Lochte Cruises To Win Gold, Beating Phelps In The 400 IM

United States' Ryan Lochte reacts after finishing first in the men's 400-meter individual medley swimming final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park. Lochte won the first U.S. gold medal at the 2012 Summer Games.


GUY RAZ, HOST: The first full day of competition at the Olympics in London featured a hyped showdown that turned out not to be a showdown at all. And the gold medal moment was the tiniest of margin. Now, if you're planning to tune in later to watch the tape-delay drama on TV, turn away from your radio for the next three minutes because this will be a spoiler.

NPR's Howard Berkes is watching the drama in real time in London, and he joins me now. Howard, let's not bury the lead here. American swimmers, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, in their first face-to-face matchup of these games, the men's 400-meter individual medley, Lochte blew Phelps out of the water to take the gold.

HOWARD BERKES, BYLINE: It was this big loud statement that Ryan Lochte made, which is these are not the Michael Phelps Olympics. He was on a world record pace during two of those legs of that medley, and he finished more than three seconds ahead of the closest swimmer. He really smoked that field and left behind in his spray was Michael Phelps who not only didn't win a medal but struggled to finish fourth.

RAZ: So Lochte gets the first gold medal for the U.S. in the Olympics. Phelps would seem to start with a pretty big blow to his confidence. What did he say after the race?

BERKES: He summed it up this way: It was just a crappy race. He was trying to find a gear that he couldn't find, he said. And, you know, this morning, Phelps barely made it into the final. He finished last in the preliminary heat, and he was forced to swim on an outside lane. That's probably something he hasn't done in a long time. That's where the slowest swimmers swim.

And it's also where you can see the rest of the field as you're going along. And what that did was give him a great view of Ryan Lochte swimming off into the distance.

RAZ: This really is Lochte's moment. I mean, he has been in Michael Phelps' shadow now for many years. Is he swimming out of that shadow?

BERKES: This is the Olympics in which, I think, he's hoping to do that. Of course, Michael Phelps still has opportunities to win medals and to become the athlete who has won the most medals ever in an Olympics. But it's really no surprise what happened tonight. Lochte has done well in the individual medley in the past. He has the fastest time this year. He beat Phelps at it at the U.S. Olympic trials before the games. So, you know, that's not a surprise. But, you know, second question from reporters after the race for Lochte was about Michael Phelps.

RAZ: Howard, anything else you've been watching there in London today that got you excited?

BERKES: My favorite moment of the day came in archery of all things and the very last section of the archery competition, which featured the U.S. team and the team from Italy. The U.S. had a nine-point lead, and so the Italian archer had to get his arrow in a tiny circle, the 10-point circle. And he pulls back the arrow, he pulls back the bow, and he's got his eyes trained on that target. And the arrow flies off and hits right on the line just inside the 10-point circle. Just by a hair, they won that gold medal, the Italian team. The Americans finished with a silver. It was an amazing moment.

RAZ: Wow. That's NPR's Howard Berkes reporting for us from London, of course, on the Olympics there. Howard, thanks.

BERKES: You're welcome.