Breaking Badly, a Story of Meth and Medals

The drug-fueled descent of Scottie Miller, Aussie butterfly great...  He was once the most talented flyer on earth. His long flowing stroke won him Olympic silver in the 100 fly at the 1996 Olympics. He added a bronze on the Aussie's 4 x 100 medley relay at those same Games. His butterfly leg was the one that put them on the podium. Scottie Miller was one of those guys who had the world by the balls when he was 21. His talent in the water was matched by matinee idol good looks. The ladies loved him. He married a stunning blonde TV personality.

And then he began to snort and pop and smoke it all away. The downfall of this one-time champion reads like an E! True Hollywood Story. He was a swimmer's version of a child star who couldn't cope with life out of the spotlight, who found solace in very hard partying, and then drifted further into the abyss and started selling the drugs he was doing.

Miller has been playing on the shady side of the street for some time now. Four years ago he was arrested on Ecstasy charges, when police found the drugs, a pill press machine and almost a quarter million in cash at a storage facility belonging to Miller in Sydney. After a guilty plea, he somehow he got off without jail time, presumably after serving up names of his connections. He served 100 hours community service and completed a two-year suspended sentence and promised to get his shit together. He didn't.

Last month he was arrested on suspicion of dealing meth, or as the Aussies like to call it, "ice." Then, nine days ago, on Saturday night, July 20th, he was arrested again for alleged supplying meth, this time by a cop on street patrol in the Sydney neighborhood of Potts Point.

Clearly, the guy's got some problems. And this time, it's probably going to mean jail time.

How did he fall so damn far? Reading about Miller feels personal. He was born five days after me, on February 21st, 1975. We swam the same stroke, were the exact same age, for fellow Commonwealth nations. We sat in multiple Ready Rooms together. At the '95 Pan Pacific Games (where Miller won gold in both the 100 and 200 fly) and again in Atlanta, where I swam the 200 fly in the heat before him. He was always a good bit faster, but we were contemporaries, and after the big meets end, the Canadians and the Aussies tend to stick together.

That's how it was in Atlanta. After the swimming concluded, the Aussies and the Canadians could generally be found out at the same bars, up to no good, beer to beer. Miller and I didn't really know each other, beyond the recognizing nod, but everyone knew that Miller was the one who knew where the party was. Even at 21, he had that rep. He liked to hit it hard after he stepped from those podiums, but that was okay. A lot of us did. But there's a world of difference between 'hitting it hard' the way, say Phelps or Lochte have been known to do, and hitting it to the point of dealing it.

I'm drawn to dark descents and falls from grace and demons when the music stops. You probably are too. Everyone slows down to gawk at the train wreck. But when it's a guy who once traveled in your same current, swimming the same stroke at the same time, you just want to look away.

How did it all go so recklessly wrong for Scottie Miller? Probably much like Hemingway wrote in The Sun Also Rises: "How did you go bankrupt? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly."

It sounds like Miller is about to suddenly find himself behind bars. But ever since he stopped swimming butterfly, it sounds like he's been gradually headed that way all along.

The State of the Art of Distance

16-year-old Katie Ledecky and 21-year-old Sun Yang... A clinic of freestyle perfection  The two best swimmers in Barcelona only swim one stroke, and they don't have much speed. On day one of these World Championships, Katie Ledecky and Sun Yang delivered a pair of 400 freestyles that showed just how far ahead they are from the rest of the world. They won gold going away, but that's the easy part of the story. Take a look at those underwater cameras and watch their strokes beneath the surface - that's the story.

With all respect to Missy Franklin and Ryan Lochte and Ye Shiwen and any others you might think deserve that title, there are two swimmers right now that are separating themselves in historic ways from the rest of the planet: Ledecky and Sun.

Neither of them set world records today, and neither swam their best event, but that hardly matters. Actually, Ledecky did set an all-time best, if you remove those ridiculous results from the 2009 suit-silly world champs. The women's 400 record still stands from that meet, when Italy's Federica Pellegrini charged to an unnatural 3:59.15, the only other time a woman has broken four-minutes. Without "the suit", Pellegrini was probably 4:01 at best. Meaning Ledecky is now a few body lengths better than the next best woman in history in that event, which happens to be her third best event.

As for Sun Yang, 3:41.5 is impressive and all, but Ian Thorpe was a healthy second and a half faster than that thirteen years ago. It looked to me like Sun was just swimming to win. Or maybe his stroke is just so silky smooth, it looks like he's mocking everyone else. He's Alex Popov swimming longer freestyle. Remember watching Popov back in the early 90s, the way his tempo and perfect unrushed rhythm looked like he was toying with the sprinters thrashing by his side. A bit like watching Federer in his prime, or Miguel Cabrera hitting right now... Why do the great ones make it look so damn easy? Sun Yang makes it look like that. Ever seen this video of Sun's stroke on a multi-camera loop? It's like a metronome.

Ledecky looks the same way. The girl goes out hard, sure, but it's not like she's spinning her wheels. Like the great ones before her, she simply gets out there and sets the pace without fear, and says come and get me. No one will, not for a long time. The over / under right now on Ledecky's 800 freestyle later this week is 8:10. A world record is all but assured. I'm betting on 8:09. Out in 4:02, back in 4:07. Sounds reasonable, right? Reasonably insane, but reasonable.

As for Sun's mile? He's already the best ever. No time would surprise me, even as it's clear that Sun spent a good portion of his post-Olympic year on a well deserved, if not entirely appreciated victory lap. He'll win going away, even if he's in less than peak form.

And about that 'not much speed' line in the first sentence? Well, they do have a bit. These two have plenty of speed. Future world titles in the 200 free are feasible. Ledecky could soon be a player on the U.S. women's 4x100 free relay. They're both fast and young and getting faster by the day.

Let's hope that doesn't distract them from their true calling. Because right now they truly are the state of the art of distance swimming.

The Primitive Genius

Thinking behind the blocks and paralysis by analysis... It can be hard to sleep on nights like this. A day away from the World Championships, many of the greatest swimmers on earth are tossing in their Barcelona beds right about now. They're visualizing races and willing the happy thoughts. They're hyper aware of every twitch and itch of their toned bodies. They're nervous. Whether they admit it or not.

Fair enough. Big meets mean big pressure, and for a sport with so few opportunities to perform on the few stages that really matter, these are times that can crack a lot of psyches. Thousands upon thousands of hours, distilled into a few seconds or minutes of competition. What are they thinking as they stand behind those blocks, moments away from their moments of truth? Well, hopefully nothing.

In a growing field perhaps best termed the Science of Excellence, the minds and bodies of elite athletes are becoming better understood by the day. Sports Illustrated senior writer David Epstein has just published the latest entry -- The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. SI published an excerpt in their latest issue. While the piece never addresses swimming, it's impossible not to apply his findings to our sport. Consider these lines:

"As an individual practices a skill... the mental processes involved in executing the skill move from the higher-conscious areas of the brain in the frontal lobe back to the more primitive areas that control automated processes, or skills that you can execute "without thinking." In sports, brain automation is hyper specific to a practiced skill..." 

Translation: After a certain massive amount of time spent training, hitting a 100 mph fastball or swimming 50 meters in 21 seconds becomes as thought-free as driving down the highway. That's not to say that every driver can also practice themselves into being world class competitors if only they spent as much time doing the skill as they do driving. It means that for the very best, those ultra talented souls we watch competing for gold medals, thinking is the enemy.

Easier said than done. Any coach can mutter to his athlete: don't think, just go out there and race, trust your training... We've all heard some variation of that at some point in our competitive careers. The last thing Coach Gregg Troy used to say to me before I walked off to the Ready Room at big meets was: "Who's your worst enemy?" The answer, of course, was myself. The implication being that if only I'd get out of my own way and stop thinking so damn much, then the race would take care of itself. Sometimes I'd listen and absorb that simple question and let my mind go blank. Other times the question would blow through my spinning brain, and I'd march off to the Ready Room obsessing over splits and stroke counts and goal times. Guess which races were a disaster?

I'm guessing Coach Troy never has to say that to Ryan Lochte. Because, say what you will about Lochte's intellect, and much has been unfairly said already, when the man stands behind the blocks, he is a genius. He's pure automation. His mind is clear, uncluttered and at peace, because it's operating on a frequency few athletes will ever approach. His mind and body have been so infinitely trained to execute that specific task that the frontal lobe has been utterly silenced.

Michael Phelps, of course, was the same way. Everyone remembers that blank thousand yard stare of his behind the blocks. The headphones were in, the jaw was slack, the eyes were unfocused and lost in some thought-free zone. As Epstein writes in SI, "thinking about an action is the sign of a novice."

It sounds like an oxymoron, the thoughtless, primitive genius. But there is nothing simple about it. To reach a state of transcendent performance, the first thing that must occur is the elimination of higher consciousness in the moment. And to reach that state, an athlete must think and train so much for so many years that thought ceases to exist when it matters most.

Think about that.

Third No More

David Plummer, Liz Pelton, and post Olympic redemption...  They're a part of a fraternity that no one wants to join. They've endured a circle of swimming hell that you wouldn't wish upon your worst enemies. They're the third place finishers at the U.S. Olympic Trials. You'd rather place dead last. Hell, you'd rather false start and never get wet than have to feel that particular oh-so-close pain.

Or maybe not. Maybe there's virtue in that kind of cruel heartbreak. What doesn't kill you and all... Always hated that cliché.

David Plummer and Elizabeth Pelton know how this feels all too well. Last summer in Omaha, this pair of backstroke badasses placed 3rd - three times. With Plummer feeling the pain in the 100 back and Pelton getting a double dose of third, in the 200 back and the 200 IM.

