The Ultimate Question – Why Do We Love Phelps vs. Lochte?

Allow me to introduce the newest contributor to SwimSwam – Grayson Gibson. Grayson is a high school senior in Jacksonville, Florida, where he swims for First Coast High School and is the leader of the “bring ’em to the Jax” Trials 2016 campaign. He is a regional and Sectionals qualifier and a huge Natalie Coughlin fan (who isn’t?), welcome to his world. Take it away Grayson.

In swimming, there are numerous arguments/ debates swimmers can have to either express their point of views or just share for the sake of developing one’s debate skills. However, there is only one argument in the swim world that will absolutely destroy a friendship between two swimmers if the ground is not treaded upon lightly. This argument is about as simplistic, yet important as “which ice cream flavor is the best?” (Obviously green mint chocolate chip). It’s as monumental as the presidential debate. Just like the presidential debate, it has come to the forefront of the U.S media in the four years since 2008. This all encompassing, friendship destroying, high stakes debate is: MICHAEL PHELPS OR RYAN LOCHTE? We here at SwimSwam are all for the togetherness of American swimmers, and we don’t want any friendships ruined. So, we’re going to break it down and help provide you with viewpoints on both sides of the fence.

First, we’ll start with Michael Phelps. This man really doesn’t need an introduction; however, I’ll give you one anyway just for the heck of it. In the red corner, weighing in at 185 lbs, 6 foot 4 inches…winner of 16 Olympic medals; 14 Gold, and two  bronze… 8 gold in a single games at the Beijing Olympics, Olympic competitor since age fifteen… Mr. Swimming, the Baltimore Bullet…MICHAEL PHELPS!!! This guy is amazing, yes; you can pick your jaw up from the floor now. You did read that correctly: 16 Olympic medals and 8 in a single games. Michael has been in the game for a while. He’s been training under Bob Bowman since he was eleven years old. He qualified for his first Olympics in 2000, swimming his signature event; the 200m Fly. He placed fifth in his first major international competition. He broke his first world record at the next Nationals in Austin in the same event still three months from his sixteenth birthday, making him the youngest  male world record holder in swimming. He turned pro at sixteen, signing a deal with Speedo and passed on a college career to train seriously. In 2004, in the heat of Athens, he won six Gold medals and two bronze, scaring the record Mark Spitz had for the most gold medals in a single games. In 2008, he hurdled barriers like overzealous Frenchies, and leaking goggles and in the process redefined our beliefs about the boundaries of our sport and the limits of human performance, breaking Spitz’s record with his 8 gold medals.  He changed the sport of swimming after his magical mystery tour in 2008. In the months that followed, Phelps questioned his intent to stay in serious training. But, in 2009, something clicked and the fire was back. He competed in the 2009 world championships and had a decent performance. He lost the 200m freestyle but won the 200m fly, breaking his world record, and winning the 100 fly after someone yet again trash talked him, and won gold in all the relays.

However, in 2010, at the Pan Pacific Championships in California, something incredible happened. After having knee surgery for a break dancing injury, prior to the Nationals, Ryan Lochte dominated. He demolished his competition, leaving neon green, rhinestone footprints behind him. After almost six years since he first made his Olympic debut in 2004, after six years of being in the Shadow of Phelps, Rowdy Gaines declared the torch had been passed at least “for now.” In 2008 he won the 200m backstroke, earning his first individual Olympic Gold medal. Scores of medals of the same shiny color have followed. At the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai, China, Lochte quickly asserted himself as the dominant swimmer between Phelps and himself. He beat Phelps in both their head to head showdowns. In the 200 free, he came back on the third 50 with a monstrous series of underwater kicks that helped propel him to victory. In the 200 IM, the most anticipated race between the two, both, Phelps and Lochte went under world record pace but Lochte out touched him and won, becoming the first person to break a world record since the suit ban in 2010. He won six medals total at that meet, five gold one bronze and said that while he was pleased, he wasn’t satisfied.

