that - unaided when it really counted on a global stage since the "Race of The Century" (somewhat premature) over 200m freestyle with Australian Ian Thorpe and Dutchman Pieter Van Den Hoogenband at Athens 2004, the race delivering Phelps’s only Olympic defeat in an individual event beyond the 5th place finish he enjoyed as a 15-year-old in the 200m butterfly at Sydney 2000.
Where Phelps made the swim the show, Lochte, Olympic 200m backstroke champion in Beijing but third in both the 200m and 400m medley as Phelps took gold, is an aquatic rock star.
Out of the water, he has long outshone the star swimmer with wild and whacky wardrobe, diamond teeth brace and outlandish footwear from his collection of 130 shoes, including the bright green boots and Stars-and-Stripes winged heels he designed with a view to making an impact as he walks out for races. He intends to work as a designer and trend-setter, "jeah" among self-made self-expressions he likes to use.
Lochte's good looks, flair and boys-own love of action - he's into car racing, skateboarding, surfing, break-dancing (coach Gregg Troy banned sky diving until the swimming stops) - have attracted glamorous backing: he's dressed by Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, is the face of campaigns for Gillette and Nissan (though he drives a Range Rover) in the US, and agents expect his nation to be keeping themselves fit and Lochte in the money by Christmas as they workout to the swimmer's flab-fighter DVD.
Athletic prowess and marketability have combined to ensure what the New York Times recently referred to as a life of “never-ending shirtlessness”, complete with cover shots for Vogue alongside tennis ace Serena Williams, a pose with supermodels a flick of pages away, and headlines summed up by this one: "Smooth Operator".
Lochte has been a busy boy on the promotional trail. But don't be fooled. He's not a man about to attract Tom "Anna Kournikova" Daley-type criticism from his coaches.
"He has a strong work ethic," says Troy, head coach at the Florida Gators and the US men's team in London. "From a stand point of pulling his weight in training day to day I have never worked with anyone better among those I've worked with personally." Says Lochte: "All the money, the fame, all of that is just bonus, the icing on the cake - what counts is that you worked hard for it."
Blessed at birth with the stuff that makes for fast swimming - big hands, feet, broad, flexible shoulders and hyperextended knees, Lochte has made the most of his gifts. The son of Steven Lochte, a swim coach of English and German descent, and Ileana, a Cuban immigrant, Lochte credits his parents with teaching world-class technique. “He came to us ready, the basics all in place,” says Florida head coach Gregg Troy.
More than 50 miles of Troy sessions in the pool each week is supplemented by land work with Matt DeLancey that has led to him not only living with but embracing pain. His weekly diet for several years has included dragging tractor tyres and chains uphill, enduring circuits that leave his leg muscles twitching as they adapt to challenge, harnessing a sledgehammer as a tool to strengthen his forearms, half an hour of specific abdominal work every day. Phelps always in mind.
"I've worked with some tough athletes," says DeLancey. "There's none tougher than Ryan. he's not afraid to throw up."
London marks the meeting point of two outstanding sporting trajectories that have been heading in opposite directions, better and worse, since Beijing 2008. While Phelps lost spark and motivation in the wake of nine monumental days of racing in Beijing, his quest so important to NBC that they turned history on its head and held morning finals and evening heats, Lochte took off.
The writing was on the wall in 2010, when Phelps shied away from battle and Lochte claimed six gold medals at the Pan Pacific Championships. There was no hiding last year in Shanghai when Lochte gave Phelps a relative hiding in the world-title 200m freestyle and 200m medley bouts, the latter delivering the only world record set inside standards enhanced by non-textile bodysuits banned since January 1, 2010.
It was just what Phelps' coach Bob Bowman wanted: his charge is at his best when the gauntlet strikes his face. The notion of Phelps as a lazy chap whose heart isn't in it deserves ridicule: when Lochte clocked 1:54.00 for the world title to become the swiftest 200m medley swimmer ever last year, Phelps was just 0.16sec away on a lifetime best - and that in a world in which no other man in a textile suit has ever cracked 1:56.66, the best time of Laszlo Cseh, the Hungarian who beat Lochte for silver in both medley finals at Beijing 2008.