In the men's 100 back, Plummer raced to first last place in Omaha, missing the Team by .12. The guy who got his hand on the wall that much quicker, Nick Thoman, went on to win silver in London behind teammate Matt Grevers. That's how it goes in the 100 back in the U.S. With disturbing regularity, this has to be considered the deepest, hardest to make event in all of American swimming. If you make the team in the 100 back, chances are you're going to be standing on the podium at whatever international meet comes next.

Pelton faced a similar scenario. In the women's 200 back, she missed London by half a second - and the ladies who finished 1-2, Missy Franklin and Elizabeth Beisel, went on to own the Olympic podium. Yet, her third in the 200 IM was probably even more painful. In that one, she missed the Team by .25, and seemed to have her spot sewn up before Ariana Kukors managed to charge past her in the closing meters in Omaha.

I doubt Mr. Plummer or Ms. Pelton care to read those salt in the wound recaps. And nor should they. Because in the case of those two, it appears that old cliché is true. Trials heartbreak didn't kill them, and they've emerged stronger than ever.

A few weeks back at the World Champ Trials in Indy, Plummer got his hand on the wall first, ahead of those long arms of Matt Grevers, and reclaimed his spot on the U.S. National Team. If tradition serves, he'll soon be standing on a podium in Barcelona.

As for Pelton, it's clear that her third places in Omaha have already been long forgotten. At Cal last year, she took her strokes to a new level, breaking the American record in the 200 yard back at NCAAs. In Indy, she posted times that place her in some stunning company. Her 2:06.29 in the 200 back ranks her 2nd in the world right now (behind Franklin) and is the 4th fastest swim ever, not in one of those silly super-suits from '08-'09. Pelton also posted a big time 100 back, cruising well under a minute, with a 59.27, a time that puts her 4th in the world heading into Barcelona.

You know you love these stories. Everybody loves a comeback. But these aren't exactly comebacks. These two never left. They just refused to lie down. To get so close to fulfilling the ultimate swimmer's dream - an Olympic berth - is crushing on the psyche. There's no way around it. Somewhere in the core of their beings, there is a scar, and that scar isn't going away.

Yet with one year down and three to go before Rio, these two are doing right by all those other Third Placers out there. The ones who bravely shoulder swimming's version of a Purple Heart.

I wouldn't wish third at Trials on anyone, but I know who I'll be pulling for when they take their marks in the years ahead.

The Best Swimmers Are In The NBA

It's true... Too bad the spoils will never lure them to the pool...  Describe the physical gifts of your perfect swimmer. He's gotta be tall. Huge hands and feet. Must possess both explosiveness and a light touch, or feel for the sport. Oh, and he must be hyper competitive. Sound like anyone you know? Maybe the stars of last night's Game 7 of the NBA Finals?

Much has been made of Michael Phelps having the ideal swimmer's physique. As Bob Costas intoned in this NBC feature from 2008, 'if you were to build the perfect swimmer, the finished product would look just like this.' Ok, fair enough. No arguing with the results. But what if his opponent was nine inches taller; had even bigger 'dinner plate' sized hands; size 16 feet; and a childhood of equal aquatic immersion.

Like, say Tim Duncan? You probably already know the story about how Spurs' legend Tim Duncan was a swimmer first, growing up in St. Croix. If not, here's a quick refresher. He was a very good one. A 200 and 400 freestyler who had serious Olympic potential. His sister, Tricia, was an Olympian in 1988. But then Hurricane Hugo destroyed his swim team's pool, and the 14-year-old Duncan turned to hoops. Safe to say he made the right choice. Over the course of his 16-year NBA career, Duncan has amassed a net worth of around $200 million. Phelps is a rich man, but he will never get anywhere close to that figure. In fact, by NBA standards, he's paid somewhere in the range of a bench-riding role player.

Is that just? Well, if swimmers could fill arenas 82 times a year, their earning potential might be a different story. But that's not really the point. The point is that many NBA stars could very likely translate their physical gifts into world class performance in the swimming pool. And the few who spent much time on swim teams growing up have proven that conclusively.

Here's another: Kris Humphries. Until last month, Humphries was the National Age Group record holder in the 10 & under boys 100 freestyle. That record was eclipsed by young Winn Aung of the Redding Swim Team back in May, and Aung again lowered it this week. But Humphries' time of 1:02.39 stood for 18 years, since 1995. He was born the same year as Phelps, and he was a faster freestyler when they were both record-setting boys. Last year, the Brooklyn Nets power forward earned $12 million. Unlike his marriage, it appears Humphries made a wise choice in sport.

Like Duncan, Humphries also had a sister who went on to compete in the pool at a world class level. His sister Kaela was a standout swimmer at Texas during her college years. But alas, their brothers would be bound for bigger crowds and bigger salaries in the big time world of the NBA.

And just to round out the trend with a third example, does anyone remember sharpshooter Kiki Vandeweghe? Back in the 80s, he was a 20-point a night star with the Nuggets and Trail Blazers, even a few with the Knicks towards the end of his career. Vandeweghe was also recently the head coach and GM of the New Jersey Nets before their move to Brooklyn. But before that decorated NBA career, Vandeweghe was a NAG-record setting young swimmer. For many years, Vandeweghe was the National Age Group record holder in the 10 & under boys 50 butterfly. He went 31.70 in that event when he was 10 - back in 1968!

Unfortunately, swimming's loss was basketball's gain. He swam for the Santa Monica Swim Club and the Culver City Swim Club in L.A. through the late 60s and early 70s, and he was a stud in the pool right up until high school. In this long ago story from the Harvard Crimson, here's what Vandeweghe had to say about his decision to switch sports: "I left swimming for several reasons. One of them was the limited number of scholarships available in the sport. I decided early it was my own responsibility to pay for college, and I thought a basketball scholarship might allow me to do that. My parents encouraged us to do our very best in our chosen sport, so rather than become just so-so at both. I decided to concentrate on basketball."

Again, wise choice. But it is rather tragic to consider all the immense talent that has fled the pool over the years for more promising, or more lucrative futures in richer sports.

It's a beautiful thing to watch Tim Duncan play basketball on the biggest stage of all. But how beautiful to consider what it might have been like to watch him win untold gold at some long ago Games... If only for Hurricane Hugo.

The Boy in the Bubble

Michael Andrew, child swim star... A "pro" at age 14...  I always followed the kid by the numbers, the times. Those cartoon crazy swims he posted when he was 10, 11, 12, 13, and now 14 - they've always been eye-popping. I didn't know anything else about him, but the numbers were enough. He was a swimmer on the rise. Perhaps the Next One. Maybe in our desperate, impatient search for the next Phelps, the kid was already upon us. Maybe Michael Andrew will go on to win nine gold medals at some far off Games and make Michael the official sacred name of swimming royalty. Maybe he will... but let's hold up for a second: He hasn't done anything yet.

By anything, I mean a World Record, I mean an Olympic berth, I mean a top world ranking. I mean the things that lead a young phenom to turn pro because he is so good, so young that he feels it's impossible to resist the opportunities on the table. Phelps was a World Record holder and already a seasoned Olympian when he turned pro at 16. Missy Franklin collected five Olympic gold medals in high school, and she decided not to turn pro. Michael Andrew has set eleven National Age Group records in his short career, and yesterday his parents decided that this was promising enough for their son to turn pro.

Let me now say what the rest of the swimming community is apparently unable to utter publicly: This is a wildly premature and inappropriate decision. It's deeply messed up. It reveals so many layers of American madness that one hardly knows where to begin. But before we do, let's get one thing clear up front: Michael Andrew, the 14 year old boy, is in no way being judged or criticized for this decision. The kid is 14. He lives at home in Kansas. He goes to school at home. He goes to practice at home, in his backyard, two-lane swimming pool. His father is his coach. His mother, his teacher. He is a fantastically talented boy trapped in a bubble of his parents' ambition. I used to be in awe of his age group times. Now that awe remains, along with a heavy dose of sympathy for the position this kid's parents have put him in.

Let's get to the layers of madness:

First, that this is even a decision at all. The fact that a brilliantly talented young athlete should even have to choose between an education and an endorsement is beyond absurd. Does anyone care if Michael Andrew, or anyone else, makes a few bucks from a random supplement company as he trains for greatness? Would that be so against the ideals of the holy NCAA? This is so marco mad that it hardly warrants further ranting. We shouldn't even be having this discussion.

But since we are, let's dig a little further into the company at the heart of all this. Michael Andrew is now a "pro" swimmer because he accepted an endorsement deal from a company called P2 Life, a "performance nutrition" company founded less than two years ago. Its founder and CEO is a guy named Tim Shead. He's a Masters superstar, with 43 Masters world records to his name; his corporate bio also states that he's a "past US National Head Coach", but I can't seem to find where or when this occurred. That corporate website also states that "40% of the U.S. Men's Olympic Swimming Team were active users of P2 products." If this is the case, I'd love to know who they are, and why they aren't signed up for lucrative endorsement deals with Mr. Shead.

In the absence of those actual Olympians, P2 signed a 14-year-old age group record holder instead. Presumably because the upside was so great, and they were getting in on the ground floor... which in start-up language means cheap. Whatever they paid the Andrew family, one can be fairly certain it does not add up to the price of a four-year college scholarship. Though that's clearly not a priority for young Michael. In his webcast interview with Garrett McCaffrey today, Andrew appeared to brush off the issue of higher education. He's being home-schooled after all, so high school competition isn't even a thought, and on the subject of college, he indicated that his mom was just finishing up some online courses, and that path sounded just fine to him right now. (Again, no judgement on young Andrew, he's only doing what he's being told, what he knows...)

How about another layer of American madness? If you're great at something, all bets are off. Everything is permitted. When I first read this news this morning, I tried to find some relatable analogy in other sports. The comparison with Todd Marinovich, the boy in the bubble USC quarterback, is too easy and dated. It was twenty-five years ago, and sure the kid had some similarities - ie boundary-less fathers intent on building their sons into the perfect athletic specimens in their favorite sports. But at least Marinovch had the chance to go to college -and win the Rose Bowl - before he unraveled with too much freedom and blow and weed and punk rock.

A better analogy is what's going on in surf and skating. Friends who follow these sports quickly pointed out that signing young groms and skate rats is standard practice these days. I was fed names like Kolohe Andino and Kanoa Igarashi and Jack Robinson and John John Florence -- young rippers who were sponsored and successful in their early teens. Maybe Michael Andrew fits in that mold, I thought. Maybe swimming's just far behind the cooler 'action' sports, where young studs aren't bothered by silly things like NCAA eligibility. This would be nice. I wish I could believe it. But here's the difference - there is visual value in watching young surfers and skaters do their thing. It's exciting to see, and companies like Billabong and Quiksilver righty recognize the value in getting their gear on these kids. But is that true with young swimmers? I watched Michael Andrew's latest NAG record on SwimSwam - a blistering 23.4 in the 50 free at some meet in Iowa - and it was impressive enough, but would I watch it again? Probably not. Would I rather watch a 14-year-old rip up a high blue wave? No question. And this is coming from a confirmed swim geek who doesn't surf without getting pinned to the ocean bottom after two wobbling seconds atop the board.

I'd love to know P2's business plan when it comes to their newest sponsor, young Andrew. I'd also love to know of any other companies lining up with potential deals in the works. Because if Michael Andrew is as insanely talented as it seems, here's the best case scenario three years from now: He makes the 4x100 free relay in Rio. He places 4th or 5th or 6th in the 100 free at 2016 Trials in Omaha. That's about as good as I can see for the kid who'll be 17 by that time. It would be an incredible accomplishment. I'm fairly confident in stating that he'd be the youngest member of that prestigious relay in history. It would set him up for a huge Games four years later in 2020, in a city yet to be named. If he manages to do that, then that might be a fine time to roll the dice and turn pro. But to do it now? Three years before that big maybe? It defies reason.

Of course, this isn't about reason, is it? It's about parents smelling greatness in the bedroom across the hall. The kind of greatness that means a free ticket to travel the world. The kind of talent that forces you to believe the hype and sign on the dotted line...

Here's hoping that it all works out for the amazing Michael Andrew. Here's hoping that he hasn't been sabotaged before he's even begun.

Michael Phelps is Coming Back

Is it a rumor? Yes. Is it probably true? Also, yes.  Well, that didn't take long. It's been less than a year since London. A year of luxurious victory lapping on golf courses and at poker tables across the world... One could get used to that life of competitive leisure. Or maybe not. Maybe it doesn't take all that long to get bored of such diversions. Because here's the word:

Michael Phelps is about to launch a comeback. He'll soon be returning to training; in fact, he's rumored to be arriving in Colorado Springs, at the Olympic Training Center, in the next few days. Maybe he won't show. Perhaps he'll read these publicized rumors and get spooked and insist that he's still happily retired on the links. The man has nothing to prove to anyone. He's the greatest Olympian of all time, regardless of whether or not he ever touches chlorinated water again.

However, these rumors didn't just come out of thin air. The upper reaches of the swimming world are swirling with the chatter. It's like the CIA intercepting red flag chatter across Islamic websites. It might be nothing, it might be just talk, but when there's enough of it, you have to take it seriously. That's what's going right now in swimming's version of the CIA. The folks in-the-know, the top coaches and swimmers, the ones just a degree or two removed from Phelps himself, they're all talking about it.

If I hadn't confirmed the likelihood of these reports, I wouldn't be writing about it. This isn't April Fool's Day again. It's May 17, 2013, just ten months removed from Phelps's final race in London.

After that race, Phelps did indeed file his official retirement papers. Many don't. Aaron Peirsol didn't, back when he hung up his goggles. Plenty of "retired" former greats leave the door open that way. It means they can return to competition anytime they damn well please. Phelps wasn't like that. Last summer it seems he really did truly believe he was done. Or maybe he knew no one would believe him until he made it official with FINA. In any case, because he filed those retirement papers, he won't be competing anytime this summer. He'll need nine months to give birth to this comeback. That's how long it takes to come out of retirement, before you're allowed to compete in any USA Swimming or FINA sanctioned competition. Plenty of time for those comeback notions to gestate.

It's easy to forget how hard it is to live and train like an Olympic champion. Who knows, Phelps may indeed come back next week. He may try to be quiet about it, and slip back into competitive waters to see how it feels. And he may scratch that itch for a month or two before he realizes how satisfied he was in repose, on the links and at the poker table. Then it will be back to caring about making par and hitting the flush on 5th Street.

These are nice pastimes. Sometimes, with just the right shot or luck of the draw, there will be moments when that spike of competitive adrenaline feels almost as good as the real thing.

But can anything ever really compare to gold around your neck and a national anthem played in your honor?

The Alternate Reality of Ryan Lochte

Who's missing from the less than real life of "What Would Ryan Lochte Do?" Only most of the folks responsible for his success as a swimmer... 

Did you watch the premier? If so, I'm betting you tuned in with a similar mix of dread and curious amusement and perhaps some smug schadenfreude. That seemed to be the general consensus going in. With that cringe-worthy promo and the viral video of those Fox news anchors cracking up at Lochte's expense post-interview... Which isn't to say that interview wasn't funny, in a sweet-Jesus-where-is-his-media-coach? sort of way. But by the time the show actually aired last night, it seems safe to say the swimming world was ready for an uncomfortable train wreck.

But was it? I can't name a single reality show I've ever watched with any interest or regularity, so I'm the wrong person to rate it. Maybe it will catch with an inexplicable Kardashian-ness, or maybe it will produce a collective yawn from viewers needing more than Lochte's frequently shirtless torso and ever twinkling eyes. All I can say is that I watched a show starring a sweet and simple man who will always do right by his friends and family. I don't find that particularly compelling, but then watching that entire reality genre has always felt like leeches were attached to my scalp, sucking away brain cells in soulless swallows.

Yet, from a swimmer's perspective, there was something very interesting about the show: who was missing. In a show reputedly about Lochte's orbit of play hard, train hard priorities, there are some glaring discrepancies. Maybe all of Lochte's play pals signed up to star alongside their famous friend, but the inner circle behind his training - the ones really responsible for making him successful enough for his own show, they're nowhere to be seen.

You won't find Coach Gregg Troy anywhere on this show. Despite the fact that, outside of Locthe's parents, he's been the most influential reality in Ryan's life for the last decade. You won't find Coach Troy's wise lieutenants, Martyn Wilby and Anthony Nesty, on any episode either. Two coaches who've been on hand every step of the way in Lochte's rise. The "coach" you will find on this show is identified only as "Mike" - a young not exactly authoritative looking coach on deck. Who the hell was that? According to a Gators source, that was a (soon-to-be ex) volunteer assistant with Florida.

So, yeah, the actual swimming side of  "What Would Ryan Lochte Do?" could not be less real - or apparently, less of a priority. Fair enough, I guess; who wants to watch a swimmer, any swimmer, slog through the monotony of training that is every elite athlete's actual life?

Here's someone else who was missing from the premier: Ryan's father, Steve Lochte, the man who also coached his son through high school in Daytona. No telling if he will appear in future episodes, or if the Lochte family story line will be limited just to his mom and two sisters, but for swimmers, cutting out his coach dad feels like another glaring omission. One of my principle memories of the 2008 Games in Beijing was that moment after Lochte's national anthem, after winning his first individual Olympic gold, in the 200 back. As he stepped from the podium and began his victory march around the deck, he spotted his family in the stands and climbed up to embrace them. He reached his dad first. Caught live on NBC cameras for the world to see was a teary eyed father hugging his boy. Clear as can be, he said, "I'm so proud of you son."

Now that's reality.

"The Greatest Swimmer You've Never Seen"

Meet Siddharta Belau, the world's fastest man in water... He stands six-eight in bare bronzed feet the size of small boats. His hands are larger than Lebron's and rumored to be webbed between each finger. His flexibility could make a yogi blush. He has spent most of his waking life immersed in salt water. His name is Siddhartha Belau. He is 20-years-old and he is a better swimmer than Michael Phelps. Unless you're from a slim string of pearls called the Palau islands, in the South Pacific, you've likely never heard of him.

I didn't believe it either. When stories of this young man first reached me, I discounted them as colorful fantasy. Things like this sometimes reach your Inbox when you write a blog like this one. Consider it the swimmer's version of fish tales. Fabulist folks come lurking out of the depths with absurd stories of impossible speed and grace in the water. I heard one about a 15-year-old boy from Perth who was said to have clocked 45 seconds in the 100 meter free. Turned out the pool was 45 meters long. Heard another about a 12-year-old Amazonian girl from Argentina who was rumored to go 8:08 in the 800. Typo; it was 9:08. The stories about Belau were equally dubious at first blush, but there was something more there. The reports started to add up, from various verified sources. His legend is just reaching these shores. Soon the world will know him.

I believe Siddhartha Belau is real. And that he has broken 20 seconds in the 50 meter freestyle. Long course. He first learned butterfly at the advanced age of 14, but it's reported that he's already been 51.3 in the 100 / 1:52.6 in the 200. One of his coaches insists that he would beat Lochte in the 200 IM at Worlds this summer, if only he could make it there.

"The boy has never left the islands of Palau," says the coach, who wishes to remain anonymous. "He is deathly afraid of airplanes, he will never agree to fly. You must understand - he lives in paradise and has no wish to leave."

Another source wrote that: "Sid is a very simple boy, very pure of heart. He spends his days in the water, only emerging to eat the fish that he has speared. I do not think he has ever spent less than eight hours in the water, any day of his life. He is dry only when he sleeps."

Indeed, it appears that getting Belau to race at all was something of a challenge. Fellow Palauans have spread tales of their Aquaman since he was a child. There are stories of little Siddhartha swimming ten meters deep and catching lobster with his bare hands when he was three years old. Other islanders speak of young Sid body-surfacing alongside dolphin in the island's high clean surf. But when it came to racing up and down the pool, Belau was uninterested.

"I literally had to beg him to try swimming in the pool," says the coach. "Sid couldn't see the point. Palau has just one 50-meter pool and it is not well used. Why bother with a pool when you have the beautiful Pacific all around you? But there was a group of us, we knew what we were seeing. We knew that the only way the rest of the world would believe us is if we put the boy in the pool, and timed him at the distances you folks care about."

Belau may have expressed reluctance at first, but it appears he soon found an affinity for the still waveless waters of the pool. "Sid says he likes the meditative aspect of pool swimming," reports a friend named Ohana. "He loves to race against the clock, and hear what kinds of records he would have set, but he finds things like the Olympics funny. He feels no need to prove himself in those arenas."

Why not? I wrote that back to all of them, the kind Palauans who've taken to emailing me over these last few months. How could Siddhartha Belau not care about showing the rest of the world what he can do? His friend Ohana may have summed up the Palauan sentiment best: "Because you care, does not mean he must."

I've considered getting on a plane and finding out for myself. The invitation is there. I've asked them to send videos, something that can prove these outrageous claims. They're working on it, but this is one corner of the world where lives do not revolve around iPhones or YouTube. They say they'll have something for me soon, but on Palau-time, soon is a relative concept.

So, in the absence of evidence, I went looking for something else to back up my growing irrational faith in this elusive swim god. It turns out there might be some theories to support the likelihood of such a man. We all know the stories of Kenyan runners. The Olympic world has long pondered the question - what makes Kenyans such brilliant distance runners? Turns out there are some very good scientific reasons for their running supremacy. It's a potent mixture of genes and culture. Here's a great piece in the Atlantic that breaks down the Kenyan's special sauce.

By that rationale Kenyan runners have an awful lot in common with swimmers in the South Pacific. Just as Kenyans perfected the art of running through genetic evolution and a culture of running long ways on the open African plains, these South Pacific swimmers may have developed as the most water-evolved people on the planet. It's not so far fetched. Much has been made about Michael Phelps's upbringing, where he watched his older sisters training when he was just a boy, absorbing the sport through chlorinated osmosis on the pool deck. Well, what about upbringings like Siddhartha Belau's? A boy who was raised not on a pool deck in Baltimore, but in the clear cool waters of the South Pacific? A kid who was catching his lunch with his bare hands in 40-foot waters when he was barely out of diapers... A kid who learned his feel for the water by body-surfing with dolphin...

"He's the greatest swimmer you've never seen," says his coach.

But do you really need to see to believe?

Preteen Kings

Michael Andrew and the curious case of 12-year-old greatness... I still turn to those back pages of rankings. Back in the day, I used to be obsessed with them. Seeing my name listed there in Swimming World, in that tiny 8-point font among the NAG Top 16, that was the highest honor a 12-year-old swimmer could hope for. I still have those issues, stacked somewhere in some moldy basement box.

These days I scan these same rankings with a mix of nostalgia and professional interest. Here at our team in New York, we have swimmers just as obsessed with making those same lists. And every one of them knows the name of one kid at the top of virtually every list in his age group. His name is Michael Andrew. If you follow age group swimming at all, or if you're a parent of any swimmer under the age of eighteen, you've heard of him.

Of course, the dry land world has already made its easy comparisons to you-know-who. Last spring, ran a piece about the inevitable comparisons to that other Michael. Andrew dutifully recited the Phelps party-line, as if Bob Bowman were whispering to him from the wings. Said Andrew: "I would be more than happy to be as great as Michael Phelps, but I'd like to be the first Michael Andrew."

Yeah, we've heard that before, back when young Phelps was referring to that guy named Spitz.

That's all lovely and absurdly premature, but those of us who live inside the swimming world know that there are other comparisons to be made first. To guys that only swimmers remember. Guys by the name of Chas Morton and Danny Ott and plenty of others. Guys who were once like Michael Andrew -- the greatest age groupers on earth.

None of them became Phelps. Or Lochte. Or Clary. Or, well, you get the idea... In fact, few National Age Group record-holders at twelve go on to make U.S. Olympic teams at all. That's not to say that their precocious preteen success resulted in sad burnout. Most went on to perfectly respectable All-American careers at top colleges -- in Morton's case, at Stanford; in Ott's case, Auburn. But their slowed acceleration through the ranks does give you pause, before you start handicapping Games many years from now.

In Michael Andrew's case, it's very easy to get carried away with such things. As a 12-year-old, Michael Andrew broke seven National Age Group records, and finished his last preteen year ranked first in the nation in a staggering 13 events. He was the top ranked swimmer in all four strokes; the only stroke where he didn't break a NAG record was backstroke. Those records are now held by someone whose acceleration has not slowed a bit as he's charged through high school. His name is Ryan Murphy. Backstroke can fairly be called Michael Andrew's worst stroke; he's not far off the times posted by Murphy when he was 12.

While Andrew is clearly the ultimate all-around age group swimmer, his future might lay in the sprints. His 50 and 100 free at age 12 are hard to fathom: 21.85 in the 50 / 47.95 in the 100. The next best kid in those events was a full second back in the 50, and almost three seconds behind in the 100. According to that SI story, Andrew was also 6-foot-2 with size 15 feet by the time he turned 13. His hands, to borrow a Phelps phrase, are the size of dinner plates. Not bad specs for a budding sprinter. Even if he stops growing tomorrow, size shouldn't slow him down.

This wasn't the case for guys like Chas Morton and Danny Ott. Both were big, early-developing kids - and both seemed to reach their full height by high school. At 12, they too were ranked first in damn near every event. They were men among boys in the most literal sense. That's the problem with putting too much stock in early age group success. If you're lucky enough to reach puberty a few strides ahead of your peers, it's almost unfair to race alongside the ones still on the soprano side of the choir.

Sooner or later, the rate of development ceases to matter and the true talents come out in the wash. The rest of the boys in Michael Andrew's generation have a hell of a lot of catching up to do, and he might be the second coming of Phelps (or the first coming of Andrew) by the time we reach Rio. But to all those guys swimming in Andrew's considerable wake right now, you can take heart in two notable facts:

1. Even Michael Andrew was not able to break two of Chas Morton's legendary national age group records, in the 100 fly and 200 IM, set way back in 1984. Morton's career peaked as a Pac-10 champion at Stanford; nothing to scoff at, but he never sniffed at making an Olympic team.

2. The guy who holds the world record today in the 200 IM? That would be Ryan Lochte. He never set a single national age group record growing up.

How To Stop Time

The Moment and the Career of Jason Lezak... At 37-years-old, four and a half years removed from delivering the most dramatic moment in swimming history, Jason Lezak announced his retirement this week. It concludes one of the longest ever careers in American swimming - 13 straight years on Team USA's national team, from 1999 to 2012, one year longer than Michael Phelps's tenure. Yet he will be remembered for just 46 perfect seconds.

Lezak, of course, will live forever in Olympic lore for that out-of-body performance in Beijing, on the anchor leg of the men's 4 x 100 free relay. It was The Swim Heard Round the World, every bit on par with any do-you-believe-in-miracles finish in any sport, ever. Click on that link and watch it again. I defy anyone not to get chills all over again. We all know the context - Phelps's epic 8-gold quest on the line; the French unbeatable on paper; diving in a body length behind the world record holder... And then. And then the angels descended (American angels, in any case) and lifted Lezak to the impossible.

You know the rest. But that all-time Moment isn't what this story is about.  It's about what happened before - and after.

Here is a brutally honest history of the Before: Jason Lezak was a good but not great age group swimmer growing up in Southern California. He swam for Dave Salo at Irvine NOVA and, like many a talented sprinter, he stood out for his laziness. In college, he swam for the University of California, Santa Barbara, where again he was a good but not great swimmer. According to the Gauchos' own athletic website, Lezak was thrown off of the UCSB swim team his junior year due to a "poor attitude and sportsmanship." When he returned, after a written apology to his teammates, he managed to finish his collegiate career on a high note, with All-American honors in the 50 and 100 free.

Then something odd happened. At a time when most swimmers of his achievement level hang up their goggles and move on to professional careers on dry land, Lezak turned pro as a swimmer. Something seems to have clicked for him in the summer after graduation, when he raced onto his first National Team and competed at the 1999 Pan Pacific Games in Sydney. That meet was a showcase for the coming Games, held in Sydney's brand new Olympic pool. With six Olympic spots up for grabs in his best event, it only made sense to keep going another year. He was 24 years old and just finding his stride.

What followed was an unprecedented post-grad career punctuated as much by disappointment as by ever improving times. Lezak soon became the go-to anchor of American sprint relays. It was a dubious honor. His ascent to that lofty position coincided with Team USA's descent from the top of the podium. When Lezak made his first National Team in '99, the American men had never lost that relay. Ever. In the first seven years of the Lezak era, they lost their grip on it. The Ian Thorpe-led Aussies out-touched them at home in Sydney; in Athens they were flat-out smoked, settling for bronze after an Ian Crocker lead-off leg left the squad impossibly behind.

Lezak has recounted these disappointments countless times in the years since Beijing. It's clear that the losses were personal and that they played a major role in  his Beijing heroics. Until he dove in the water that August morning in China, his was a proud career filled with bubbling-over bitterness. He'd been called a "professional relay swimmer", a cruel dig implying his lack of success in individual races at international competitions. The dig cut deep; there was truth in it. Four years previously in Athens, Lezak had entered the Games as the gold medal favorite in the 100 free, after an American record swim at the '04 Trials positioned him as the man to beat. He did not advance out of prelims.

In Beijing, it looked like he was in store for more of the same. Another minor medal on the relay, another mid-pack finish in the individual 100 free. That is, until he turned for home. At that moment, time stopped and Lezak entered an alternate reality. 46.06 seconds later, Lezak was reborn. He was suddenly an Olympic legend for all-time. A man who summoned something outside himself at the very moment he needed it most. Then he followed it with an encore bronze medal in the individual 100 free. That one, so personal and demon killing, may have meant even more to him than the relay.

