It wasn’t even close.
Ryan Lochte crushed rival teammate Michael Phelps in their first of two Olympic showdowns Saturday, dominating the 400m individual medley. Lochte’s gold was America’s first in the 2012 games.
For Phelps, who finished more than four seconds behind Lochte, it was a humbling conclusion to an event he once ruled. Phelps won gold in the 400m IM in 2004 and 2008 but barely qualified for Saturday's showdown. The loss marked the first time since 2000 that he failed to earn a medal in an Olympic final.
"It was just a crappy race," Phelps told The Associated Press. "I felt fine the first 200, then I don't know. They just swam a better race than me, a smarter race than me, and were better prepared than me. That's why they're on the medal stand."
Lochte finished in 4:05.18, more than three seconds ahead of Thaigo Pereira of Brazil, who took silver, and Kosuke Hagino of Japan, who won bronze.
Lochte smiled as he left the pool and prepared to receive his fourth career Olympic gold medal. "I think I'm kind of in shock right now," he told the AP. He said Phelps "gave it everything he had. That's all you can ask for."
On Sunday morning, in Lochte's second event of the games, he took second in the Men's 200m freestyle prelims and will advance to the semi-finals, which air at 2:37 p.m. ET Sunday.
As for Lochte and Phelps, they will go head-to-head once more, on Aug. 2 in the 200m individual medley.
Instead of focusing on Lochte, Phelps, with 16 gold medals and two bronzes in his career, is now racing with history. He needs to win a medal of any color in three more events to become the most decorated Olympian of all time. He plans to retire after the London games.
There were other exciting finishes Saturday at the Aquatics Centre, where defending Olympic champion Tae-hwan Park of South Korea appeared to win his morning heat in the 400 freestyle, but was disqualified for a false start.
He protested, and later in the day was reinstated after officials reviewed a video of the race. Park went on to win the silver medal in the finals, losing to Yang Sun of China, who set an Olympic record with a 3:40.14 finish.
Sun's teammate, Ye Shiwen, set a world record in the women's 400-meter individual medley, finishing in 4:28.43, nearly three seconds ahead of American teenager Elizabeth Beisel.
Veteran U.S. Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin tied Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres as the most decorated U.S. female Olympian. She won her 12th career medal — a bronze — in the 400-free relay Saturday without getting wet.
The 29-year-old swam in the morning preliminaries, but Team USA's coach decided not to use her in the finals when the Americans took bronze. Instead Coughlin cheered on her younger teammates Missy Franklin, Jessica Hardy and Olympic rookies Lia Neal and Allison Schmitt.
"I really have no idea what to think of it so far," Coughlin told The Associated Press. "I'll have to let that one sit and I'll have to take it all in. I'm very proud of it, but I've never been on a morning relay before."
Coughlin earned six medals at the Beijing Games, the most by an American woman at single Olympics. She did not qualify for an individual event in London.
American Dana Vollmer won the semifinals in the women's 100m butterfly and remains the favorite heading into Sunday's finals.
Also on Saturday:
- The U.S. men's gymnastics team delivered a near-flawless performance in Saturday's qualifying round, edging out favorites China, the defending Olympic champions, and Japan, the ascendant powerhouse. The U.S. took the lead in the standings with a final score of 275.342, nearly three points above Russia. Britain took third place in a surprisingly strong showing. Germany took fourth. That left Japan in fifth and China sixth. They'll have a shot at redemption when all scores reset to zero for the team finals on Monday.
- Serena WIlliams returned to the scene of her Wimbledon triumph and beat Jelena Jankovic of Serbia in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1 as First Lady Michelle Obama watched from the front row. Williams advances to the second round. Williams has won two gold medals playing doubles with her sister, Venus, but had never won a gold in Olympic singles.
- Roger Federer won his opening match, beating Alejandro Falla of Colombia, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3. The Wimbledon champion is looking for his first gold medal in singles competition.
- The Olympics’ first gold medal ceremony took place Saturday morning in the women’s 10m air rifle competition. China's Yi Siling took the honors over Poland's Sylwia Bogacka, who won silver, and Yu Dan from China, who claimed the bronze. Czech Katerina Emmons, a favorite who won gold in 2008 and is the wife of American shooter Matt Emmons, came in fourth. Two women didn't make it to the top four, but earned a spot in history nonetheless: Bahiya al-Hamad was among the first women to compete in the Games from Qatar, and Nur Suryani Mohammed Taibi of Malaysia competed eight months pregnant.
- Over at the makeshift beach at Horse Guards Parade, the weather proved suitable enough at first (67 degrees and sunny) for players to abandon back-up plans for additional clothing over their traditional skimpy suits, to the relief of spectators. In the morning, a 23rd-seeded Russian duo upset second-seeded China in a stunning match interspersed with dance performances from a bathing suit-clad gaggle of dancers. Later, two-time defending gold medalists Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor of the U.S. defeated Australia. The pair won 21-18, 21-19, battling back from a 13-9 deficit in the second game. With temperatures at a cool 63 degrees, both teams donned long-sleeved shirts over their bikinis for the debut. Jennings and Treanor haven't lost a set in three Olympics. Indoors, the women’s volleyball team, the favorite to win gold, held off South Korea with a 3-1 win.
- The U.S. women’s basketball team, favored to win its fifth consecutive gold medal, held off an early first-round challenge by Croatia before pulling away in the second half, winning in a rout, 81-56
- The U.S. men’s archery team upset the defending champion South Korean team in the semi-finals, then lost a heartbreaker in the final, losing by one point to Italy.
- The U.S. women’s soccer team continued its march toward their third consecutive gold medal with a 3-0 win over Colombia. Their record is now 2-0 as they head to the quarterfinals.