Four years is a long time
Four years is a long time, especially if you are competing in a sport like swimming in the Olympics. No one realized this more than Michael Phelps did on Saturday. Phelps might end the Olympics as the greatest Olympian of all time, but on the first day in the pool that giant American was left to soak up the jet-streams of his compatriot Ryan Lochte and the Chinese superstar-in-the-making Sun Yang, both of whom dazzled the pool with dominating performances.
Lochte had been ambling in the heats but come the fight for real medals, the American was unrelenting. And with this performance he finally managed to put Phelps in the shade.
For Phelps, not being on the podium after an individual swimming event must have been a peculiar feeling. The last time he was absent from the podium was eleven?years and 312?days ago in 2000. The last time he wasn't on the top step after an individual event was seven years, eleven?months and twelve?days ago in 2004.
These are damning statistics and so the first day on the pool for the United States was almost as much about Phelp's failure, than it was about Lochte's triumph.
Phelps lost badly.
He finished fourth, 4.10 seconds and 7?yards behind Lochte. Phelps was also beaten by the Brazilian Thiago Pereira and the 17-year-old Kosuke Hagino.
The hyped, anticipated and relentlessly previewed duel in the pool between Phelps and Lochte did not materialise.
Lochte had waited his turn and before the start of the Olympics he had foretold his coming. “This is my time,” he had said. It certainly seems to be. The competition has been warned.
But Phelps need not wallow in his misery. Another hero from Beijing, the Australian glamour girl, Stephanie Rice also struggled to replicate her form in Beijing four years ago.
An annoying shoulder injury had meddled in Rice's preparations over the course of the year but there was the feeling that come race time Rice would get it right. She had done so often in the past. Three gold medals in three in Beijing was apt proof of that. But it was not to be.
A sixth placing meant there was no shiny medallion to bring back to the athletes' village this time; the only thing she took to her room was disappointment, and a hope things will improve when she races the 200m individual medley today.
Rice's race was taken in stunning fashion by the Chinese youngster Ye Shiwen who not only won the gold, but in clocking 4 min 28.43s, she sliced 1.02s off the world record Rice set in Beijing to add insult to injury.
Ye and Sun Yang, who became the first Chinese male swimmer to win a gold medal in swimming are perhaps heralding a new dawn in a sport so far dominated by the Americans and Australians.
The 20-year-old Sun powered to the men's 400m freestyle victory in three minutes 40.14s, dethroning South Korean Park Tae-Hwan, who only made it to the final after winning an appeal against a false start call in the morning's heat.
After overtaking Park at the final turn and touching home first, Sun climbed onto the lane rope and punched his fist in the air. And on Sunday morning, Sun was paired with Lochte in the 200m freestyle heats. He beat the American. It was a statement of intent.
The Chinese are coming.