The first U.S. swimmer to compete at five Olympics has some advice for Ryan Lochte and anyone else who wants to beat Michael Phelps: Keep quiet.
”If I was his competitor, I wouldn’t say a word,” four-time Olympic champion Dara Torres said Thursday.
Phelps’ duel with U.S. teammate Lochte will be the main event in swimming at this year’s Olympics, and although their rivalry has so far been friendly and respectful – if intense – the heat could go up a notch in London.
Torres, who won 12 medals in an Olympic career that began in 1984 and ended in 2008, told The Associated Press that any trash-talking or mind games would only work in 14-time gold medalist Phelps’ favor.
”He takes that very seriously, and he uses that against his competitor,” she said.
Speaking to AP at a sponsor’s event in the heart of Olympic Park and next to the main stadium, Torres said the battle between the pair would be ”fun” but they must remember that they’re on the same team and it ”stays in the pool.”
Phelps first competed at the 2000 Sydney Games as a teenager. Torres said he might reconsider his decision to retire after London and end the most successful Olympic swimming career in history.
Phelps won a record eight gold medals in Beijing in 2008 and has more Olympic golds overall than any other athlete.
But before he touches the wall for the last time at the Olympics, Phelps will face probably his biggest challenge when he goes up against Lochte, who won one of their head-to-head contests at the U.S. trials and beat Phelps twice at the world championships in 2011.
They will compete against each other in the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys in London.
”Obviously, people like showdowns, and there is a showdown between Phelps and Lochte, and it’s going to be really fun to watch because they are both just fiercely competitive,” Torres said. ”There’s finally someone at Michael’s feet giving him a run for his money. Michael wants to win, and Ryan doesn’t want to lose, either.”
Torres, now 45, retired twice but returned to win five medals in Sydney and three silvers in Beijing at age 41. She missed making a record sixth U.S. swim team by nine-hundredths of a second at the trials.
It wouldn’t be easy for Phelps to give up, Torres said, and no longer have something that’s been a part of his life for so long.
Phelps has said he will retire after the 2012 Games, at the much younger age of 27.
”In his 20s, right?” Torres said. ”I remember when he swam his first Olympics in 2000 at 15 years old. I think people forget that.”
Torres said Phelps’ plan to retire is ”pretty convincing,” but she cautioned that no athlete knows ahead of time what it feels like to be away from competition.
”So never say never,” she said. ”He says that he’s done, and he very well may be, but he has to wait and experience what it’s like not being in the sport for a little while to see if he really is done.”
It may take some time for Phelps to realize he misses the pool, she said.
”It’s not going to change immediately. He’s probably like, ‘Good, I’m done, and I can do other things with my life,”’ Torres said. ”But you know you miss it. … We’ll see what happens.
Torres also isn’t reading too much into the U.S. trial results, where Phelps finished ahead of Lochte in three out of four events.
”Trials are trials, and the Olympics are a totally different atmosphere,” she said. This is where it counts. This is where it happens.”
Torres guaranteed seven medals for Phelps in his seven events – taking his career total to an Olympic record 23 – but wouldn’t say whether she thought they’d all be gold.