LONDON – Ryan Lochte strolled the deck of the Olympic Aquatics Centre wearing diamonds in his mouth and lime-green sneakers on the feet that powered him through the water faster than anyone else.
Beaming, he chomped playfully on his gold medal while Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” blared.
He was nowhere to be found.
On a stunner of an opening night at the pool, Phelps was routed by his American rival in the 400-meter individual medley, losing by more than 4 seconds Saturday. That’s not all: The winningest Olympian ever didn’t win any medal, the first time that’s happened in a race of this magnitude since he was a 15-year-old competing in just one event at the Sydney Games, a dozen years ago.
“It was horrible,” Phelps told coach Bob Bowman when he climbed out.
Bowman’s reply: “It was.”
Lochte turned the much- anticipated duel with Phelps into a blowout, raising serious questions about whether the guy who has won 14 gold medals and 16 medals overall has anything left in the tank for his Olympic farewell.
Phelps is planning to retire as soon as he finishes the last of his seven races in London.
He was thoroughly beaten, perhaps signaling a changing of the guard at the pool.
“This is my year,” said Lochte, who popped in his grillz – diamond-studded mouth jewelry – for the victory ceremony. “I know it and I feel it, because I’ve put in hard work. I’ve trained my butt off for four years … and there’s no better way to start this Olympics off than getting gold.”
“It was just a crappy race,” Phelps said. “I felt fine the first 200, then I don’t know. They just swam a better race than me, a smarter race than me, and were better prepared than me. That’s why they’re on the medal stand,” he said of Lochte, Brazil’s Thiago Pereira and Japan’s Kosuke Hagino.