Phelps and Lochte seek to land early blows in pool's ultimate contest

America's arch-rivals go head to head tonight in battle for the first medal in the Aquatics Centre

This is box office. More than 100,000 people turned up for the US trials last month; they were there for one reason. More than 50 camera crews turned up for the first US swimming press conference on Thursday; they were there for one reason.

Click HERE to view 'Tale of the tape: Phelps v Lochte' graphic

Tonight at 7.30, the race for the first medal in the London Aquatics Centre will begin, and in what is the least coincidental piece of scheduling since the serpent was dispatched into the garden of Eden with a fancy for a Granny Smith, the reason for that focus will become clear.

It is Michael Phelps against Ryan Lochte, seconds out, round one. It is the greatest duel the pool has seen and it is one that will be settled with a difference of less than a second. At the US trials they raced each other four times and Phelps came out ahead in three of them – his combined margin of victory was three-tenths of a second.

Phelps is, whatever happens in London, the greatest swimmer the world has seen. That is not open to debate, no matter what Lochte achieves over the next week. Phelps will not go home empty handed – there will be more medals to add to the 14 gold, eight from Beijing, six from Athens, and two bronze, both from Athens. At the very least expect three more golds, a return that will make him the most heavily decorated Olympian.

There will probably, in fact almost certainly, be more but it is the battle with Lochte, a man he used to never lose to, that will define his Games. Phelps will swim twice against Lochte, first today in the 400m individual medley and then on Wednesday in the 200m version of the multi-stroke discipline.

Phelps won both in Beijing; Phelps took bronze each time. The man who took silver in each, the Hungarian Laszlo Cseh, will be back too and is capable of getting between the Americans again, but then that would ruin the ending to a script that has been thrillingly written since Beijing.

After Phelps clambered out of the pool following victory in the 400m individual medley, he vowed he would never swim the event again. Lochte finished four and a half seconds adrift of his compatriot and he climbed out of the pool vowing it would be different in four years' time.

What Lochte has done is engineer a remarkable transformation in his fortunes and it has come about through one thing only; a change in attitude. Lochte, a relaxed, easy-going character out of the pool, has undergone an immense, intense training regime and its effect has been to close the gap on Phelps.

At last year's World Championships in Shanghai, it was the 27-year-old Lochte who was the swimmer of the meet. He took four indiv idual golds to Phelps's two – and the difference was two Lochte wins in the individual medleys. There is now little between the two, from the three months that separate their birth dates to, as the US trials showed, their split times in the pool.

But Phelps is an Olympic specialist, a man who thrives on a four-year cycle and there is reason to suppose he will do so again.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
In this photo illustration, the Twitter logo and hashtag '#Ring!' is displayed on a mobile device as the company announced its initial public offering and debut on the New York Stock Exchange on November 7, 2013 in London, England. Twitter went public on the NYSE opening at USD 26 per share, valuing the company's worth at an estimated USD 18 billion.
news

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock
tv

Co-creator Mark Gatiss dropped some very intriguing hints ahead of the BBC drama's return next year

News
people

London 'needs affordable housing'

Arts and Entertainment
music Band accidentally drops four-letter description at concert
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines