Ryan Lochte, left, and Michael Phelps greet each other as Lochte leaves and Michael Phelps arrives at a news conference at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, Saturday, June 23, 2012, in Omaha, Neb. The trials starts on Monday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
By Julian Linden
OMAHA, Nebraska, June 23 (Reuters) – Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are keeping everyone guessing about how many events they will swim at the London Olympics as they prepare to square off in the first round of the most anticipated swimming rivalry in years.
The pair have both given themselves the chance to better Phelps’ golden haul of eight gold medals from the Beijing Games four years ago by tantalizingly entering a record number of events at next week’s U.S. Olympic trials.
Phelps has entered seven individual events, which would give him a total of 10 when the three relays are added, while Lochte has signed up for a staggering 11 individual events and possibly 14 in all.
While neither swimmer was expected to compete in all those races at the trials, let alone in London, neither man was giving anything away when pressed on what their magic number might be.
“I’m not chasing a medal count,” said Lochte, who won five gold medals at last year’s world championships in China, at a news conference on Saturday.
“I’m just going to step up to the blocks and see what my body will let me do.”
Like everyone else, Lochte remains in awe of what Phelps did in Beijing but rather than concede defeat, the 27-year-old from Florida said he was inspired to do better himself.
He gave up junk food and devoted himself to an even tougher training routine which paid off when he beat Phelps in two head-to-head races at the world championships.
“He’s the world’s best swimmer, ever,” Lochte said. “But he’s human, he’s not a fish or anything.
“For me to be in the same era as him, and to be in the same events as him, and being able to race him until the finish, it’s awesome and I love it.”
Phelps, who is retiring after the London Olympics, was just as coy. He was scheduled to race Lochte as early as Monday in the 400 meters individual medley, even though he vowed never to swim the race again after Beijing.
Asked whether he was serious about competing in the 400, he declined to give an answer other than “we’ll see.”
He arrived at the news conference looking relaxed and sporting a thin mustache. Quizzed as to when he would shave it off, he kept that a secret as well.
“I can’t give that away,” he said, only half in jest.
“If I say I’m doing it tomorrow, then you’ll know I’m swimming the 400 IM. If I say I’m doing it Monday, that means I’m not. It will come off when the rest of my body hair comes off.”
Phelps struggled for motivation in the first two years after Beijing but has been making up for lost time by training harder than ever in the last 18 months.
He admitted that Lochte had “destroyed me over the last couple of years at major meets” but said he had rediscovered his motivation and wanted to end his Olympic career on a high.
He already has 14 gold medals, more than any other athlete in any sport, but still wanted more.
“It all goes back to what I’m here to do. I have goals that I want to achieve,” he said.
“We’ll see after this week what size cherry I want to put on the top of my sundae.”