Then came the After: When American Olympians do something stunningly special, other Americans want to hear about it. They want to hear these athletes recount the moment - over and over and over again. Cue the "Motivational Speaking" circuit. Aka Groundhog Day for Olympic greats...

In the fall of 2008, at a swimming conference in Mexico City, I got to hear Lezak relive his Moment for the assembled coaches, swimmers, and swim school owners. It was delivered with a curious mixture of inspiration and weariness. Of course it was inspiring. The man did what every swimmer dreams of, what every coach wants for every athlete. As a budding motivational speaker, his Moment supplied motivation in its purest form: I did it - and you could too. Lezak, the good but not great club and college swimmer. Lezak, the swimmer who refused to hang it up, who kept dropping best times, year in and year out, right into his 30s. Lezak, the relay fixture who persevered through loss after loss on the biggest stage, and finally came through in the ultimate fashion. Folks will line up and pay to hear such things. I paid in Mexico City.

Yet, already, there was the weariness. There was an awareness even then, so soon after the Moment itself, that this was now his life. Recounting and reselling the same 46.06 seconds, ad nauseum. Time had stopped indeed. And now it was his job to share that frozen moment, endlessly, in the name of motivation.

Even then he refused to stop swimming. Perhaps because he needed to know that there was more ahead, that the clock continued to move when he entered the water. By this time, Lezak had become the lone wolf of the National Team. He was a man without a team, without a coach. He trained by himself, in So Cal isolation, surfacing for the big ones, maintaining his spot for four more years of international competitions.

In Omaha, he backdoored his way onto his fourth and final Olympic team, after Ryan Lochte bowed out of the final at the U.S. Olympic Trials and left the door open for Lezak, who had finished 9th in the semifinal. He seized the opportunity and earned his trip to London with a 6th place finish in the final. It was enough to give him a spot on the prelims squad, but not enough to put him among the big four in the final.

In London, he watched from the stands as Lochte dove in with the lead, the new anchor, with a seemingly safe body length ahead of the French. He watched as France's Yannick Agnel ran down Lochte in a stomach-turning twist of fate. He watched as his relay mates stood, once again, a step down on the podium and listened to someone else's national anthem.

What was he thinking in those moments? It should have been me on there... I would have held off the Frenchman... He'd done something much harder before. He'd spent the previous four years describing how it was done to one and all.

Sitting there in that crowd in Mexico City, I remember thinking of Keith Richards playing "Satisfaction", on yet another tour, five decades after writing the riff in a drugged out haze. I remember thinking of Jimmy Buffett playing "Margaritaville" for the millionth time to swaying packs of Parrotheads, loathing that goddamn lost shaker of salt. I wondered if Lezak would someday feel the same way about his defining moment. Ever grateful and eternally proud, to be sure, but also bone-weary of its repetition. Like those iconic overplayed classics, Lezak delivered something timeless, a greatest hit on the all-time Olympic soundtrack.

But the body of work goes much deeper than those 46 time-stopping seconds.

Tearing Down a Temple

Greedheads, land grabs, and the sad demise of the Phoenix Swim Club...  May, 1996. This place was the center of the swimming universe. It felt like every country's Olympic team was there. Every team that mattered, in any case. It was an unshaved showcase for the Atlanta Games on the horizon. It was the Phoenix Grand Prix, hosted by folks who cared about the sport more than anything else. It was swimming at its very best, and it's the most fun I've ever had at a swim meet. The stands were packed, the deck buzzing, gold watches for the winners, hell, the finalists in the 50 free didn't march out, they rode out in eight Go-carts.

That's the first thing I thought of when I heard the news. Oh boy. That temple of swimming, the home of the Phoenix Swim Club, is about to be no more. This fall, right after the high school championship season, the entire complex will be demolished.

In a desert city lacking in soul, this place had swimmer soul deep in its chlorinated bones. And what will soon stand in its place? The very definition of American soullessness: another cookie-cutter housing development. 

It seems to be a story of good old clueless greed and mismanagement. When the story was first published by Swimming World three weeks ago, it produced a hysterical thread of 88 comments. Read through them and you will find an ugly display of disgruntled finger pointing. Many appear to think the Board of the club deserves to be drowned in the deep end. Others rally to the defense of the coaches. Still others point to the property's owners, Brophy College Prep, the Jesuit boys school that bought the complex a decade ago.

The whole ugly saga seems to follow the plot of Caddyshack II. Housing developments are more valuable than golf courses. And as it happens, much more valuable than swimming pools.

This much is clear: All involved failed to run a sustainable swimming business on a site that is tailor made for swimming success - both financial and competitive. In addition to the world-class 50-meter competition pool, there is a warm, shallow teaching pool, perfect for a profitable lesson program. (One of the world's greatest learn-to-swim programs, The Hubbard Family Swim School, started there...) There is also a weight room, a track, and a basketball court, all spread across 10 acres in a perfect suburban location. The club itself has about 500 swimmers, almost 300 of which are young age group and high school age kids. The other 200 are Masters swimmers, who as we all know tend to be both passionate about their pool time, and come loaded with a bit of disposable income.

All of the above adds up to a private equity dream scenario: A mismanaged asset with all the ingredients for a big time turnaround. This site doesn't need to be razed and replaced with a housing development. It just needs a bit of business sense, and a management team that cares deeply about sustaining a shining example of the sport.

Anyone who's been to any high level meet over the last two decades is familiar with the Phoenix Swim Club. Just look at the list of A-list coaches who have graced the deck: Dennis Pursely, Pierre La Fontaine, Mike Bottom, Eric Hansen... The list goes on. In the pool, Gary Hall, Jr. is the most prominent swimmer to emerge from these waters, but he's also joined by Klete and Kalyn Keller, a long list of Olympic Trials Qualifiers and a host of international Olympians who made the club their home base at various times through the years. Indeed, this was the original home of the Hall family's Race Club, before relocating to South Florida.

Through the Halls and Pursely and Pierre and Bottom and many others, this facility and this club showed the sport how it was done in so many ways, for so many years. I'm not alone in my affection for those Phoenix Grand Prix meets in the late 90's. I've heard Misty Hyman and many other former swimmers share the same fond memories.

When another soulless housing complex goes up on the ashes of this swimming temple, here's hoping a chlorine-fumed poltergeist haunts its homes.

Seeing Other People

USA Swimming breaks up with Speedo, hooks up with Arena... And what that means for the sport... They see themselves in iconic company with Xerox and Kleenex and Coke. Companies whose names became synonymous with the products they sold. It's not a photo copy or a tissue or a soda, it's the brand itself. For swimmers, for decades, you wore a Speedo, as in a tight-fitting racing suit. For a very long time, they were one of the ultimate examples of this name-branded success. No longer.

It's time to remove Speedo from that list of brand behemoths that own their categories with ubiquitous dominance. They've lost a stroke and the biggest evidence of all just presented itself. After 27 years, they are no longer the exclusive sponsor of the greatest swim team on earth - USA Swimming. Days ago, the folks at USA Swimming announced that it was now pursuing an open marriage, opening themselves to non-exclusive deals with other swimwear sponsors. Its new suitor and the new title sponsor of the U.S. National Team? Speedo's biggest rival, Arena.

Now this is a bit like being married to Michael Phelps for many years, and then one day the wife says to Michael - You know, honey, I think it's time we saw other people... And then she jumps into bed with Ryan Lochte. But, you know, she still stays with Michael, sort of, when it's convenient.

That's one way to describe what happened to Speedo. After three decades with a virtual monopoly over Team USA, it's a fair bet that they were blindsided when Arena made a move on their trophy wife. They used to own the sport - almost literally. What do swimmers wear? Speedos. You don't get more entrenched in a sport than that. And because of that broad dominance, it only makes sense that they also owned the world's best swimmers.

Except over the last few years, when it comes to swimwear, they really haven't been the state of the art. They haven't had the best suit on the market in almost five years - not since the game-changing LZR Racer, back in 2008. Competitors, from fellow apparel giants like Arena to scrappy upstarts like Jaked, were able to steal much of Speedo's world beating thunder over the last Olympiad.

The prospect of Arena becoming the lead sponsor of USA Swimming was no small consideration out in Colorado Springs. You're talking about a long-standing, at times incestuous relationship with deep roots. Not long ago, this break would have been unthinkable. If Phelps were still swimming, it's unlikely it would have happened at all. Michael was the 800-pound gorilla in the pool. In many senses, he was the sport for many years. If Speedo had his loyalty locked up in contract, then it could be sure it would keep Phelps's Team USA in line too.

Do you remember the 2009 World Championships in Rome? The meet where the saga of the supersuits climaxed with an unfortunate orgy of absurd world records... Remember the 100 fly, when Phelps smoked Mike Cavic in a bitter coda to Beijing? Do you recall his defiant post-race celebration, when he held up the Speedo logo on his suit for the cameras and slapped his chest? At the time, it seemed he was saying: "See, motherfuckers? Speedo's still the best!" Yet, in retrospect, this is what he was actually saying: "See, motherfuckers? I'm so good, I can still win despite wearing an inferior product."

Because let's be honest, by that point Phelps was swimming at a disadvantage in his LZR Racer. He was just that much better - than Cavic, and everyone else.

The same can be said of Ryan Lochte these days. He's the new face of the sport - and the biggest thoroughbred in Speedo's stable. If his latest Speedo suit happens to be a few tenths slower than the gear from Arena or others, well, you'll need more than that to close the gap on Lochte. But having the best swimmer doesn't mean you have the best product.

Indeed, when top American coaches and swimmers were approached about this impending Arena game-change, the news was met mostly with shrugs. But that's what I already want to wear, many seemed to say. This is not to say the current status quo of swimsuits will remain. These things are ever changing and Speedo may very well reclaim its technological superiority in the near future.

However, it's not all product that led to the split with USA Swimming. It was more about marketing. When you have an exclusive deal, it really is a marriage. Have a great new promotional idea for U.S. Nationals? Gotta get Speedo's approval first. Want to sell some slick advertising when NBC airs Pan Pacs? Sorry, Speedo doesn't do commercials. USA Swimming's hands were tied. And there were plenty of others out there eager to untie them. Which is why some ears perked up when Arena came knocking...

It will be very interesting to witness how all of this washes out. Both Arena and Speedo just signed eight-year deals with USA Swimming. Speedo will keep the "title rights" to Juniors and Sectionals and its presence on deck at every meet will still be impossible to miss. It will also continue to sponsor many of the greatest swimmers on earth, first and foremost being Mr. Lochte. Yet, it has now been relegated to second wife status. It's unlikely that Speedo will appreciate this clear demotion.

What will that mean when Ryan Lochte is handed a pair of Arena Team USA warm-ups next summer at World Championships? His attention-grabbing shoes and the suit he wears will still be made by Speedo, but the logo of their biggest competitor will be splashed across his warm-ups behind the blocks. For many years, Arena and TYR and others were forced to sit on their hands and suck it up on the other side of the fence. Athletes like Rebecca Soni and Matt Grevers might make most of their living from Arena and TYR, but they were wearing Speedo behind the blocks in London this summer. Now the shoe's on the other foot.

Unless you happen to work for Speedo or have a contract with them, this is good news for the entire sport. Open markets mean more competition. Speedo has been told - publicly and without subtlety - to step up its game. The preeminent swim team on earth is no longer assuming that its long marriage is working.

For the good of swimmers everywhere, they decided to see other people.

Dark Places, New Life

The courageous return of Dagny Knutson...  She was said to be the next great one. She was Missy Franklin, before anyone had heard of Missy Franklin. One of the greatest high school swimmers in history, Dagny Knutson was as sought after as a college recruit could possibly be. At 17, she was swimming times worthy of gold medal goals.

She had her pick of anywhere she wanted to go, and she chose Auburn. Then, after a coaching change, she didn't. She turned pro instead, moved out to Southern California, joined FAST, and entered an alien world of post-grad girls and a training environment a galaxy away from her native North Dakota. She moved to the other side of the country and joined Coach Gregg Troy and his Gators crew in Gainesville. This steadied her reeling psyche, for a short time, but it wasn't enough.

Then the wheels came off. An eating disorder spiraled dangerously out of control. By last January, when her competitors were preparing for peak performances at the fast approaching Olympic Trials, Knutson found herself in a dark place. Most would have covered it up, swam lap after lap through the motions, and arrived in Omaha with false hopes of her faltering Olympic dream.

Instead, Knutson made the harder, and more honest choice. She walked away - at a time when that is utterly unthinkable for virtually any athlete with Olympic potential. She decided instead to help herself.

Last weekend, at the Minneapolis Grand Prix, she made her return. Her times were fast, not Dagny at her stunning peak fast, but damn fast nonetheless. Good enough to win the 200 IM, good enough for a strong second behind none other than Ms. Franklin in the 200 free. But of course, the times and the places were really beside the point. After all, Knutson had just spent the last seven months doing zero exercise at all. She had more important things to worry about. Like getting better.

Since Knutson left the sport last January, she has gone through two rounds of treatment for her eating disorder. She has not made this a secret. She's spoken publicly to plenty of journalists about why she left and what she's been going through. Don't take these confessions lightly.

If you swam through your high school and college years, and if you're reading this blog, it's a good bet you did, consider how many of your female teammates likely suffered from some form of eating disorder. Some cynics might even say most. It's that prevalent, and it's that bad.

By coming forward in the way she did, and walking away from the sport at the moment she did, Knutson may have helped more fellow swimmers than she knows. Because there is no question at all that on every single pool deck at every high school, national, or college meet in the country, there are more than a few swimmers wrestling darkly with issues like Knutson's.

If her story had ended in early retirement, at age 20, with national records to her name, with a World Championships gold medal from the 4 x 200 free relay back in 2011, that would have been a career filled with far more accolades than the rest of us. It would have been enough.

The ghosts of Olympic Maybes really aren't all that scary in the end. Yet the fact that Knutson has found her way back to the pool now is a story worth celebrating. I'm sure she still thinks about London and what might have been, who wouldn't? But what's more worthy of admiration? A swimmer who could have hidden it all from the world, and perhaps found her way onto a relay in a struggling state...

Or a swimmer who showed the courage to be honest with herself, to get the help she needed, and then, after all of that, to return to the pool once more...

The Recruit

Bolles backstroke king, Ryan Murphy, chooses Cal... Was it the right decision?  It's a nice problem to have. Universities lining up, begging you to join them, offering you an all expense paid education, assuring you that as a Bear, Gator, Cardinal, Longhorn, or Tiger, you will win many NCAA titles. Girls will be lining up to meet you. Whatever campus you choose, you will be a big man on it. Champagne problems indeed...

But it's still a hell of a choice. And despite what they say, you can indeed go wrong.

The bluest of the blue chips this year is a young man from Jacksonville, Florida named Ryan Murphy. Also commonly known as The Next Great American Backstroker. His age group and high school career to this point have been pretty much perfect. Young Murphy placed 6th and 4th respectively in the 100 and 200 back at the U.S. Olympic Trials last summer. Many thought he had a great shot to make the Team. Four years from now, he will. Whether he will be on the podium in Rio has a lot to do with where he swims the next four years.

Yesterday he chose the defending champions, Cal Berkeley. If gold in Rio is indeed his ultimate goal, not everyone is convinced this was the best call.

To be clear - Murphy is going to have an insanely decorated career as a Golden Bear. In his freshman year, he will likely win both backstrokes at NCAAs. (His times from Junior Nationals last year would have already put him in the hunt in the A final...) But beyond the back, Murphy is a complete swimmer, the perfect college point machine. He's going to be a sub-20 50 freestyler and a 43+ 100 freestyler before he's out of high school, meaning he'll be on every sprint relay. He's also already a 1:45 200 IMer, meaning he'll score big points in his third individual event.

Dave Durden is busy building a dynasty out at Cal, and it's possible his Murphy-led Bears may win NCAAs every year he's there. The kid is going to go down as one of the greatest swimmers in NCAA history. Barring injury or an absurd shift in character, this is all but assured. (Ryan also has a 4.4 GPA at Bolles, so safe to say academics isn't a worry either...)

But that's not really the point, is it? NCAAs is the small pool minor leagues. A warm-up for the big pool, where the big fish swim. If that's where Murphy's ambitions truly lie, a case can be made that he just made a big mistake. Because many out there are asking - why didn't he go to Florida? Wasn't it obvious? If a young backstroker wants to be on an Olympic podium, he would be wise to put on the blinders and head straight for Coach Gregg Troy. It goes way beyond Lochte. Take a look at this quick list of recent Gainesville-based backstroke greats: Elizabeth Beisel, Gemma Spofforth, Ben Hesen, Omar Pinzon, Rex Tulius, Sarah Peterson, Teresa Crippen, Arkady Vyatchanin... To name a few.

Murphy probably wouldn't win as many NCAA titles at Florida. The relays he'd be on wouldn't be as fast. But again, is that the top priority? That's not to say that Durden can't shepherd Murphy to the top of the podium in Rio. He certainly did the job with Nathan Adrian in London. But it's worth noting that he's never done it before, not with a backstroker. Coach Troy, on the other hand, has a resumé of Olympic medalists that needs a few pages.

Did Murphy's choice come down just to those two schools? Not at all. At various times, I heard he was leaning towards Stanford, that he wanted to swim for Eddie Reese at Texas, that Brett Hawke made a huge impression at Auburn. Every suitor was rolling out the red carpet and Murphy owed it to himself to walk down each one.

Of course, if you're talking about a kid with a 4.4 GPA, it can't just be about the athletics. With the possible exception of Stanford, academically, Berkeley's a cut above the others. Isn't life after swimming the real top priority? Ha. Good luck convincing a 17-year-old stud recruit of that. Maybe Murphy has a lot more perspective than I did at that age, when a big part of my college choice was based on the attractiveness of the student body, but I'm guessing he put more stock in the team than he did the classroom.

The team - that appears to be Durden's true budding genius. He's all about celebrating the collective, getting everyone on board, and winning as one. These are lovely qualities, and terrific lessons for a young man to learn from a coach.

Problem is, at the Olympics, on top of that podium, you're all alone.

The Altered States of Swimming

As we enter the post-Phelps era, the sport finds itself reeling between robust health and on-going sickness... A new Olympiad has begun. Michael Phelps is gone. Ryan Lochte is becoming Derek Zoolander. Missy Franklin continues to resist millions so she can swim in college. That's the narrative of the big three, anyway. The three short hand stories of the sport that have spread into the mainstream. That's what your friends in the dry land world know about swimming. They might have also heard about some dark sex scandals, involving coaches and teenage swimmers, but we'll get to that in a bit...

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of this blog. It was started last September with a piece entitled The Phelps Effect. It detailed the ways that Michael Phelps's dominance may have killed off the depth and ambition in American swimming. There was evidence of that back at the World Championships in 2011. At the Games in London, the symptoms of this 'Phelps Effect' appear to have been killed off. Just ask Tyler Clary, Matt Grevers, and Nathan Adrian - three American guys not named Phelps or Lochte who raced to individual Olympic gold this summer.

Seventy-five stories later, this site has managed to piss off, provoke, and hopefully entertain and enlighten many in the swimming community. Just what I'd hoped for... And so it seems like a fine time to take a step back and examine the sport in its many altered states.

