Olympic Preview – stars prepare for battle
The highly-anticipated fight for glory between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in the pool at the London 2012 Olympic Games will help to take aquatics to even greater heights in the stars’ home country of the United States, according to USA Swimming team director Frank Busch.
The compatriots will take on each other in showpiece races in the first week of the Games, with the 400 metre individual medley expected to provide one of the highlights of the aquatics programme and the early stages of the Games.
At the US Olympic trials in Nebraska in June, journalists from as far afield as Australia, France, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and Japan gathered to catch the latest glimpse of the Phelps-Lochte rivalry, and at the pre-Olympics training camp in Tennessee, fans started to queue at 4am – four hours before the start of the first practice session – for a chance to see the two in action.
“When I look at what Michael and Ryan are doing to our sport right now, they are elevating it in ways that I don’t think any of us dreamed of,” Busch said.
Phelps, who won eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics after picking up six golds at the 2004 Athens Games, is one of the most famous Olympians of all time.
However, the charismatic Lochte, who is determined to step out of the shadows of his fellow American on the biggest sporting stage of all, believes he can play a crucial role in the continuing expansion of swimming and aquatic sports.
“I've been getting a lot more notoriety this year,” Lochte said, according to the New York Times. “I've been on covers of magazines and shooting commercials and it's been just getting me out there.
“But it's mostly for the sport. If they [the public] see a figure like Michael or me on magazines or on a TV commercial, it draws a lot more people into the sport. And I think that's our main goal — to make the sport of swimming bigger than what it is.”
Lochte could earn $2.3 million from endorsement deals this year, according to Fortune magazine, with companies such as Speedo supporting the athlete. Speedo, one of the official partners of the International Swimming Federation (FINA), will also have a presence at the FINA World Aquatics Convention, the industry-leading event scheduled for October 29 to November 1 in Moscow, Russia.
Lochte’s commercial success is an indication of aquatics’ potential, but he is by no means the only potential US star that is likely to emerge as a global household name in aquatics sports during the London Games.
Arguably the most touching story has been provided by Alex Meyer, who is attempting to pick up the gold in the 10 kilometre open-water swimming event in London for the memory of his friend and fellow swimmer Fran Crippen, who died in 2010.
Australia’s star name in the pool is 21-year-old James Magnussen, who is hoping to end the country’s 44-year wait for the gold in the 100 metre freestyle event at the Olympics.
Meanwhile, China’s Sun Yang, the 1,500 metres freestyle world record-holder, is on the brink of becoming his country’s first Olympic swimming champion – a feat that would give aquatics a huge boost in terms of exposure in his homeland.
“I feel like a tough warrior, with shield in hand and I am about to go all out,” Sun said at a pre-Games conference.
Whatever the results in pool or the open waters at London 2012, it is clear that the winners and personalities of the Games will provide an opportunity for aquatics to grow in both emerging and established markets.