Phelps may have been down but he he was far from out. At trials in Omaha three weeks ago, Lochte took the first scalp with victory in the 400m medley before Phelps hit back by pipping the challenger twice, over 200m freestyle (an event he has dropped out of in London) and then the 200m medley, Lochte only 0.09sec away even though he had not long before won the 200m backstroke.
Day six of swimming is one not to miss: Lochte takes on that double again, defending his backstroke crown about half an hour before facing Phelps in the 200m medley.
"Neither one of us likes to lose," Phelps says, while Lochte, asked what he was most looking forward to in London, replied "Phelps … this is my time". Out of the water, there is no animosity between the two. They get on, they even talk strategy and have attracted criticism from their coaches for racing each other to the detriment of their own potential.
But racing is what it will be all about in London. No talk of "doing the best I can" from either of America’s titans. "Anytime I lose, I'm pissed, no matter what," Lochte tells us. "I want to win. I'm not swimming for second and third. There are a lot of swimmers that when they see me and Michael … they are like 'oh, I can't beat him, so I'm going for second or third'. For us it’s not that way at all. We're going there to win.”
How They Square Up
Michael Fred Phelps USA
Ryan Steven Lochte USA
WHO BEAT WHO
(Olympics, World Championships, Pan Pacific Championships, 2005-2012 over 200m and 400m medley)
Phelps 9 Lochte 1
THE CLOCK (textile-suit only)
All those swims in textile suit.
What The Four Games Meant To Phelps - by Coach Bob Bowman
An extended version of this can be found in the current edition of SwimNews Magazine.
Sydney 2000 - finalist at 15
Sydney meant that he could go and swim at Olympic level at 15, which was unheard of at that time. I think back to the Sydney Olympics as a time of sheer joy, whatever the result was - and he had a pretty decent result, one we were quite pleased with. It was just the first time and both of us were just glad to be there. He soaked it up. He learned so much about the process, about what its like to go away from home for six weeks, what are the demands, what are the things outside the pool that they want you to do. He learned how to say no to things, he learned how to say yes to things, he had the best time of his life.
Athens 2004 - six gold, two bronze
Going into Athens the main question was can he swim this very large programme and be successful. And the answer, I think, was yes. He didn't win every one but he swam incredible races in all of them. The 200m free [the so called ‘Race of the Century’ with Ian Thorpe and Pieter Van den Hoogenband], where he got third, I thought was his best race. Athens let us know that by the time Beijing came around that if he prepared properly - and there was no reason to believe he wouldn't - that he could swim eight events and win. Probably the best memory of all of this for both of us is the first gold medal in the 400IM in Athens.
Beijing 2008 - eight gold:
Going into Beijing, we knew what the expectations were, we knew what our expectations were. Honestly, after our trials … both of us felt like he was physically and psychologically and emotionally ready to give the performance of his life. When he swam 4:03 [for gold in the 400m medley on the first day of finals] I knew that he'd be fit enough to do anything else he wanted to do throughout the rest of the meet. After his last race [and a round of media interviews and sponsor appearances], Michael went on to do two or three others things and I was done that day. And he never stopped doing things I would say until November. I remember for myself thinking just how drained I was, thinking that it was such a shame that he's achieved this monumental thing and that he can't really enjoy it.
London 2012 - ?
Michael has chosen to swim in this Olympics almost completely - and Michael will say he has performance goals and he does and so have I and he is completely focussed on those - with a view to the larger picture ... he knows this is another major platform from which to promote the sport of swimming. His participation in this event - which quite frankly he could easily have passed on and still be known as the greatest of all time - exponentially raises the profile of these Games. We have talked about this quite a bit: we would like to get back to that joy of Sydney and go through this Olympic Games and enjoy the process - whatever the outcomes are.