Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are in a wet game of cat and mouse. This past week at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, the gold medalists delivered a thesis in one-upsmanship. Lochte edged Phelps in the 400 IM, then the tables were turned in the 200 free. They put on a show that has left the sport with more hype than any other heading into London in three weeks.
But that also has fans wondering if the actual games can compare to the amazing week of split-second finishes in Nebraska.
"It doesn't have to live up to hype," three-time Olympic gold medal swimmer Rowdy Gaines says. "Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympian of all time; this is the biggest rivalry the sport has ever seen. Hype will take care of itself from action in the pool."
This past year has seen this rivalry develop to the current boiling point. Phelps may still be the more household name after his eight gold medal haul in Beijing, but Lochte dominated at the 2011 World Aquatics Championships winning five events.
"There's a reason he's been the best in the world for the last three years," Gaines says of Lochte. "His moment has arrived. He's tired of losing to Michael Phelps, and he’s proven that he can beat him."
At one point, Phelps was slated to swim in ten events this summer, including relays, but his coach, Bob Bowman, tweeted on Monday that that number is down to seven. One has to wonder if the stiff competition from Lochte has anything to do with that.
"It will be a lot more difficult this year. No question," said Gaines, who is working with Citi's Every Step of the Way program. "It's a completely different time and place than four years ago. That perfect storm might not happen this time."
Gaines (at left) will serve as the color commentator for NBC Sports this summer in London, and says if you can't to tune into all the action, there are a couple events that shouldn't be missed. The first is the 200 IM duel between Lochte and Phelps. The second is the women's 100 backstroke which will star Missy "The Missile" Franklin.
"This is going to be a great Olympics for her," Gaines says. "She is one athlete we have to be careful with. She's only 17 years old. But she is sensational in every sense of the word, and she’s going to have an incredible Games and will win a lot of medals."
Gaines has high hopes for Team USA. The contingent won 31 medals in 2008, which he feels they can repeat if not surpass. If the Swimming Trials this past week are any indication, it's going to be an exciting dash to the podium.
-- Follow Adam Watson on Twitter @AdamKWatson.