If you have to blame anyone for the disastrous silver-medal performance by the U.S. 4x100 freestyle relay team, look beyond the pool.
It's true that Ryan Lochte, the 400 IM champion and would-be Olympic hero, blew a sizable lead in the United States' loss to France at the Aquatic Centre in London. This came after leadoff man Nathan Adrian touched the wall first, Michael Phelps swam faster than any of the 32 men in the race, with the exception of the one who chased down Lochte, and Cullen Jones went faster in 2012 than he went during the American's epic victory in 2008. Thus, it's not entirely unfair to pin the loss on Lochte. He dove into the pool with a lead of 0.55 seconds and emerged from it having lost by the same exact margin.
It was a bad swim at a bad time against a man, Yannick Agnel, who was primed for a comeback. All of that is undeniable. Still, don't blame Lochte for blowing the race in the anchor leg. Save the derision for the man who put him there.
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Team USA coach Gregg Troy knows Lochte isn't a sprint freestyler. He knows that of Lochte's many swimming gifts, closing speed isn't near the top. He knows Lochte has competed in four races totaling 1,200 meters already in London, including a 200-meter freestyle semifinal an hour before the relay final. He knows Lochte doesn't fit the mold of a sprint anchor. And still he put him in that role. It was a gamble, perhaps made from the high of Lochte's dominant victory in the 400 IM and his too-quick coronation as the king of swimming. It didn't make sense when it was announced and it didn't make sense after.
Troy kept the identity and order of his relay team quiet until late Sunday then surprised the swimming world by moving Phelps from his customary leadoff role and sticking Lochte at the end. No wonder he wanted to keep it a secret.
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- Ryan Lochte
- Michael Phelps