London, England – Ryan Lochte says he isn't here just to race against Michael Phelps. There are plenty of swimmers he has to beat.
And in the sport's first medal event at the London Olympics, Phelps wasn't really one of them.
Lochte easily won the men's 400-meter individual medley Saturday night by dusting a field of seven other swimmers.
Phelps? He was kept off the Olympic podium for the first time since he was 15, beaten by three other swimmers in a race he had won in each of the last two games.
"I'm really surprised he didn't medal just because whenever Michael swims he's always on the medal stand no matter what," said Lochte.
Not this time. Not here. The most anticipated race of these games, seen as a duel between the American teammates, took a daylong turn that started in the morning when Phelps barely qualified for the final, taking the eighth and final spot by just .07 seconds with one final surge in his heat.
Hours later, Phelps had no such recovery.
Lochte electrified the Aquatics Centre the way Phelps charged Beijing's Water Cube four years ago when he won the 400 IM for one of his record-setting eight gold medals.
Lochte led the grueling race for the final 350 meters. Which meant, of course, that he had his American teammate beat after the first 100 meters -- after the fly, Phelps' signature stroke.
Lochte finished the race, which includes all four strokes, in 4 minutes, 5.18 seconds. Phelps touched more than four seconds later in fourth place, with two swimmers in between.
"I was trying to find a gear that I couldn't find," said Phelps, who swum in the unfamiliar eighth lane because of his poor heat. "I felt fine for the first 200 (meters) and spent the last 200 struggling. I have swum better races and been better prepared. It was a very frustrating finish."
Brazil's Thiago Pereira and Japan's Kosuke Hagiono took silver and bronze. Lochte beat Pereira to the wall by 3.68 seconds -- a rout -- for his fourth career gold and seventh Olympic medal overall.
"I've said this before that this is my year. I know and I feel it just because I've put in hard work," said Lochte, 27. "I've trained my butt of for four years. I just feel it in my gut."
Phelps, in what he swears is his last Summer Games, remained stuck on 16 medals -- still two short of tying the overall Olympic record, though he will probably swim six more races here, including another against Lochte. He had been 16-for-16 in winning medals the last two Olympics, including a record 14 golds.
"I honestly don't think it was a fitness issue," said Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman. "I thought he was in a good place mentally."
Said Lochte, who also beat Phelps in the race at U.S. trials last month: "Michael still is one of the world's greatest. And no matter what happens, he will always go down as one of the greatest."
Lochte said it was "weird" not having Phelps on the medal stand next to him while he stood on the top podium as the U.S. anthem played. Everyone -- even Lochte -- figured the teammates would finish first and second in some order.
Lochte said Phelps offered his congratulations after the race was over while the two were in the massage area together. Phelps told him "way to go" -- way to keep the Olympic 400 IM title in U.S. hands.
"He was definitely proud of me," said Lochte. "I know at the same time he was kind of upset but it is probably more motivation for him the rest of the meet."
Phelps never led. He was running third after the first 50 meters and second after 100 and 150, but trailed off toward the end of the backstroke and as the swimmers reached the breaststroke.
By the time they got around to the freestyle, Lochte was quickly pulling away and Phelps was simply fighting for a medal.
"A lot of people say Michael is inhuman. But you know what, he's just like all of us," said Lochte. "He trains harder, though, and he knows how to win. And that's what you really have to learn is trying to find ways to beat him.
"But's he's only one person. There's other athletes out there that you gotta worry about. The best thing you can do is learn how to race. You have to race tough. You can't always keep your mind on one person. You gotta think about everyone else."
Saturday those guys were named Pereira and Hagino. How strange.