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 throughout the massive arena.
He was nowhere to be found.
Not during the race.
Not when it came time to hand out the medals.
On a stunner of an opening night at the pool in London, Phelps was routed by his American rival in the 400-meter individual medley, losing to Lochte by more than 4 seconds Saturday. That’s not all: The winningest Olympian ever didn’t win any medal at all, the first time that’s happened in a race of this magnitude since he was a 15-year-old kid 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 was 16-of-16 when it came to winning medals at the previous two Olympics has anything left in the tank for his farewell.
Phelps is planning to retire as soon as he finishes the last of his seven races in London, but he looked ready to call it a career while struggling just to pull himself from the water when his first event was done.
He was totally spent.
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 – after giving the Americans their first gold of the London Games. “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.”
For Phelps, the start of these games couldn’t have been more out of character.
He barely qualified for the evening final, a performance that hinted at trouble ahead. Trouble indeed. Phelps struggled to a fourth-place finish, blown out by Lochte and beaten by Brazil’s Thiago Pereira and Japan’s Kosuke Hagino.
Lochte took the gold with a time of 4 minutes, 5.18 seconds. Pereira (4:08.86) and Hagino (4:08.94) were well back but ahead of Phelps, who touched fourth in 4:09.28 – nearly 51/2 seconds off his world record from the Beijing Olympics and not nearly as fast as he went during the U.S. trials last month.
China had a big night, claiming a couple of gold medals.
Sixteen-year-old Ye Shiwen set a world record (4:28.43) in the women’s 400 individual medley. American Elizabeth Beisel took silver and China’s Li Xuanxu grabbed the bronze.
Sun Yang flirted with a world record in the men’s 400 freestyle. He took gold in 3:40.14. Peter Vanderkaay of the U.S. won the bronze.
Australia captured gold in the women’s 400 freestyle relay with an Olympic record of 3:33.15, rallying to pass the Americans and hold off the fast-charging Netherlands.
The Americans slipped to the bronze in 3:34.24, but that was still good enough to give Natalie Coughlin the 12th medal of her career, tying Dara Torres and Jenny Thompson as the most decorated U.S. female Olympian in any sport.