The contrasts are dizzying, like a too-heavy trip that throws your mind from transcendence to terror and back again. At the peak, an Olympics with grace and greatness on display at every turn. At the depths, scandal that threatens the foundation of the sport itself and delivers crushing blows to the reputation of coaches everywhere. So much to love, so much to hate.

First, the health... By damn near every standard, the sport of swimming has never been in better shape. Sure, Micheal the Meal Ticket has left the table, but he has left a feast of riches. The competition in London was as good as any Olympic swimming in history. Across the board. Thrilling upsets, epic relays, all-time moments every night. And despite the unfortunate tape delay by NBC, more viewers tuned in to watch swimmers than ever before.

At the age group level, there has never been more kids taking part in this sport. In the U.S., there are currently 362,700 registered competitive swimmers and almost 3,000 member clubs. That's a 17% increase from four years ago, and remember, four years ago was its own high water mark after Phelps's Beijing bonanza. Across the world, it's safe to say that the ranks of young swimmers in France and South Africa and Brazil are also swelling as we speak, thanks to overachieving performances in London and a Rio Games on the horizon. This is a sport on the rise, and not just within American borders.

The sport also appears to have finally turned a corner when it comes to diversity. Sure, it remains embarrassingly too-white at every meet. But that's changing - at the top, with the likes of Tony Ervin and Cullen Jones and Lia Neal - but also at the ground level, as grassroots programs like Make a Splash are reaching scores of young athletes who might never have been exposed to the pool.

Phelps did indeed change the sport, but he wasn't alone. The tide has been rising for a long time, well before he took the blocks as a teenager in Sydney, and it will continue to rise in the Olympiad ahead.

Now, the sickness... Swimming has an image problem. (And no, I don't mean Seth MacFarlane's mean-spirited mockery of Lochte on SNL last week.) Today, Rick Curl was banned for life from USA Swimming. Two decades too late, some might say. His namesake team, Curl-Burke, was renamed Nation's Capital Swim Club. Or NCAP for short. (One friend from the area quipped: "Does that stand for 'No Coitus After Practice'?")

On Monday, Mark Schubert was hauled into the ugliness, facing a lawsuit from a former assistant for unlawful firing. Basically, she accuses Schubert of Paterno'ing - that is, not doing anything after he was made aware of sexual abuse allegations against a close coaching colleague, Bill Jewell. Not doing anything except fire the whistle blower, that is. As wrote: "another embarrassing turn for a sport that has taken steps over the last two years to combat widespread claims of sexual misconduct."

Then the Schubert story gets crime novel crazy. The suit alleges that Schubert and Jewell were the less-than-masterminds behind Sean Hutchison's downfall at FAST. Word is that Schubert hired a private investigator to take pictures of Hutchison engaged in sexual activities with one of his swimmers. (An adult swimmer, it's worth noting...) Schubert then apparently took the pics from the P.I. and used them to blackmail USA Swimming to the tune of $625,000 to keep the compromising photos under wraps. If you believe all this, you're about as bright as the guy being sued. But the facts, whatever they are, are just part of the problem. Regardless of how this lawsuit ends, this is yet another blow to the image of our sport.

Think about it: Rick Curl and Mark Schubert. A pair of Hall of Famers. Their characters aside, these are two of the most successful and celebrated swim coaches in history. When parents looked for the very best programs for their children, when former swimmers chose to stay in the sport and become coaches, these two used to be the examples. The ones you turned to as pillars of the profession. Now they seem to exemplify an on-going sickness that still isn't cured.

Here's something else that remains deeply ill: the state of men's college swimming. How many Olympic medalists in London were the product of NCAA programs? 30, by my count, but feel free to fact check. Florida, Michigan, Cal, Northwestern, USC, and Georgia each produced individual Olympic champions in London. How many other international athletes were at the Games after developing their talents at U.S. universities?

Of course, that's all good and well, but Olympic medals don't pay for college athletic budgets and men's swimming remains at grave risk at dozens of schools. Gratefully, the women's programs appear to be well protected under Title IX provisions, but the growing ranks of young male swimmers are going to want some place to continue racing after they turn 18. Let's hope enough college teams can stick around to serve them.

It's easy to get wrapped up and warped in these extremes. Olympic triumphs, coaching sex scandals, college programs being cut... These are the Heavens and the Hells of a sport that continues to carry on day after day, lap after lap, in countless pools all over the world. Most of you will never experience any of this. The highs might inspire you and the lows might enrage you, but do they really change your own daily swimmer's reality? A reality that is drenched in chlorine and early mornings and worthy dreams.

When you're under water and on an interval, all this stuff ceases to matter. All that exists is that pure altered state of swimming.

The $18 Million Dollar Man

Sun Yang scores monster payday in China... How does that compare to his fellow loaded Olympic icons?  He only gets to keep $6 million, ok? After becoming the greatest distance swimmer in history in London, reports are that Sun Yang just earned $18 million in endorsement riches. But not really. Swimming China earned $18 mil, thanks to Sun's accomplishments. For their efforts on his behalf, they get to keep 66% of that rather considerable figure.

Word is that $6 mil must go to the federation itself - payback for funding Sun's Olympic journey since childhood. The other $6 mil, that's bound for the pockets of his fellow national teamers. According to Swim News's Craig Lord, if those funds are distributed evenly that means that each member of China's London Olympic swim team will receive $150,000 thanks to Sun's historic efforts. How's that for incentive to cheer your teammates!

Imagine for a moment if that had been the policy for Michael Phelps after his Beijing windfall... Estimates are that Phelps earned between $5 and $7 million annually in the years since Beijing. So, say $24 million over the course of the last Olympiad. A third to his 'mates on Team USA would be $8 million. There are 52 swimmers on the USA Olympic swim team, so divide $8 million by the 51 swimmers other than Phelps. What do you get? You guessed it, about $150,000 each, same as Sun's teammates.

Alas, Michael made that money himself, not his teammates. He has no obligation to share a penny of it. (Ok, maybe Jason Lezak, Garrett Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones, Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen, Ryan Lochte, Peter Vanderkaay, and Ricky Berens played a slight part in those Beijing gold... Do I have to include the prelim relay swimmers too?) You get the idea.

Not to worry, I'm not advocating socialism, communism, or any 'ism for that matter... Just comparing the financial realities of the two greatest champions from the world's top two swimming powers. Great achievement does not exist in a vacuum, and neither does the payoff. In China, where the collective is still king, the spoils of Olympic endorsements must be shared with those who helped get you to the top of the podium. Stateside, where capitalism remains the name of the game, those spoils are shared in different less tangible ways. But make no mistake, they are still shared.

The entire financial system of swimming was driven by Phelps for the last eight years. Ryan Lochte would not be raking in an estimated $2.5 million annually without him. The coffers of USA Swimming would not be remotely as full either. Other U.S. National teamers might not have that Athlete Assistance Program.

Of course, others will point to Phelps's speedy soulmate on the track, Usain Bolt, and cite the uncomfortable financial realities he's created for his sport. Before the Games, Sports Illustrated ran a feature on Bolt. They reported estimates that Usain Bolt takes up 80% of all the money in the sport of track & field. Indeed, Bolt is so economically dominant over the rest of his sport that there aren't many spoils left to go around. Has the same been true with Phelps and swimming? Clearly not, as swimming has never been in better health, while track & field continues to languish on the sick bed.

Yet, it's also true that many more swimmers had swimwear deals in the pre-Phelps era... They might not have amounted to much, but the ranks of the proverbial "pro swimmer" used to be more crowded. 'Pro' is a funny term when it comes to swimming. Does receiving funds from your federation post-college make you a pro? Does it mean you have endorsements? Or does it just mean that you're ranked high in the world and that you continue to swim for a living.

For Sun Yang and Michael Phelps, that means living like a king. And why shouldn't they? They've earned those riches. Where it all goes depends on where they come from.

Will He Be Back?

Considering the comeback chances of Michael Phelps...  I think he'll be back. So does Rowdy Gaines. So do many others... Is this a selfish instinct? A refusal to admit that swimming's meal ticket has really left the table? Probably. It's hard to imagine an Olympics without Phelps in the pool. It hasn't happened this century.

No one in swimming wants to consider this. There's an undercurrent of panic swirling around Phelps's departure. The guy achieved his ultimate goal: he changed the sport. In remarkable ways that couldn't be conceived a generation ago, swimming is appreciated by a much wider world. And it is practiced in ways that were inconceivable back when Phelps burst on the scene in 2000.

Just take a look at the guy who beat Phelps in the 200 fly, Chad Le Clos. The South African is a direct descendent of the Phelps gene pool. He swam the same events as Phelps in London because he was imitating his hero. Ryan Lochte would never have attempted that brutal program if Phelps hadn't done it first. Same goes for Missy Franklin and her seven-event London campaign.

NBC airs swimming beyond the Olympics now, at the World Championships, the Pan Pacs, the U.S. Nationals, the Dual in the Pool, because of one guy. Like it or not, that's why they're there. Question is, will they stay now that he's gone? Fortunately, they probably will, thanks to the folks he inspired - with Lochte and Franklin at the top of that list.

The sport will be just fine. Phelps has left it in great hands. However, make no mistake, he has not left for good.

Here's why:

In the immediate aftermath of Phelps's last race, Michael Jordan was the first person he thought of. Teared up, he couldn't quite get Jordan's name out, but he alluded to His Airness in his on deck interview with NBC's Andrea Kremer. A little while later Phelps expanded on that sentiment in his studio interview with Bob Costas. Seems Michael always wanted to Be Like Mike. And he was. They're both the greatest ever. (Note: They have more in common than that. Take a look at this piece posted last January: The Two Mikes)

As we know, the first Mike came back. He couldn't stay away because he couldn't get enough. Nothing else compared. The first thing Phelps mentioned when asked what he was going to do with his time was golf. He spoke of the game in that way of superstars who are baffled on the links, who are determined to prove that it can't be that hard. Hell, have you seen how out of shape some of those guys on the Tour are? Yeah, Jordan thought the same thing. Thought the same thing about cards too. These competitive vices fill the hole, sure. But when you're only mediocre at the games, it's hard to get the same buzz. No matter how much you wager.

