LONDON (Reuters) - Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte will square off for the last time when they line up against each other in the final of the 200 meters individual medley at the London Olympics on Thursday.
While Phelps has already secured his place as an Olympic immortal with a record 19 medals, including eight golds in Beijing four years ago, the stakes could not be higher for the eagerly awaited clash.
For Phelps, who has been below his best in London, it is a chance for him to avenge his loss to Lochte in the 400 medley final and become the first male swimmer to win the same individual event at three Olympics.
For Lochte, it is a chance for him to be remembered as one of the sport’s greatest competitors.
While beating Phelps is itself a formidable task, Lochte is going to have to do it the hard way, because he is swimming two grueling finals in the same session.
He is also competing in the 200 backstroke, an exhausting event that drains the energy from competitor’s legs.
He won the event in Beijing four years ago and is the favorite to win again even though he qualified second behind his team mate Tyler Clary.
Conserving his strength in the backstroke, Lochte then showed his powers of recovery when he qualified ahead of Phelps for the medley.
“We love racing against each other,” Phelps said.
“Neither one of us likes to lose. I like to say we bring out the best in one another.”
The U.S. have dominated the Olympic swimming competition in London, winning eight gold medals in the first five days, and could pick up three more on Thursday.
Not only do the Americans appear to have strength in numbers in the men’s medley and backstroke finals, they also have a great chance of gold in the women’s 200 breaststroke after Rebecca Soni broke the world record.
Showing no lingering effects of her narrow loss in the 100 breaststroke final two days ago, Soni on Wednesday reclaimed the record she lost when polyurethane bodysuits were in vogue.
The Olympic champion goes into the final leading her nearest competitor by more than two seconds, a massive margin in elite swimming.
Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands is lurking as the woman to beat in the 100 freestyle sprint after stopping the clock at 53.05 seconds, a new Olympic record.
Australia’s Melanie Schlanger was second fastest, while American teenager Missy Franklin was third quickest.
Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Greg Stutchbury