Ryan Lochte is a bigger star than Michael Phelps

by Callum Ng 80

July 20th, 2012 London 2012 Olympics, News

Since Beijing, Ryan Lochte has legitimately swum himself into the same stratosphere as Michael Phelps. Whether or not their rivalry is real, or by definition a rivalry at all, people are talking about Ryan and Michael as equals. But they’re not.

Lochte is currently the bigger star. He has been for some time. He is currently more accomplished, more recognizable and overall more interesting.

In a sport like swimming, we often measure athletes against each other in terms of their Olympic performances. It is the biggest stage. Of course, Michael has 10 more Olympic medals than Ryan. But that only means Phelps has a better Olympic history, not that he is better today. Swimming should be measured like more traditional professional sports, in snapshots, only as good as your last game. Before Wimbledon you could have argued that Roger Federer was the best of all time, but that Djokovic or Nadal were the best in the world. (Of course in the time since, Federer has put his name back in the latter category). With similar reasoning, I would argue that the most recent World Championships, where Ryan swam to 5 gold medals, including beating Phelps head to head in 2, makes him swimming’s world #1.

With the media explosion in the months leading up to London, Ryan Lochte has come out on top. Lochte has sizzled on magazine covers such as Vogue, Men’s Health and TIME Magazine. He is the US Olympic Team Ralph Lauren poster boy. He gets himself trending with hashtags like #Jeah and nicknames like Reezy. Michael has more followers, but that is changing pretty quickly. (Phelps also frequently uses the word ‘tweeps’ but that is content for another entire blog post). It is abundantly clear that Ryan Lochte is just more marketable. In fact, he is a sport sponsor’s dream. Charismatic, likable, cool and now…the best at what he does.

Not disrespecting perhaps the most dominant Olympic performance in history, Michael just doesn’t have the same star power. Sport is a business, especially the Olympics. The burning reason why Tiger still leads golf coverage or Beckham still fills stadiums is because they are stars, regardless whether the reasons are positive or negative. It definitely isn’t because they are the best. But Lochte is, which makes his trajectory steep.

Ryan Lochte will fill your television screen in a few days and charm the world. There is no question. The only doubt is whether or not Phelps can pull a Federer and remind the world how good he is.

Callum Ng, SwimSwam contributor, story-teller and entrepreneur.
www.callumng.com @CallumNg

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Completely disagree. I find the Lochte marketing campaign to be incredibly forced and kind of annoying. “Jeah!” is his trademark? Really? Phelps just seems to be more “real” and less gimmicky. I’m guessing many people will still be more strongly drawn to Phelps due to his superior Olympic History, despite what has happened in recent years.


I completely agree with you.

I agree with you about people still being drawn to Michael. I like Ryan he is fun and definitely has more personality and marketability but Michael still has my loyalty. I’ve never met Michael but I got to watch him make history and his dreams come true and watching Michael swim was exciting and captivating, as a result I feel bonded to him. And that is why I will root for him over Ryan. Ryan is a little full of himself and cocky which I’m not a fan of…Michael is more humble.

And why must the media do these types of stories? It’s like the Angelina Jennifer debate.


Nice try. I really like Lochte. But using the world “star” instead of “accomplished” was a big mistake in this piece. Lochte is more accomplished right now but Phelps is the best swimmer in the history of the sport. EVERYBODY knows who he is and loves what he’s done. Maybe this type of greatness is in the cards for Lochte but it has not happened yet. Again, nice try.


I don’t agree – swimming is so much different from sports like football or baseball, it can’t even compare. Ryan Lochte may be better currently, but from an overall point-of-view, no way! Michael Phelps has done what nobody has done before and won 8 gold medals in a single Olympic games. I feel that he will always be recognized as one of the best, or the best, in the entire history of swimming – and always a step ahead of Ryan Lochte.

About Callum Ng

Callum Ng is a Canadian story-teller, entrepreneur and sport leader. Callum has traveled across the world as a participant and promoter of recent sport events such as the IOC's WCSE 2011 and the Youth Olympic Games. As a former swimmer, Callum brings a unique angle to swimming coverage, capturing both …

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