Jul 28, 2012; London, United Kingdom; Ryan Lochte (USA) poses with his gold medal after winning the 400m individual medley finals during the 2012 London Olympic Games at Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
LONDON - Ryan Lochte had it all right there in front of him. Glistening out there in the Olympic pool was the destiny he'd dreamed of for himself, courtesy of his American teammates, including one Michael Fred Phelps II.
They gave Lochte the anchor leg. They gave him the lead. They gave him a chance to own these Olympics, so far as it is possible to own them on Day Two.
We forget, in this hurry-up age of Twitter, that the world still turns 24 hours at a time. One day after we witnessed the Fall of Phelps, and the Rise of Lochte, we witnessed a role reversal of Olympian proportion.
Lochte couldn't hold the lead, like a closer blowing a save in the World Series. The USA took silver in the 4x100-meter relay - and the French came from behind to win gold, itself a role reversal from Beijing.
There's no way to know what Lochte was thinking, as he didn't say much after. He did allow that he was "bummed."
Phelps wasn't. He wore a satisfied smile. It had been so long since he'd needed to come back from a bad Olympic swim that no one knew if he could.
His swim a night earlier in the 400 individual medley was, by his description, "horrible." He failed to medal in an Olympic race for the first time since 2000, when he was 15. His tally since: 14 gold, two bronze and one legend.
"We can't complain about a silver medal," Phelps said, and just then his face brightened. He grinned rakishly as he reminded news reporters: "This is my first silver."
Phelps was enjoying the moment after posting the fastest leg for the USA: 47.15 seconds.
"It felt great, a lot better today than I did yesterday," Phelps said. "I was happy. I was able to put yesterday behind me and kind of move on to today. And hopefully we can just move forward from here."
That, of course, is what Lochte will have to do. He has the finals in the 200 free today. He raced in Sunday's morning heats of the 200 free and again in the evening semifinals, about 80 minutes before he'd go in the 4x100 relay finals.
The trouble didn't seem to be that Lochte was tired so much as that he is not a sprint specialist.
"The 100 free, I don't really swim it," Lochte said. "I haven't swum it in a long time. I think I over-swam the first 50 (meters), which kind of hurt me for the last 50."
His coach, Gregg Troy, who also coaches the U.S. men, thought he'd made a mistake. Not by putting Lochte in the race, but by not racing him enough at 100 meters. He didn't swim the 100 free at trials.
"He doesn't have much experience there," Troy said. "He over-swam the first 25. That's not his race. His first 50 was way too fast for him. Kind of a coaching error right there. We don't do enough work for that event."
Cullen Jones, who swam the third leg, said no one should blame Lochte: "He swam an amazing race. A 47.7 is not a slow time for a 100 freestyle, considering he doesn't swim the 100 freestyle."
Yannick Agnel overtook Lochte with an anchor leg almost as good as the one Jason Lezak famously swam for the USA in 2008, saving Phelps' eight-gold-in-eight events lollapalooza in Beijing.
"I've thought back to a lot of those memories recently," Phelps said, in an unusually reflective moment for the chaos of a post-meet interview. "Things have to fall into the right perfect place at the right time.
"In 2008, everything was in the perfect place for me. I was prepared. I was physically, mentally, emotionally, everything was perfect. We were there at the right time."
Jones offered Lochte solace after: "I told him, 'I know you like a brother. You just have to let that go. It's over.' He's got so much on his plate already with other events. ... He's beating himself up. He's the only person that can stop that."
Nathan Adrian, who led off and gave the USA a surprise early lead, said, "Whatever we say to him, he's our teammate. There's not a sense of anger. There's a sense of, 'Hey, you put yourself on the line for us, just like we did to you.' ... I'm sure Ryan is pushing for vengeance in that 200 free tomorrow."
The world can turn again in 24 hours. Lochte can go from hero to goat and back to hero once more.
"He'll be fine," Troy said. "That's one of his great attributes. He bounces back really well."
Kyle Deery, one of Lochte's best pals, watched from the stands and said not to worry.
"Not a lot of things do faze him," Deery said. "And I think that is part of the whole persona, the surfer dude everyone thinks is so laid-back, doesn't care. But you better believe that right afterward, it hurts. But then he goes back to his regular 'learn from what I did wrong, what can you do? The race is over, move on to the next.'
"He's able to do that. A lot of people say they're able to do that. Ryan really can."
Phelps proved he could, too. Before the relay, there were doubts all day about whether Phelps would race in it, which seems silly in retrospect.
"We felt Michael was our fastest guy, and we wanted to put him in a position where he could get some water," Troy said. "He got some water. We just didn't close the deal."
By Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports