The man who helped turn Michael Phelps into the greatest swimmer in Olympic history no longer thinks the 14-time gold medalist is even the top swimmer on the U.S. swim team.
Bob Bowman, Phelps' coach for the past 15 years, recently said that Phelps' American teammate Ryan Lochte is the world's best swimmer thanks, in part, to a stellar performance at this summer's Pan Pacific Championships in which Lochte beat Phelps in two head-to-head races and won six gold medals to Phelps' five.
"Obviously, Ryan Lochte is the best swimmer in the world this year. No question," Bowman said. "That will be a huge challenge for Michael going forward, hopefully a motivator."
[Photos: Latest images of Michael Phelps]
Bowman almost certainly believes that Lochte is the best swimmer in the world right now, emphasis on right now. Ever since the 2009 world championships, Phelps has swum poorly and with little inspiration while Lochte has dominated fields with ease. This was a predictable slip for Phelps; after climbing the Olympic equivalent of Mt. Everest, how could one expect him to get up for the Pan Pacific Championships?
But though Lochte has been better for the past year, Bowman almost also certainly believes that Phelps won't stay No. 2 for long. The coach's comments were based in truth but were rooted in a desire to motivate his swimmer for the rapidly approaching 2012 Olympics in London. Phelps relaxed both physically and mentally after his conquest of Beijing, knowing that London was a long way away. Now that we're less than 23 months out from the Opening Ceremony, it's time for Phelps to get serious about training. He didn't need to be great in July 2010 in order to be the best in July 2012. But he will need to start being great soon if he wants to cement his legacy as the greatest Olympian of all time.
As of now, there's no real concern from the Phelps' team. It's better to have a relaxed, motivated Michael Phelps training for London rather than a burnt out, overconfident one. Having a great swimmer like Lochte trying to usurp Phelps' throne is the best possible scenario for Bowman. There's a new carrot to dangle. For an athlete who has already reached the highest peak of his sport, that's never a bad thing.