Team Phelps or Team Lochte? A cheeky Olympic analogy... On one stage, the one who did it all. The incomparable, the untouchable, the one who changed the game and created a mania. On the other, the rock star who dares to do as much. A swaggering challenger with talent and ambition that compares.
Does this sound familiar? A bit like the two greatest British rock bands in history? (Scratch the 'Brit' and the 'rock' part, the two greatest bands in history...) Turns out the two greatest swimmers in history have quite a bit in common with that eternal contrast between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
Phelps, of course, is the Beatles. Lochte, the Stones. Who do you like? It says a lot about you. And a lot about these two swimmers...
Take a look: Phelps and the Beatles, their respective careers were a decade long comet. A period when they both stretched the imagination to its impossible never-be-the-same edge. By their late 20's they were both ready to move on. At age 27, they were the greatest ever. Where do you go from there?
As for Lochte and the Stones, they're about the same age as their mighty rival, but they seem much younger. They seem not to care quite so much. They appear to want to do this forever. And why not? It's what they were born to do.
Phelps has repeated for years that he never wants to swim past 30. Incidentally, the same age as John Lennon when he announced his departure from the Beatles. Lochte has shrugged forever that he'll keep swimming for as long as he pleases. Which is about the same attitude that Keith Richards has always had...
At the conclusion of his London campaign, Phelps will almost certainly conclude his Olympic career with 23 Olympic medals. He has sixteen now, he's swimming seven events this week; the only one questionable for a medal is that complicated 4 x 100 free relay... The colors of those medals may vary, but safe to assume at least half will be gold. Meanwhile, Lochte is a full ten medals back. He's got six Olympic medals so far. He'll likely double that haul in London, leaving with a career dozen, halfway to Phelps. Is it ridiculous to start wondering if he can catch him?
Say Lochte continues his charge through his late 20's and comes into his own as Phelps fades out of the picture. A bit like, say the Stones hitting their early 70's peak with Exile, Sticky Fingers, and Some Girls... Is it that unrealistic to see Lochte winning another six medals in Rio four years from now? It might even be easier, with Phelps sitting on his couch cheering on his spades pal from afar. That would put him at 18 medals. Can you envision a 35-year-old Lochte in a 2020 nation-to-be-named-later, winning another handful? How about a 39-year-old Lochte limping out for a few more in 2024? Like another Stones tour, these things can become highly successful celebrated habits.
But to drag this cheeky analogy back to the past - right now, it's 1969 for Phelps and Lochte. The year when the Beatles were on their way out, the Stones on their way up. Icons sailing by in the midst of contrasting currents.
That will be this week in London... When the two greatest of all time square off for one last time head to head, both at the peak of their powers.
Let the Battle of the Bands begin.