Phelps will realize this. It will take about two years. About that time, the 2014 Winter Olympics will be getting started. The Olympic theme will suddenly be ubiquitous again; Phelps will be bombarded with a million media requests. He'll probably head over to Sochi, Russia to watch some of the action in person. (His agent, Peter Carlisle, got his start in winter sports and Octagon represents a load of Team USA's greatest Winter Olympians, guys Phelps is friendly with...) This will get the comeback juices flowing.

Back in early 2006, I got to know and work with Erik Vendt, while he was a few years into a first retirement of his own. He hung up the goggles after a second 400 IM silver in Athens and moved to New York. Joined us teaching at Imagine Swimming. At least until he heard that Olympic theme playing on NBC as the Torino Winter Games began in February, 2006. He was back in the water at Michigan by spring. His training partner, the guy who convinced him to come back? That would be Phelps.

Don't underestimate that siren's song. John Williams's score, the one that NBC plays eight million times every day in and out of commercials, it does something to these guys. It's like your coach's whistle from the deck. When you hear it, you respond to it. It's involuntary and as irresistible as your kid calling your name.

Over the years, Phelps has gone out of his way to state that he's never wanted to be swimming at age 30. Never wanted to be one of those old guys out there... This is a funny little hang up of late 20s American men, global Olympic icons or not. There's something about turning 30 that twists guys up, makes them think they're supposed to be doing something else, something grown up and moved on by that point. When Phelps mentions that turning 30 line of demarcation, he's expressing the same am-I-no-longer-young? fear that everyone else feels at his age.

But here's the thing. That feeling vanishes about 30 seconds after you turn 30. You stop giving a shit about your age, about entering some new decade, and you get on with it. If Phelps can stay away through 2014 and the call from the Winter Games, he will be back in the water sometime in the late summer of 2015. He'll be 30, he'll be getting a little bored, and he'll know that he still has it. He will.

In Rio, Phelps won't swim a Phelpsian scorecard of seven or eight events. He'll stick to the ones that come back fastest: the sprints. Here's my prediction: Phelps will be back and he'll swim the 100 fly and the 100 free at U.S. Trials. That's it. He'll be top two in the 100 fly, and be a threat to win again in Rio. In the 100 free, he'll be top four at Trials and join another U.S. relay. A relay with unfinished business. A relay that he will badly want to steal back from France. He won't worry about any revenge in the 200 fly; he'll leave that to his protégé Le Clos. But he's gonna want that relay back.

He'll go to Rio with three races, two relays and one individual, where he'll happen to have a chance to make more absurd history - win an event at four straight Games. Right now he's the only guy to win three straight, but two women did that before him - Australia's Dawn Fraser in the 100 free and Hungary's Krisztina Egerszegi in the 200 back. Phelps isn't real big on tying, in case you haven't noticed. Just one more carrot for Coach Bob, one he's surely already considered...

Of course, all this speculation is pure selfishness. Putting it out there because I want it to happen. It's not like he needs one more never-been-done accomplishment to add to that unprecedented resumé.

Or maybe he does.

Fearless Minds

Ledecky, Franklin, and the fearlessness of youth...  We knew one was coming. Missy Franklin's world record performance in the 200 back might have been the least surprising swim at these upset heavy Games. We expected her to jump in and dominate and that's exactly what she did. In one week, she has gone from the Next One to just The One. The girl swims without fear.

The next next one, Katie Ledecky, no one saw that coming. At least not to that extent, not yet. It was common knowledge that 15-year-old Katie Ledecky was a rising distance star. A fast rising star... She finished 2011 ranked 55th in the world in the 800 free, the 13th fastest American. Her time was 8:36.05. She dropped over 21 seconds this year. (Note to the president of ASCA and others: Has anyone raised one eyebrow over Ledecky's awesome improvements? As you have about Ye Shiwen, who improved far less in 2012 than her fellow teenage Olympic champion...)

Like Franklin (and Ye for that matter), Ledecky doesn't seem to know what fear feels like. She swims from the start with ice cold confidence. Was Ledecky aware of the moment she stepped into? A moment she instantly spoiled for the home crowd from the very first 50. This was the race that the Brits had been anticipating more than any other. Their hometown girl, Becky Adlington, was the defending Olympic champion and the world record holder. She was their best - and only - real hope for individual Olympic gold at the pool. And Adlington was clearly on. She won bronze in the 400 free earlier in the week, with a faster time than her gold medal performance back in Beijing. She was ready to defend her crown. Ledecky put an end to that right quick.

She was out in 1:59.9 at the 200. Out in 4:04.3 at the 400 -- her lifetime best time! (She was 4:05.0 at U.S. Trials...) If anyone expected her to die on the back half, that wasn't happening. She widened her lead until she touched with a never-in-doubt four second victory. Missy Franklin was surely somewhere cheering her on louder than anyone else. She knows exactly how it feels. Or maybe how it doesn't feel.

In the lead up to these Olympics, Time magazine ran a piece about the psychology of choking. Why do some athletes, no matter how well prepared, fail to get it done when it matters most? It has something to do with your prefrontal cortex, that area of the brain that processes information. When you think too much, when you go over every last detail of your race behind the blocks, your prefrontal cortex is flooded. When that happens, it is stealing precious energy away from your motor cortex - the part of your brain that executes. The part that athletes depend on most.

If you've ever wondered why certain athletes sound like, um, not exactly deep thinkers when interviewed, this is a big reason why. You can be a genius in one cortex, the motor side, and less-than-flooded with thought on the prefrontal side.

Clearly this simplistic explanation of brain function does not explain Missy Franklin. Her prefrontal cortex is doing just fine, thanks. She's whip smart when speaking, the best interview on Team USA. Katie Ledecky's post race interviews with NBC's Andrea Kremer were also composed beyond her years. Which makes their fearless performances that much more impressive. Somehow these teenagers are able to shut off all thought behind the blocks and focus on the task at hand.

It turns out that clichéd phrase "in the zone" is quite literally true. When athletes step up and deliver all-time performances at the moment of truth their brains have entered a quiet zone of memory-free execution. It is a beautiful thing to behold.

To put it as your coach would: They just stand up and race.

The Art of Mojo

Ryan Lochte's London campaign... A study in confidence.  On Sunday they called him King Ryan. He was on the cover of every newspaper in the world, but the New York Post said it loudest as usual. On one side of the tabloid, there was a defeated Phelps; the headline beneath him read "Phlop!" And on the other side, there was King Ryan, breaststroking out at you, the crown passed from the front to the back page.

Twenty-four hours later, the Post was calling him a choker, and worse, a guy who refused to stand up and take responsibility after that ill-fated relay. That's how it goes with the tabloids... You can't believe the hyperbole, whether they're anointing you or tearing you down the next day.

The harsh swing from aqua god to relay goat clearly took its toll on Lochte. This is a champion who thrives on swagger, who's always been having too much fun to be intimidated. But now the My Time script had changed and doubt descended.

It carried over into the next day, as Lochte swam a good but not great 200 free, an effort that left him just out of the medals in 4th. Even with an all-time performance, he wasn't going to beat Yannick Agnel that night, but with just a bit more of that signature mojo, you had a sense he should have won a hard-charging silver.

He claimed he got it back the next day. After he and his relay mates delivered a dominated gold in the 4 x 200 free, Lochte told NBC's Andrea Kremer that he'd woken up that morning feeling like himself again, feeling like the "jokester Ryan Lochte." It sounded legit, and the next day he threw down a couple of strong semifinals in the 200 back and 200 IM.

His confidence appeared to be restored. Rowdy Gaines told us that the next night would define Lochte's legacy.

Let's hope not. He is much better than he showed tonight. This is a champion who does not get passed with 25 meters to go in his best event. He's not a guy who loses an IM on the backstroke leg either. Yet that's what we watched go down.

It's a testament to Lochte's awesome talent and ambitions that we watched these races with a sense of tragic disbelief. The guy was completing the second hardest Olympic program ever attempted. He won a bronze and a silver in his 12th and 13th swims of his Olympic campaign. These two medals brought him into a three way tie with Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi as America's second most decorated male Olympic swimmers. Yes, Phelps has double the medals than the next guy, but Lochte has put himself in all-time company.

But he lost two races back to back that he was in shape to win. No disrespect to Tyler Clary, he swam an incredible fearless race and certainly put in the work to become a worthy Olympic champion. (Just ask him how much harder he worked than Phelps!) Yet, Lochte is the superior backstroker. He should not have lost that one.

When he marched out for the 200 IM 39 minutes later, you could see it in his face. Good 'ol relaxed what-me-worry Ryan Lochte was not around. In his place was a shaken swimmer. The late money at the betting windows was pouring in on Phelps. This one was effectively over halfway through the backstroke leg. To beat Phelps, on any day, there can be no weakness.

What is mojo? The dictionary defines it as "magic charm." The Urban Dictionary, which of course would be Lochte's preferred reference point, defines it as "self-confidence, self-assuredness. As in basis for belief in ones self in a situation." Meaning this is a word that has always personified Lochte.

It certainly did on Saturday, when he stood glowing and grinning with the stars and stripes grill atop the podium. But it seems France's Yannick Agnel swiped it away the next day. This wasn't just a hard-fought silver in a relay. This was losing a lead in the closing meters in a race that had massive meaning for both countries. Lochte felt that in his bones, you know he did. And it seems he couldn't shake it.

Twitter, in all its brainless mob mentality, is already jumping on the Lochte-was-overrated bandwagon. He wasn't. He is every bit as good as advertised, and he leaves these Games with five medals, two of them gold, tied with past icons with the second greatest medal haul in U.S. Olympic history. But we all know the story is going to be: what went wrong?

It has something to do with that precarious magic charm.