Olympic Games, London, Day 1 finals:
Men's 400 IM
The king has retired from 400m medley swimming. And long live the king who beat him. It was the end of an era here on Saturday night in the opening final of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Ryan Lochte, third four years ago, took reigning champion and US teammate Michael Phelps apart in the 400m medley with a scorching 4:05.18 victory.
The huge smile on Lochte's face said it all. No beating of chest, no punching the air or slapping the water. He had done what he came to do today. Phelps looked stunned for a moment he had not just been beaten by Lochte, but shoved out of the medals, a 4:09.28 no longer good enough to cope with Thiago Pereira (BRA) on 4:08.86 for silver and Kosuke Hagino (JPN) on 4:08.94 for bronze.
Lochte almost won from the gun, South African Chad Le Clos's over-excitement at his first Games taking him through the first 50m on butterfly ahead of the rest, Lochte 0.04sec adrift and a turn away from taking a leading role in the race that he would never relinquish. At 1:56.86 at the 200m mark, Lochte was just outside Phelps's world-record pace - and almost 3sec ahead of the reigning champion, a man already struggling, out on the wing in lane 8, with Hagino, second after backstroke, and Pereira.
Lochte's breaststroke splits took him inside the pace of Phelps' world mark at the 300m stage, 3:06.53 to 3:07.05, but on freestyle the pace of the bodysuit era was too hot and Lochte, pushing all the way until a last couple of showboating strokes to certain victory, settled for being best-ever in a textile suit, inside the 4:06.22 at which Phelps had held the world mark in 2007.
The splits compared:
The most golden decorated Olympian of all time, Phelps was visibly at a loss to explain and described his performance as "frustrating".
"It was a crappy swim," said Phelps. "I swam the first 200 and, I don't know...I couldn't really go the last 100. I don't know, I saw Thiago out there, and they just swam a better race than me, swam a smarter race than me, and were more prepared. That's why they're on the medals table.
"I don't think the lane had anything to do with it - I probably just couldn't put myself in...it's frustrating, sure. I was under 4:10 three times in the last month, so it's just really frustrating to start off on a bad note like this."
A bitter pill to swallow indeed - as not only was his chance of becoming the first man to join the triple crown club now a mere pipe dream, but it was the first time Phelps has missed the podium in an Olympic race since he was 15 years old in Sydney. And yet he congratulated his successor for having kept up a great American tradition. For Lochte, coached by Gregg Troy at Florida Gators, victory ensured an 8th crown for the US since the event was introduced in 1964.
"I was really surprised that Michael didn't medal, because every time he swims he's on the podium. (...) but he was proud of me," said Lochte at the end of a day that saw Phelps scrape into the final and the Beijing silver medallist Laszlo Cseh (HUN) miss the cut by the same narrow margin in 9th.
The often flamboyant Lochte was almost subdued at the press conference - humbled, shocked, and overwhelmed all at once. He said he knew the field would be very tough and probably took it out a bit too hard on the first 50 - and seeing his leading splits on the board possibly even slowed him down a bit. But the win was what he came to do and finally getting it was a relief.
"It feels amazing knowing that the last four years I've put in that hard work, that it finally paid off. To not only swim for my country, but to have my entire family there in with me in the stands definitely gave me a boost."
"I've said this before that this is my year. I know and I feel it just because I've put in hard work. I've trained my butt off for four years and I just feel it inside my gut that this is my year - and no better way to start than getting a gold in my first race."
Report from Craig Lord and Karin Helmstaedt
Phelps was followed by Le Clos, Horihata, Fraser-Holmes and Marin.
Fastest field: Beijing 2008: 4:03.84 - 4:15.40
To qualify for the final it took: