Asked if he expects Phelps to compete in the 400 IM, Clary replied somewhat nervously, "My expectations are no, but stranger things have happened."
No matter what happens, the Phelps-Lochte rivalry figures to be the defining storyline of these eight days in Omaha — even at a meet that also features 11-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin, rising star Missy Franklin, and two 40-somethings taking one more shot at glory, Dara Torres and Janet Evans.
"For so long, it was just him beating me," Lochte said. "Since 2008, I changed some things in my training and my eating habits, and I've gotten a lot faster. Now, especially going into this meet and hopefully London, this is probably going to be one of the biggest rivalries ever."
Lochte stopped eating junk food — except for an occasional order of potato chips — and added a Strongman-like routine to his weight-training program. He's noticed a big chance in his practice sessions, finding that where he once was thrilled to put together two good days in a row, now he can go weeks at a time with no letup.
He's respectful of Phelps, but not intimidated to race against him day after day.
"I love a challenge," Lochte said. "For me to be in the same era as him, in the same events as him, to be able to race him to the finish, it's awesome. I love it. I get soooo excited when I'm stepping on the blocks and trying to race him."
Rest assured, that sort of talk is pumping up Phelps. He seems to hear everything that anyone says about him — Bowman has a lot to do with that — and can turn even the slightest of slights into a reason to go faster.
Heck, Phelps still remembers what former Australian national coach Don Talbot said about him before the 2003 world championships, something about "being unproven on international ground."
"What did that do? It motivated me," said Phelps, who at that meet set world records in different events on the same day. "Obviously, it frustrates me sometimes, but I just use that as motivation. That's the biggest thing I've learned in my career. I've never once said anything publicly about anyone. I never will. That's how I am. I let my swimming do whatever needs to be done."
Ahh, this is getting good.
Even the other swimmers, who are mostly focused on their own Olympic goals, can't wait to see how Phelps vs. Lochte turns out.
"They push the best out of each other," Clary said, "every time they get in the pool."
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