Day 8 finals, Oriental Sports Center, Shanghai
Men's 400m medley
That Ryan Lochte would claim his fifth gold medal of the championships was not in doubt, the question was how close on the clock he might get to the man who retired from the long medley after taking the event off the chart on 4:03.84 in Beijing 2008.
The textile target was 4:06.22, from Melbourne 2011, four years ago and until 2001 the normal world-championship cycle for swimmers. Lochte claimed gold in almost the pace of Phelps, on 4:07.13, with teammate Tyler Clary on 4:11.17 and Yuya Horihata (JPN) on 4.11.98. That locked out Huang Chaosheng (CHN), on 4:13.62.
Outside the Melbourne pace of Phelps on butterfly, Lochte moved inside the tread of his teammate on backstroke and breaststroke before the toil of a heady week, and the absence of competition, took a toll on the way home - but not much of one it seemed.
No-one lived with him, on 55.79 after 'fly, 0.74sec behind the pace of Phelps, 1:57.09 after backstroke and 1.09sec inside 2007 standard, 3:08.71 after butterfly, the long shadow catching up a little and 0.62sec behind the leader, before the memory of Melbourne got ahead of Lochte. The point of a world-title race is the crown and it was the fifth one to be worn by the American who had shorn his curly locks got these championships in anticipation of them getting in the way of his ambition.
Lochte had already won the 200m free, the 200m medley (a phenomenal WR), the 200m backstroke and claimed gold with his teammates in the 4x200m free. "It’s been a long, long eight days," Lochte said. "For the most part, that 400m IM being on the last day was definitely really hard. I had to everything I could just to get my hand on the wall first."
Clary was second all the way to earning his second medal of the meet after finishing third in the 200m backstroke on Friday. On 56.67 after 'fly, his backstroke skills did not allow him to stick with Lochte, a 1:58.83 turn into breaststroke now nearly 2sec off the rate of Ryan. Breaststroke was similar and the gap grew to 3.13sec as Clary turned in 3:11.84, with Huang Chaosheng (CHN) moving ahead of Yuya Horihata (JPN) for the first time, 3:13.34 to 3:13.81. Clary maintained position for his 4:11.17 silver, while Horihata refused to give the bronze up and with Huang fading put in a 28.51 last lap, the swiftest of any in the race.
The long medley is the place where you see strokes and skills in all shapes a sizes. Lochte is poise, control, streamline, surge, skull, roll and rock-solid determination. There are also some magical moments in his repertoire where you will see him at play. Think dolphin having fun on the wave, seal slicing the splash not because it has to but because it wants to, because it wants to feel the thrill of skill grown instinctive with practice. There's Ryan Lochte.
"I’m glad this meet is over, it’s been a long eight days," he said. "For the most part, that 400 IM being on the last day was definitely really hard. I just had to get my hand on the wall. Getting five gold medals is definitely great but the times that I have gone, I know I can go faster. There are a lot of places in my races that I messed up on. I have a year to make sure I have those perfect swims. Gaining that world record was the best moment of this meet; the hard work and dedication I put this year really paid off."
History in the making:
From the archive:
Bumble bees shouldn’t fly - but they do. And 2.01m tall men who suffer serious asthma attacks don’t win world and Olympic medley titles - but they do. Tom Dolan (USA) proved the point. A man with just 3% body fat, Dolan was diagnosed with Exercise Induced Asthma and a 20% windpipe obstruction. He suffered dizzy spells and passed out from time to time. But Dolan won the 1994 and 1998 world and 1996 and 2000 Olympic 400m medley titles, claiming world records in Rome and Sydney.
Ryan Lochte's victory in Rome 2009 took an historic USA Vs HUN battle to 6 golds to 5 in favour of the Americans. In Melbourne in 2007, Michael Phelps set the global standard in 4:06.22 and not even polyurethane suits could take that down at Rome in 2009. In 2010, Lochte reigned supreme, on 4:07.59 for the Pan Pacific title ahead of teammate Tyler Clary, on 4:09.20. Third best in the world last year, on 4:10.95, was European champion Lazslo Cseh, second in 4:06.16 to Phelps when the American set a Beamonesque global standard of 4:03.84 to win the 2008 Olympic title before declaring "I will not race 400IM again".