Lochte will not defend 400m IM title in Rio

Olympic 400m individual medley champion Ryan Lochte feeling the strain after finishing third in the US trials in Omaha, to miss out on defending his title in Rio in August. He is the second fastest in history in the event after Michael Phelps.
Olympic 400m individual medley champion Ryan Lochte feeling the strain after finishing third in the US trials in Omaha, to miss out on defending his title in Rio in August. He is the second fastest in history in the event after Michael Phelps. PHOTO: REUTERS

OMAHA (Nebraska) • Like shovelling snow, the 400 metres individual medley in swimming is a physically taxing activity best left to the youth.

The proof was in the composition of the field at the US Olympic trials on Sunday. The 94 men averaged 19.5 years old. The youngest was 14-year-old Carson Foster, who finished 43rd in the heats. The oldest, by two years, was 31-year-old Ryan Lochte, who qualified second in the first step of his title defence.

In the final, he finished 12-hundredths of a second behind the preliminaries' pacesetter, Chase Kalisz, whom Lochte afterward described as "a young buck".

Kalisz, 22, has trained for the past several years, most recently at Arizona State, with Michael Phelps, the only swimmer to have finished faster than Lochte in the event.

Lochte channelled Phelps in the first half of the final, taking the butterfly out fast and extending his lead on the backstroke leg.

But Kalisz made his move on the third leg, bettering Lochte by more than four seconds in the breaststroke, and won in 4min 9.54sec.

Jay Litherland, 20, passed a fading Lochte on the freestyle leg to secure the second and final Olympic berth with a personal best of 4:11.02.

Lochte was third in 4:12.02.

"We're going to have our two best guys in that event in the Olympics representing the USA," said Lochte, who revealed that he had pulled his groin muscle on the breaststroke leg of his morning race.

He said the injury had forced him to start hard in the final with the hope he could build an unbeatable lead by the time he got to the breaststroke leg, where the injury rendered his kick ineffectual.

Lochte never considered skipping the final, he said. At his age, he was perhaps tempting fate in swimming the gruelling race at all, especially given he had not actually planned to defend his Olympic title.

"I'm sure someone in their 30s could do it if they could get the motivation to do the training, but that's tough," said Kalisz's coach, Bob Bowman. "There's only so long you can sustain that kind of work."

But one who did put in the hard graft was Kalisz, whose time is the second best in the world this year, behind Kosuke Hagino's 4:08.85.

But it was outside his personal best of 4:09.22, and Kalisz said he would have to do better if he was to top the podium in Rio ahead of Hagino and fellow Japanese Daiya Seto.

"I've got to improve what I just did there to be competitive with those guys," he said. "Those guys are the two best in the world and they're the ones that are the favourites so I've got to be sharp going into Rio."

Bowman, who is also Phelps' trainer, agreed, but said he thought Kalisz could get faster in the weeks before the Games begin in August.

"I think he's got a couple or more seconds in him in the next month, and that's what it's going to take for him to win a medal," he said.

When Kalisz climbed out of the water, Phelps was on the deck to hug him - twice.

"He told me he was proud of me, and it was a very emotional moment," Kalisz said. "Michael has been like an older brother to me that I never had. He's been the guy that I've looked up to my entire life."

Now aged 30 and bidding for a spot on his fifth Olympic team, Phelps wanted no part of the punishing 400m IM, instead passing the torch to Kalisz.

He said: "He is like my brother and watching him to be able to do that is a very special moment."

Lochte, meanwhile, says he simply has to "forget about it". "I did everything I could in that race," he said. "It just wasn't enough."

How will his injury affect his performance the rest of the week?

"I don't know," he said. "I'm just going to have to keep working on it, and hopefully it gets better."

NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2016, with the headline 'Lochte will not defend 400m IM title in Rio'. Print Edition | Subscribe