11:02 AM EDT, July 29, 2011
That Michael Phelps is the best swimmer in history goes without saying. His 14 Olympic gold medals and 24 World Championship gold medals -- including two more this week - speak for themselves, given that no one else has won more than nine Olympic titles or 11 world titles.
That Ryan Lochte has been the world's best swimmer the past two years also goes without saying -- to everyone but Phelps.
That is apparent in the way Phelps has spoken about his two close losses to Lochte at the 2011 world meet in Shanghai.
Rather than give Lochte the credit he deserves for those victories, Phelps has diminished them by constantly bringing up the diminished level of his own commitment to training since winning an unprecedented eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics.
What Phelps has said about his training regimen undoubtedly is true. It may also be a defense mechanism, insulating himself from the possibility that no amount of training would have kept him ahead of Lochte in the 200-meter freestyle and the 200-merer individual medley.
Whatever the reason, Phelps has shown himself graceless in defeat.
This is what Phelps said after Lochte won Monday's 200 freestyle in 1 minute, 44.44 seconds, according to news reports:
"With the training I have had in the last six to eight months, that's all I had in the tank. . .The reason why I haven't been able to swim as fast as I wanted the last two years is: It's all my fault. . .That time (Lochte's) won't win a gold medal next summer."
And this is what Phelps said after the 200 IM, when Lochte became the first swimmer to set a world record since the 2010 ban on the hi-tech suits that had made record performances meaningless:
"I didn't win because I wasn't as prepared I should have been."
You don't come to the world championships and complain about not being prepared after you lose. Especially since Phelps was prepared enough to rally in the final 50 meters and win his fifth 200 butterfly world title in five tries. And be fit enough to swim faster than Lochte in the final 50 of both the 200 freestyle and 200 IM.
Lochte chose to let Phelps' churlishness go, saying, "You're either ready or you're not. If he says he wasn't ready, I guess he wasn't ready."
Phelps said the defeats were the motivation he needs for the 2012 London Olympics, where it would be no surprise to see him beat Lochte in one or both of the races he lost in Shanghai.
But Lochte has been unquestionably the best swimmer at this world meet. Friday, he added a third individual gold medal (200 backstroke) and a relay gold (4 x 200 free).
Lochte anchored the relay in 1:44.56, and Phelps led off in 1:45.53. Even with the advantage gained from a flying start (about .5 seconds), Lochte was faster than Phelps.
In a sport like swimming, there is nothing subjective about the results. Fastest to the wall is the best. No excuses.
For Michael Phelps to say it any other way diminishes himself most.
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