LONDON – US swim star Ryan Lochte’s London Olympics ended with a whimper on Thursday as a brutal backstroke-medley double failed to yield gold and he succumbed yet again to old foe Michael Phelps.
“I am done now,” Lochte said, ruling out an appearance in the 4x100m medley relay. “I have a birthday tomorrow and this is the first time in a couple of years where I have one and I don’t have to swim.”
Lochte, who was celebrating his 28th birthday on Friday, had declared 2012 to be “my time”.
After watching Phelps win eight gold medals in Beijing four years ago, the versatile and talented Lochte dedicated himself to improving, and over the past two years had eclipsed his illustrious compatriot as the world’s dominant male swimmer.
It first seemed the tide could be turning his way when he beat Phelps at the 2009 world championships, and a victory over Phelps in the 200m freestyle was among Lochte’s five-gold haul at last year’s worlds in Shanghai.
He qualified for four individual events in London and opened his Games with an impressive victory in the 400m medley as Phelps trailed in fourth.
It was Lochte’s first win over Phelps in the Olympics.
But Lochte’s bid to stamp himself the star of the London Games unravelled from there.
He was relegated to fourth place in the 200m freestyle, won in majestic fashion by French revelation Yannick Agnel.
A day earlier, Agnel had run down Lochte on the final lap of the anchor leg to give France an upset victory in the 4x100m freestyle relay.
The 200m backstroke appeared to be a chance to right the ship, with the medley to follow another opportunity to demonstrate his rise over Phelps.
Instead, compatriot Tyler Clary overhauled Lochte on the final lap to win in an Olympic record of 1min 53.41sec with Ryosuke Irie of Japan taking silver in 1:53.78.
Lochte, the world and Olympic champion who had led at every turn, settled for bronze.
“I planned on winning, but it didn’t happen,” Lochte said. “Tyler Clary swam a great race, it was fun to be in it. I don’t ever expect to lose — that is my mindset and how I train to win.
“I planned to get gold medals in everything, but I am bringing back five medals so I am pretty happy with that.”
Then came a final duel with Phelps, who is retiring after these Games. Knowing Lochte would be tired after the backstroke, Phelps took the race out hard and never relinquished the lead.
“I went out too fast at the start and that kind of hurt me,” Lochte said. “I am a middle distance racer, not a sprinter, so that hurt me.
“It’s Michael Phelps, he is one of the greatest racers,” Lochte added. “He is a hard competitor, but I love racing against him, it’s fun.”
Lochte said he didn’t regret attempting the double.
“It was hard, but I knew I was capable of doing the double,” he said. “I can’t be too disappointed, I am coming home with five Olympic medals and that is something to be proud of.”
Lochte finished the games with gold in the 400m medley and 4x200m free relay, silver in the 200m medley and the 4x100m free relay and bronze in the 200m backstroke.
He took his tally to 11 Olympic medals, after earning six — three golds one silver and two bronze — in Athens and Beijing.
“I am happy,” Lochte said as he looked forward to hanging out with his family on his birthday. “I just go with the flow and whatever happens, happens.”