- Associated Press - Saturday, July 28, 2012

LONDON — Ryan Lochte strolled the deck of the Olympic Aquatics Centre wearing diamonds in his mouth and lime-green sneakers on the feet that powered him through the water faster than anyone else. Beaming, he chomped playfully on his gold medal while Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” blared throughout the massive arena.

Michael Phelps?

He was nowhere to be found.

Not during the race.

Not when it came time to hand out the medals.

United States' Michael Phelps makes his way out of the pool after placing fourth in the men's 400-meter individual medley swimming final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Saturday, July 28, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)
United States’ Michael Phelps makes his way out of the pool after ... more >

On a stunner of an opening night at the pool in London, Phelps was routed by his American rival in the 400-meter individual medley, losing to Lochte by more than 4 seconds Saturday. That’s not all: The winningest Olympian ever didn’t win any medal at all, the first time that’s happened in a race of this magnitude since he was a 15-year-old kid competing in just one event at the Sydney Games, a dozen years ago.

“It was horrible,” Phelps told coach Bob Bowman when he climbed out.

Bowman’s reply: “It was.”

Lochte turned the much-anticipated duel with Phelps into a blowout, raising serious questions about whether the guy who has won 14 gold medals and 16 medals overall has anything left in the tank for his Olympic farewell.

Phelps is planning to retire as soon as he finishes the last of his seven races in London, but he looked ready to call it a career while struggling just to pull himself from the water when his first event was done.

He was totally spent.

He was thoroughly beaten, perhaps signaling a changing of the guard at the pool.

“This is my year,” said Lochte, who popped in his grillz — diamond-studded mouth jewelry — for the victory ceremony. “I know it and I feel it, because I’ve put in hard work. I’ve trained my butt off for four years … and there’s no better way to start this Olympics off than getting gold.”

For Phelps, the start of these games couldn’t have been more out of character.

He barely qualified for the evening final, a performance that hinted at trouble ahead. Trouble indeed. Phelps struggled to a fourth-place finish, blown out by Lochte and beaten by Brazil’s Thiago Pereira and Japan’s Kosuke Hagino.

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