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Associated Press
Ryan Lochte will duel U.S. teammate Michael Phelps in the 400-meter individual medley today in the first day of the Summer Olympics in London.

It’s splash of the titans

Phelps, Lochte hit pool today for 400 IM

Phelps

– Olympic swimming’s Splash of the Titans on opening night at the Aquatics Centre will set an exciting tone for the London Games.

Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte – the most decorated swimmer of all time vs. the world’s best swimmer in 2011 – will duel in the 400-meter individual medley today, creating ripples of excitement to open their sport’s eight days of indoor competition.

Phelps won gold in the event the past two Olympic Games, setting the world record in 2004 at Athens, and lowering the record to 4 minutes, 03.84 seconds in 2008 at Beijing.

Should he open the swimming competition with another gold in the 400 IM – the preliminaries are at 5 a.m. Fort Wayne time, with the finals set for 2:30 p.m. – Phelps would become the first male swimmer to win the same individual event in three consecutive Olympics.

“These are the last moments I will have in my career,” said the 27-year-old Phelps, a four-time Olympian who has announced he will retire at the end of the London Games.

“There will be a lot of firsts and a lot of lasts in the next week.” For all of the attention Phelps has received, it’s Lochte who enters today’s event as the favorite, having won the 400 IM at the 2009 and 2011 world championships.

Lochte, who turns 28 next Friday, followed those performances with a head-to-head win over Phelps in the 400 IM at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Neb., last month.

“I’m not going for the silver or bronze,” Lochte declared at a news conference Thursday. “I’m going for the gold.” Many consider the 400 IM event – which features the freestyle, butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke – the most accurate gauge for determining the best swimmer in the world.

Phelps’ longtime coach, Bob Bowman, suggests that regardless of who wins, swimming is fortunate to have such a dynamic opening act in the Olympics.

“It will be a coach’s dream,” Bowman said, “and I think a spectator’s dream.” But, “maybe not a swimmer’s dream,” Phelps interjected with a wry smile while seated beside Bowman on Thursday.

Training for the 400 IM event is indeed grueling, and Phelps had declared numerous times after his unprecedented eight gold-medal performance in Beijing that he was finished competing in the event.

Things changed in the Phelps camp in the months leading up to the Olympic trials in June.

“We were attempting to do some things for training purposes,” said Phelps. “It (medley training) has been a part of my program for so long. I started watching videos of the 2004 and 2008 400 IM; it brought back the excitement.”

Lochte’s colorful comments have done nothing to diminish Phelps’ renewed competitive desires.

A former University of Florida swimmer, Lochte displays the swagger often typified by Gator athletes, right down to the school’s self-styled “Gator Chomp.”

Lochte made headlines last month when he claimed that it’s his time in the sport of swimming, and that his rivalry with Phelps will be the talk of the Olympics and change the sport.

After all that, Lochte said in London this week that he won’t be thinking about Phelps when he steps onto the starting blocks for tonight’s much-anticipated event.

“Michael is just one person; there are other swimmers from around the world I need to worry about,” Lochte said. “If Michael’s right there, then he’s right there.”

The second and final round of the Phelps-Lochte showdown takes place Wednesday, when they’ll go head-to-head in the 200 IM. Phelps won that battle at the trials last month and won gold in Beijing and Athens, but Lochte is the defending world champion and record-holder.

“Back home, people are talking about me and Michael, and it’s just talk,” Lochte said. “But I guess we’ll see what happens.”

Said Phelps, “You can guarantee it’s going to be loud in there on opening night.”

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