Three golds, two world records, 19 career world s/c title visits to the podium. Ryan Lochte, coached by Gregg Troy in Florida, has stepped up to Phelpsian status on one level of late: those two men are the best examples we have today of swimmers racing into the future at a greater pace than the pack scrambling to keep up. That fight lifts the bar for the sport worldwide. It happened with Thorpe and Hackett, just as it has happened with others down the years.
The green Speedo boots and the appealing personality pitted with a little larking about and laughter was all part of "just being myself ... and letting my personality work in a way that attracts more people to swimming," said Lochte after his second world record of the world s/c championships now three days towards its five-day run. "My overall goal in swimming is just to make it bigger than it is now. I think Phelps started with all that and made the sport bigger than what it was before. I just try to help in that effort."
Mr Versatility, 100m medley, 200 back and relays ahead of him, even had time to peer up to check his progress, saying post-race: "I just focussed on going out faster than the rest of the field but when I wad doing backstroke I looked up at the screen and saw I was ahead of the world record line and that really motivated me for the breaststroke and freestyle."
China, Brazil, Germany, Sweden, Japan, France and the Netherlands all took a title each, the Americans scooped three, Katie Hoff's fabulous win over 400m freestyle and the unassailable sprint medley speed of Ariana Kukors the warm-up for the swim (perhaps one of the swims, given that Cesar Cielo's trouncing of the sprint crew was also something to behold beyond the excellence all around) of the day and the year.
The annual argument is a touch mute, given that most of the contenders, not forgetting the backstroke blasts of Camille Lacourt in Budapest back in the summer, point back to Lochte: his world mark over 400m medley here in Dubai, the day after he had won the 200m freestyle crown, rivals the 200m effort of today, while his 200m medley scorcher at Pan Pacs ranks just as highly at the height of his many-medalled performance in Irvine back in August.
"I always get better after the first day, but I race for fun, so what comes as outcome I take it," said Lochte. The bombardment in Dubai is simply a stepping stone, he noted. "These results just get me ready for the 2011 worlds in Shanghai and the Olympics in 2012."
For Cielo, Dubai is a watershed of sorts. "I now have all the major titles a swimmer can dream of. After the Olympics in 2008, and the Worlds in 2009, I feel that I also achieved the best in short-course. That brings relief. The hard work paid off and to be able to leave on vacation with my mind at rest is a great feeling. I also realise that, at 23, I've started to build an impressive roll of honour and that feels great This gold is a dream come true."
So far 37 championship records have fallen and some have asked: how come, followed by references of the absence of global standards in the long-course pool this year for the first time in any year since records began. The answer is not quite chalk and cheese but not far off.
With the US here in full Phelpsless force, with China here with a team capable of doing the kind of damage the Chinese have not been able to muster at any time since the tainted 1990s, with the Dutch, the French, Russians, some Germans, Hungarians and a handful of others peaked for powerful performance in a way they never prepare for when heading to world cups and other assorted s/c gatherings, relative softness was always going to leave the little-pool past more vulnerable than the big pool past.