Michael Phelps (top) of the United States and Ryan Lochte (bottom) of the United States compete in the first semifinal heat of the Men's 200m Individual Medley on Day 5 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on August 1, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
LONDON -- They're just a couple of American gunslingers, here to settle who's got the fastest draw, pool-isn't-big-enough-for both-of-us style.
That's what you'd have thought from the buildup to these Games: Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte, splash of the titans, duel in the pool.
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Wednesday night, the two sat in the ready room before their semifinal race in the 200-meter individual medley. Shouldn't these rivals glower, or at least ignore one another, at a time like that? Instead, they bonded.
Teammate Nathan Adrian's pulsating victory in the 100 freestyle by .01 of a second brought them to a crescendo, cheering as one, like bosom buddies.
"We went nuts," Lochte said.
"We were both, like, cheering and cheering and cheering," Phelps said.
They talked about this after their semi in the 200 IM, in which Lochte beat Phelps, not that it mattered much. Tonight's final will settle it - or not.
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If Phelps wins, they'll each have won once against the other here. If Lochte wins, he'll have the sweep. If neither wins, it'll be a surprise.
Lochte beat Phelps in the 400 IM on the first night of the Olympic swim meet. Phelps came in fourth. The narrative was set: This would be Lochte's Olympics.
Then Lochte failed to hold a lead in the 4x100 free relay one night and came in fourth in the 200 free the next. A new narrative was set: Lochte can't fill Phelps' poolside flip-flops.
Then Phelps went silver in the 200 butterfly and gold in the 4x200 free relay, with Lochte as one of his teammates no less, to become the most decorated Olympian of all time. Yet another narrative: All hail the greatest of all time.
Perhaps a new narrative awaits tonight's outcome.
"We love racing against each other," Phelps said, dripping after the semis. "Neither one of us likes to lose. I like to say we bring the best out of each other."
It's hard to know what they really think, though, because they're asked about one another so often that their answers have a rote quality, their voices a flat tone.
They're friends. They both hate to lose. And they bring the best out in each other.
Their 200 IM at the Olympic trials was a classic: Phelps won by nine-hundredths of a second, both men churning water stroke for stroke to the finish.
Tonight there's a twist, another chance for Lochte to upend the narrative: He can win double gold, rarely done on the same night in individual events.
He'll swim in the finals of the 200 backstroke and then have to swim against Phelps in the 200 IM some 22 minutes or so after the 200 back.
"I know he has a tough turnaround," Phelps said, "but hopefully he can go out there and put on a good race. I'm sure that he will."
Lochte said not to worry: "That's what I've been training for."
Phelps has a second race tonight, too, but it comes after the showdown with Lochte. That race is the semifinals of the 100 butterfly; Phelps need only make the top 16 in this morning's heats to qualify for it.
Kristin Lochte-Keeler, Ryan's older sister, thinks all the rivalry talk is bunk anyway. She thinks real rivals swim the same specialties, be they butterfly or backstroke, freestyle or breaststroke - not a combination of all four, like the 200 and 400 individual medleys, the only events that Phelps and her brother will race against one another here.
"It's, like, how can you call it a rivalry?" she said. "Michael does the flys, Ryan does the backstroke."
Phelps is most decorated. That much is fact. The question being asked around the world is if that makes him the greatest Olympian of all time.
"He's one of the greatest, yeah," Lochte said. "And he'll definitely go down in history as one of the greatest."
But Lochte wants Phelps to go down in the 200 IM first.