The Olympics in Rio de Janeiro mark the fourth games Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte have competed side-by-side as teammates and against each other as adversaries. With both competing in the 200-meter individual medley final on Thursday night, Phelps and Lochte will face each other for one final time in the Olympics.
Phelps beat out Lochte for the top time in Wednesday's semifinals, finishing 1:55.78 to Lochte's 1:56.28, a bit of a surprise. The two finished 1-2 overall and will start in the middle lanes of the pool. The race is expected to be held at 10:01 p.m. ET, and you can stream it here via NBC's Olympics coverage.
Phelps is the most decorated swimmer in the history of the Olympic games, having won 25 medals, 21 of which were golds. Lochte is no slouch, ranking second all time among swimmers with 12 overall medals that include six golds.
They've won relay golds together, most recently in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay in Rio, and they have battled for individual acclaim, most of which has gone Phelps' way. In the Olympics, Lochte has only bested Phelps once for a gold medal, in the 400-meter individual medley in London in 2012. Phelps chose not to swim in the 400-meter IM this year.
Lochte even holds the world record in the 200-meter individual medley, established when he beat Phelps in the 2011 World Championships, but has not been able to best Phelps in Olympic competition.
The rivalry between the two is no longer as contentious as it was in London in 2012. It's friendlier now, more mature. Lochte and Phelps are even rooming together in Rio.
"It's definitely real when they step up on the blocks," relay teammate Conor Dwyer told The Chicago Tribune. "But as far as being in the room and stuff, you would never know that those two guys have battled each other time and time and time again in the water. They're just friends hanging out playing cards, nothing to do with how they've tried to kill each other to win a 200IM at the Olympics multiple times."
2004 Athens Olympics
The two faced off in Olympic competition for the first time in 2004 in Athens, when Phelps bested Lochte in the 200-meter individual medley. Phelps kept most of the spotlight heading into 2008.
2008 Beijing Olympics
Phelps broke an Olympic record by winning eight gold medals, and there wasn't anything Lochte could do about it -- except grab bronze medals in the 200-meter and 400-meter individual medley. This was Phelps at his best, and there wasn't much of a rivalry to speak of yet. That would change in the four years leading up to London.
2012 London Olympics
This is when the rivalry reached its peak. After Phelps broke records in Beijing, Lochte caught fire at the 2011 world championships, beat Phelps in the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys and in the 200-meter freestyle. Lochte won FINA's Male Swimmer of the Year award in 2011, and there were serious reasons to think he could take down Phelps in London.
But at the 2012 Olympics, Lochte didn't quite have the takeover many were expecting.
He won the 400-meter individual medley, but that was the only individual gold Lochte took home from London. He finished fourth in the 200-meter individual medley even though he held the world record in the event. He even got passed during the anchor leg of the 4x100-meter free relay.
In what was expected at the time to be Phelps and Lochte's final head-to-head matchup, Phelps won gold in the 200-meter individual medley, which he added to his individual gold in the 100-meter butterfly.
With that, Phelps was supposed to exit the spotlight, while Lochte had his chance to become the most recognizable face in U.S. swimming and rebound from his disappointing performance in London. That lasted two years, as Phelps announced in 2014 that he was coming out of retirement to compete at one last Olympics.
2016: One last head-to-head
"Ryan and I always have a great race," Phelps said at this year's Olympic trials. "He and I have been racing since 2004 together, and I think when we race each other, we bring each other to a different level. We take each other to that next step."
Lochte agreed, noting that it was a little poignant to know that the rivalry, which he has called the greatest in sports, is nearing its end.
"The history him and I have had with one another is something special and something I've never had with another competitor of mine," Phelps said of Lochte after the semifinal. "We've been racing for the last 12 years and having one more battle tomorrow. It will be fun. I consider that Ryan and I have probably grown closer together as friends this year than we have in the past. We have one more time to hop in the pool and duke it out."
They'll have one more shot to face each other in the 200-meter individual medley in Rio, writing the final chapter in their storied rivalry.
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