American Men Swimming Upstream In Medal Race
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
There are a lot of surprise splashes in the Olympic pool, as well. China has won five medals, France has three gold - two of them at the expense of American swimming star Ryan Lochte. He and Michael Phelps were the headliners coming into the men's swim competition in London. Were is the key word here, as NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Last night's men's 200-meter freestyle race at the Olympic Aquatic Center was Ryan Lochte's shot at revenge. The day before Yannick Agnel, a 20-year-old French torpedo, caught and passed Lochte at the end of a relay race, leaving a stunned American team in second place. Lochte and Agnel went head-to-head again last night. When it was over, it was more like Lochte's head to Agnel's feet, which were way in front at the finish - revenge denied. Agnel won a second gold. Lochte took the dreaded, out-of-the-medals fourth place. His teammate and rival Michael Phelps didn't swim the race, but talked about it.
MICHAEL PHELPS: A race like that is tough to come off of, but, you know, Ryan I know is a very good racer, and he's a champion. You know, he's going to be able to build off of that and put a lot of energy and focus into his races coming throughout the meet.
GOLDMAN: Soothing words for a fourth-place finisher. Now, where did we hear that before?
RYAN LOCHTE: You know what, Michael, still, to me, he is one of the world's greatest. And no matter what happens, he will always go down as one of the greatest. And I know he gave it 110 percent. And honestly, that's all you can really ask for.
GOLDMAN: That was Lochte Saturday night, offering soothing words for fourth-place Phelps, who'd just gotten dusted by Lochte in the 400 individual medley. So what are the sure-thing, can't-miss swimming studs of London doing finishing races in fourth place? Well, first of all, Olympic hype is very dangerous, because there really aren't sure-thing, can't-miss athletes when the world's absolute best convene. Are you listening, Usain Bolt?
And second, it's still early enough for them to live up to the hype - for Phelps, as soon as today. In fact, on a career built on memorable Olympic days, this could be right up there. He's swimming the 200-meter butterfly and four-by-200-meter freestyle relay. A medal in both is likely. If it happens, he passes Larisa Latynina, a gymnast for the former Soviet Union, who won a record 18 Olympic medals. If Phelps wins 18 and 19 tonight, becoming the most decorated Olympian ever, no need for any soothing words from Lochte or anyone else. Tom Goldman, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.