This question is incredibly hard to answer, not only because they’re so close competitively but also because as people and swimmers they’re complete polar opposites. Phelps before a race is focused; intent, very particular with his pre race routine. Before a race, he can be seen gazing off into space, with his headphones blaring his mystery playlist which, come August, everyone will want to know. Lochte on the other hand, is very relaxed. He says he doesn’t really have a pre race routine. The only constant is that when they parade out, he’ll be wearing some really bright shoes and a bright smile. Behind the blocks, he doesn’t look intense. That is, until they call them onto the blocks, Lochte takes a deep breath and transforms from a laid back surfer dude to an ultra intimidating competitor.

It has been said that every sport in every generation will have someone that will take the sport and completely change its image. Well, we are in the midst of a rarity, a sports phenomenon. We have, in Phelps and Lochte, not one, but TWO game changers. These guys are making swimming cool. For once in our lives, swimmers aren’t the odd ones out when it comes to sports. Thanks to Lochte and Phelps the attention swimming has gotten in the past decade has increased and is sure to keep rising. So, when you ask yourself the question; WHO’S BETTER? PHELPS OR LOCHTE?  Just remember what they have done to the sport. Don’t try to contemplate that question too hard, it’s like trying to collect all the knowledge in the world from a crystal skulled alien while Indian Jones watches with an “I told you so” look on his face. You’re brain might explode if you search for the ultimate answer by yourself. Just sit back and enjoy the show, because, pretty soon, we’ll have our answer. And no matter who comes out on top, Lochte Lovers and Phelps Phans; you will be amazed.

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(Phelps) turned pro at sixteen, signing a deal with Speedo and passed on a college career to train seriously.

Ah, so college swimmers don’t train seriously?


yeah, it would have been better written: “… to train/swim full time.”

Grayson Gibson

I apologize! I didn’t mean it that way, it wasn’t my intention, my meaning was that he could train without the added stress of college classes,but I hope you otherwise enjoyed the article 🙂


I did enjoy the article because it was clearly written by someone who is very passionate about swimming!

Sherif Hamdy

Excited… bring in London already ! enjoyed this article, and even though i may not be waving the red white and blue flag, ill still certainly appreciate watching those two go at it and chase history. Cheers from Egypt! a fan.

bobo gigi

Go Michael! You have many fans in France! I like Ryan too, he’s a fantastic swimmer but Michael is the history of swimming and for me swimming means Michael Phelps. He has changed his sport and for the last 2 competitions of his giant career I wish him all the best.


glad to know Michael has so many fans in France. 😀 wait, not only in France but also in India, China, Indonesia, Singapore, Korea, Vietnam, S. Africa, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Australia, Canada, England, Argentina, Thailand, Iran…and other countries around the world.
He’s a dolphin boy. Thank God for creating him. <3
Swimming definitely won't be the same without Michael Phelps.
rooting for Phelps!


“…. making him the youngest world record holder in swimming. ”

that sentence is incomplete/inaccurate.

it should have been : “.. making him the youngest MALE world record holder in swimming.”
Because there have been quite a few younger female world record holders.

This is Grayson’s first piece. He’ll beef up the details over time & more posts. I’m glad he chose this topic & put it on the SwimSwam table…

Mel: It would be cool if your first name, Mel, was a nickname — short for “Merrill.” Then your name would be:

“Merrill Monroe Stewart.”

Lots o’ glamour there! (Of course, you’d have to dye your hair platinum.)


This is true – only thing that stopped me from being waaaay more critical. 😉

Grayson Gibson

I do apologize for any discrepencies or inaccuracies in my piece, As Mel said, I will get better with time. I’m like fine wine! But overall my goal was just to provide a perspective on what this has done for our sport as a whole. Compare the media hype swimming got before Phelps Vs Lochte with the media hype now, It’s incredible! I think it’s awesome what they’ve done for our sport. Their “rivalry” can be compared to the Bird-Johnson rivalry in the golden years of basketball. I love it!

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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