Ryan Lochte dethroned two-time champion Michael Phelps to win the 400-meter individual medley on the first night of swimming at the London Olympics.
Phelps finished fourth, the first time he hasn’t won a medal in an Olympic race since 2000.
Lochte, a 27-year-old American, won the first final at the Aquatics Centre in 4 minutes, 5.18 seconds. The event includes 100 meters each of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle. Lochte led from the start and extended his advantage after the second leg. He won by 3.68 seconds.
“Going into these games I always knew I was capable of getting the win so I’m happy that I was able to do that,” Lochte told reporters.
Among those in the crowd was Michelle Obama, the wife of the U.S. president. The crowd cheered “USA, USA,” after Lochte won the race, and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” played before the medal ceremony, the first gold medal of the games for the American team.
“I heard the fans screaming all throughout the whole race and definitely had my family there,” Lochte said. “It definitely helped me out a lot.”
Phelps, Lochte’s friend and teammate and also 27, had been trying to become the first man to win the same individual event at three straight games. The winner of a record 14 gold medals, Phelps finished fourth after barely qualifying for the last spot in the final. Thiago Perreira, 26, of Brazil took the silver and Kosuke Hagino, 17, of Japan won the bronze.
The only other time Phelps walked away from an Olympic final empty-handed was in the 200-meter butterfly at the 2000 Sydney Games, when he finished fifth as a 15-year-old. Phelps will retire after the London Olympics.
“They swam a better race than me,” Phelps told reporters. “They were better prepared than me. That’s why they’re on the medal stand.”
Phelps remains two short of tying the record 18 Olympic medals won by former Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina.
Phelps took two years out after winning a record eight gold medals in Beijing before returning to the pool in 2010. At that time he said he wouldn’t return to the 400 medley before changing his mind a year later.
Lochte, a Floridian who’s 11 months older than Phelps, has credited his recent successes to a fitness plan that includes rolling large tires, tossing kegs and dragging heavy chains. The two men are due to square off again in the 200-meter individual medley on Aug. 2.
Although Lochte won two gold medals in Beijing in 2008, he’d been overshadowed by Phelps.
The tables turned after Beijing, as Lochte won 15 gold medals at the following three world championships. Lochte, who took bronze in the 400 individual medley in Beijing, won the event at the 2009 and 2011 world championships. At last month’s U.S. swimming trials in Omaha, Nebraska, he beat Phelps in the event in a personal best of 4:07.06.
“I know he gave it everything he had,” Lochte said. “I guess that’s the only thing you can ask for. I mean I’m going to talk to him and see how he felt about that.”
Lochte made the Olympic final in London with a time of 4:12.35 in the heats early today. Phelps qualified in 4:13.33, and swam the final in 4:09.28. He won the 400 medley in Beijing in a world record of 4:03.84.
The men’s 400-meter freestyle was won by Yang Sun, 20, of China in a time of 3:40.14. South Korea’s Park Tae-Hwan finished second, while Peter Vanderkaay of the U.S. got the bronze.
Park, the Olympic champion in Beijing, had earlier today successfully appealed his disqualification for a false start in winning his heat.
The Korean Swimming Federation lodged a protest that was upheld by the technical commission of FINA, international swimming’s governing body.
China’s 16-year-old Shiwen Ye won the women’s 400-meter individual medley in a world-record time of 4:28.43. It was the first world record set in the London swimming competition.
Australia's team of Alicia Coutts, Cate Campbell, Brittany Elmslie,18, and Melanie Schlanger, 25, won the women’s 400-meter freestyle relay in an Olympic-record 3:33.15. The Netherlands, 2008 champion, took the silver medal and the U.S. the bronze.
Campbell, 20, will also take part in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle. Coutts, 24, is swimming in the 200-meter individual medley in two days. She finished 5th in that race in Beijing.