|Ryan Lochte reacts after looking at the scoreboard and seeing his fourth-place finish Monday. (US Presswire)|
Ryan Lochte now has a true foil, and it is not Michael Phelps.
The Next Great American Swimmer failed to paddle to his ambition and expectation on Monday, finishing fourth in the 200-meter freestyle, which was won by France's Yannick Agnel. That name sound familiar? Agnel's becoming the real male swim star of the Games to this point. He's the man responsible for passing Lochte in the men's 4x100 freestyle relay Sunday, giving France the gold over the U.S. in that event.
Agnel touched in 1:43.14, beating out South Korea's Taehwan Park, who took silver (1:44.93), along with China's Sun Yang, who also had a finishing time of 1:44.93.
Lochte reached the wall in 1:45.04, undoubtedly a very disappointing performance for a swimmer who had goals of winning golds in every event he entered at the 2012 Games.
So now the Lochte narrative takes its derisive turn, yes? Well, it shouldn't. At this point, we can, or should, express some disappointment with what Lochte's done, but let's still try and maintain some perspective. Still more races to go, and at this point Lochte's still a favorite to win gold for the 200-meter individual medley and 200-meter backstroke.
Keeping that in mind, the reason discussion will trigger heavy response and legitimate debate is because, with Lochte, we're also using the biggest measuring stick in the history of American male swimming. That stick falls down to 1.93 meters. It has the weight of 14 Olympic golds and two Olympic bronzes. It's in the shape of Michael Phelps' body and his unprecedented accomplishments. That's what Lochte goes up against every public and private moment he hops into a pool to swim. It's what he sees on the starting blocks, at team dinners in the dining halls, across the locker room prior to races watched by billions in nearly every corner of the planet.
Lochte's already got one gold at these Games, but now he's famously failed in two pretty big races, meaning he won't even sniff the same type of superb performance Phelps put on in Beijing. And it was always about living up to that for Lochte. Success is probably still to come, but more than a modicum of failure won't be washed away from his 2012 Games.
And now he's got to deal with Agnel on his back -- or should I say at his front, just a splash ahead.