DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — American Ryan Lochte has passed Michael Phelps as the top all-around swimmer this year. Next, he aims to match Phelps on the podium.
Lochte wants to swim eight events over five days at the short-course world championships starting on Wednesday. If he wins them all, he’ll match the record eight golds Phelps won at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“I think that’s what he has in his mind,” said U.S. men’s head coach Jon Urbanchek, adding that the laid-back Lochte “is capable” of pulling off the feat.
His chances improve because Phelps isn’t competing in Dubai.
“I wish he was here. I love racing against him but it’s not my call, it’s his call, and I’m sure he has a reason why,” Lochte said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Lochte is listed to swim five individual events — the 100-, 200- and 400-meter individual medleys, plus the 200 freestyle and 200 backstroke. He’ll also take part in the 400 and 800 free relays. The only question in his program is whether he’ll race the 400 medley relay.
“If they put me in it I’ll do it, but as far as I know I’m not,” Lochte said. “I wouldn’t mind doing it all. I wouldn’t mind more racing. But it’s the coaches’ call.”
Urbanchek indicated that Lochte likely will get the nod for the medley relay after Aaron Peirsol pulled out of the competition, allowing Lochte to swim the backstroke leg.
“But we have to give others a chance to swim and see how they perform,” Urbanchek said. “Picking for the last relay is not a problem, because they have all swum events by then and we know who is hot.”
Lochte may be hot, but he’ll also probably be exhausted come Sunday.
Phelps won his eight golds over nine days in Beijing, while this meet is condensed into five days.
“It’s a larger load,” Urbanchek said. “He’s going to have his hands full, because he’s going to be challenged by Tyler (Clary) and some of the Europeans are very good, so it’s not going to be a cakewalk.”
American teammate Clary will go against Lochte in four events. Lochte also has to worry about Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh in the IMs, Austria’s Markus Rogan in the 200 back and Germany’s Paul Biedermann in the 200 free.
Cseh took silver behind Phelps in the 200 and 400 IMs in Beijing, and Biedermann upset Phelps in the 200 free at last year’s long-course worlds in Rome.
“Even though Michael isn’t here, there is still a lot of good competition,” Lochte said.
Lochte beat Phelps in the 200 IM and 200 back at the U.S. championships this summer, then won six golds to Phelps’ five at the Pan Pacific Championships in August.
Those performances prompted Phelps’ longtime coach, Bob Bowman, to acknowledge that Lochte was “the best swimmer in the world this year — no question.”
Recently ousted U.S. head coach Mark Schubert suggested that Phelps doesn’t have enough confidence in his short-course technique.
“Although I think he’s a great short-course swimmer, he doesn’t consider himself to have good short-course (technique). Because although his underwater is good, it’s most particularly good on the last turn,” said Schubert, who is in Dubai as the honorary secretary of FINA’s coaches commission.
“But short-course swimming is kind of like a gymnastics event, it’s underwater, underwater, underwater, and I think when you watch Natalie (Coughlin) and Ryan you’ll see that.”
Still, Schubert is not ready to declare Lochte the sport’s top athlete just yet, saying fans will have to wait for a showdown at the 2012 London Olympics.
“In my opinion, I don’t think you can say (Lochte) is the premier male swimmer. But he was certainly the swimmer of this past year,” Schubert said. “But Mr. Phelps’ performance in Beijing trumps all, so London will judge again.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press