Ryan Lochte will begin his bid for six gold medals tomorrow morning believing he has never been in better shape. Lochte is set to mount the most determined challenge yet to Michael Phelps's long-term supremacy in the pool and yesterday exuded confidence during his first public appearance in London.
"I know this is going to be my year," said Lochte. "All the training I have put in is going to pay off – I know it. I am in way better shape [than Beijing]. I just know I am ready. I am not going for silver or bronze. I am going for gold."
Tomorrow's opening day of the pool programme will pitch the two against each other in the 400m individual medley – immediately denying one of them the opportunity to win every event they enter. Lochte has targeted six gold medals – one fewer than Phelps – from his third Olympic Games. He won two golds to Phelps' eight in Beijing.
Phelps won the 400m Individual Medley four years ago – as he did in Athens in 2004 – but Lochte qualified for London ahead of Phelps at the US trials in Omaha last month. It was another sign of the huge improvement the 27-year-old has made since Beijing. That included out-performing Phelps in the world championships in Shanghai last year.
"I had a four-year plan coming out of Beijing to get here to London," said Lochte, who has transformed his training schedule. It now includes a large amount of weight training outside the pool and includes an unconventional programme where he lifts and drags huge tyres and chains around his training base in Florida.
"That is one of the edges I now have," he said. "There is not another swimmer in the world doing what I'm doing. I have increased power and that has given me an edge – look at my year. I am going to be a lot faster."
His improvement since Beijing has been dramatic. His ability has never been doubted but since he overhauled his training regime and increased its intensity, the medals have been piling up on his mantelpiece.
In Shanghai last year – a meeting he says he was not entirely happy with despite five gold medals – he became the first man to break a world record since the banning of textile bodysuits. This will be the first Olympic Games since the ban – the suits led to a torrent of world records – and for Lochte that is something to be welcomed.
"It was not the swimmer making the suit," he said. "It was the suit making the swimmer. Now that has been reversed again – I like it! It shows who the real swimmers are. The ones who do the hard work are rewarded."
The duel between the two, who have been friends for the best part of a decade since competing against each other at junior levels, has captivated the US – as well as the swimming world beyond. As well as the 400m IM, Lochte will swim the 200m IM – where he will be up against Phelps again – the 200m backstroke, the 200m freestyle and the relays.
"Back home people are talking about me and Michael," said Lochte. "It's just talk. We will see what happens in a couple of days."
Medal count: Most decorated Olympians
18 Larisa Latynina (Soviet Union, gymnast) 9 gold, 5 silver, 4 bronze
16 Michael Phelps (US, swimmer) 14G, 2B
15 Nikolai Andrianov (Soviet Union, gymnast) 7G, 5S, 3B
13 Boris Shakhlin (Soviet Union, gymnast) 7G, 4S, 2B
13 Takashi Ono (Japan, gymnast) 5G, 4S, 4 B
13 Edoardo Mangiarotti (Italy, fencing) 6G, 5S, 2B