In the battle for swimming supremacy, the American raced to an Olympic gold medal during the men’s 400-metre individual medley on Saturday in London.
Lochte didn’t just outduel his fierce rival and compatriot Michael Phelps, he destroyed the entire field.
Lochte easily won the event in four minutes, 05.18 seconds.
Brazil's Thiago Pereira took home a silver medal in 4:08.86, while Kosuke Hagino Japan earned a bronze medal with a time of 4:08.94.
Phelps finished a distant fourth in 4:09.28.
Lochte, the two-time 400 IM world champion, entered the race full of confidence. His feeling was justified after leading the butterfly leg — Phelps’s best discipline.
"I think Michael must have known there was a problem when he wasn't leading after the butterfly," said CBC Sport swimming expert Byron MacDonald. "But Lochte is a very good butterflier. There was a little bit of gamesmanship. I think Ryan decided that 'if I'm going to win, I cannot let myself get far behind.' So he went out strong in the front end and was strong enough to come back at the end."
Lochte only increased his lead following the backstroke.
By the time the swimmers began the final leg of the freestyle the only question was whether the Upstate New York native could beat Phelps' world record (4:03.84), which he didn't achieve.
Phelps, who barely qualified and started in Lane 8, may regret his decision compete in the 400 IM.
The Baltimore native, now the former two-time Olympic champion, has barely raced in the 400 IM since claiming he was done with the grueling event after winning in Beijing four years ago. To everyone’s surprise, Phelps decided to drop the 200m freestyle — where he’s considered one of the gold-medal favourites — at the US trials and entered the 400 IM.
It was clear from the beginning that he would have trouble making it to the podium. Holding third position for most of the race, Phelps faded and was eventually overtaken by Hagino.
"It was just a crappy race," said Phelps, who also failed in his bid of becoming the first male swimmer to win gold medals in the same event in three consecutive Olympics. "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."
This was the first time since the 2000 Sydney Games that Phelps failed to medal when he was only 15. His medal count remains at 14 gold and two bronze.
"It's frustrating, that's all I can say. It's pretty upsetting," Phelps said. "The biggest thing now is to try to look forward. I have a bunch of other races, and hopefully we can finish a lot better than how we started."
Lochte climbed out of the pool with a big smile, waving to the crowd and looking about a fresh as he did at the start. He had predicted this would be his year and, for the first race at least, he was right on the mark.
"I think I'm kind of in shock right now," he said. As for Phelps, "I know he gave it everything he had. That's all you can ask for."
China's Sun Yang wins 400 freestyle
Sun Yang of China now rules the 400-metre freestyle after winning gold in Olympic-record time, ahead of South Korea's Park Tae Hwan.
Sun, the defending 1,500m freestyle world champion, won in a mark of 3:40.14. Park, the gold medallist from Beijing, had do settle for silver as he clocked in a time of 3:42.06.
American Peter Vanderkaay took the bronze in 3:44.69.
Sun took his time in the beginning and began making up ground on Park and Vanderkaay. He eventually would pass both rivals in the final 100m, coming within 0.07 of Germany's Paul Biedermann, who failed to qualify for the final.
Now 20, the Chinese star has a chance to leave an indelible mark on the Games by winning another gold in his specality — the 1,500m — a race he won at the 2011 world championships by more than 10 seconds over Canada's Ryan Cochrane.
Saturday's event featured another stunning storyline. Park, the 2008 Olympic champion, won his morning heat but was disqualified for a false start, placing Cochrane in the final. However, his appeal was later upheld, and effectively the decision bumped out Cochrane.
Chinese swimmer Ye sets world record
Ye Shiwen of China took another step in becoming a swimming superstar after breaking the women’s 400-metre individual medley world record.
The charging Ye came on in the second half of the race, clocking in a time of 4:28.43 — an amazing feat considering this isn't her best event. Ye eclipsed the world mark of 4:29.45 set by Australian Stephanie Rice in Beijing Olympics.
American Elizabeth Beisel, ahead for the first part of the event, earned silver in 4:31.27, and China’s Li Xuanxu placed third in 4:32.91.
Like Sun, the 16-year-old Ye has a chance to win another gold medal. She's a favourite to win the 200 IM, the event she upset the field on home soil at the 2011 world championships in Shanghai.
“This is a young girl that burst onto the scene last year. She didn’t know how to swim the 400 IM last year. Now she knows how to swim it and she broke the world record. She’ll break the world record in the 200 IM,” predicted MacDonald.
Australia women take gold in 4x100 freestyle
Australia's women captured 400m freestyle relay while setting an Olympic record of 3:33.15.
Led by budding star Missy Franklin, the United States started off with a blistering time and was under world-record pace, but the Aussies rallied behind Brittany Elmslie on the third leg. Melanie Schlanger then needed a strong finish to hold off Ranomi Kromowidjojo, who was closing fast to give the Netherlands a silver in 3:33.79.
The other members of the winning team were Alicia Coutts and Cate Campbell.
The U.S. fell to the bronze in 3:34.24, and that was enough to give Natalie Coughlin the 12th medal of her career, tying Dara Torres and Jenny Thompson as the most decorated U.S. female Olympian. Coughlin swam in the morning heats, but still earned a medal despite not competing in the final.
The bronze also keeps Franklin's hope of winning seven Olympic medals alive.
Dickens eliminated from 100 breaststroke
Canada’s Scott Dickens was feeling good after breaking his own national record during the preliminary heats of the men’s 100m breaststroke.
Dickens qualified for Saturday’s semifinals in 59.85. But a disastrous effort in the evening, where he finished in a time of 1:00.16, eliminated the Ancaster, Ont., swimmer from the final.
South African Cameron van der Burgh did set an Olympic record in the first semifinal heat as he registered a time of 58.83.