Olympic Swimming: Michael Phelps' Toughest Competitor is Teammate Ryan Lochte

PHOTO: Michael Phelps, left, and Ryan Lochte talk after winning the gold medal in the Mens 4x200m Freestyle during Day Fourteen of the 14th FINA World Championships at the Oriental Sports Center on July 29, 2011 in Shanghai, China.
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With the Olympics set to kick off today, swimmer Michael Phelps is poised to become the most decorated Olympian of all time, but his biggest rival just so happens to be his teammate.

Meet 27-year-old world champion swimmer Ryan Lochte, who beat the legendary Phelps twice at the 2011 world championships and three weeks ago at the U.S. trials. Lochte said he's planning to do the same in London.

"Once it happened ... I just knew that it would happen again and again, but usually when I beat someone it's rare that they beat me again," said Lochte. "I just feel it in my body that this is my time."

If it is Lochte's time, he will have to overcome an Olympic legend. Phelps, 27, captured the world's attention four years ago in Beijing, winning a record eight gold medals, surpassing American swimmer Mark Spitz's seven-gold performance at Munich in 1972. Phelps also holds the all-time record for most gold Olympic medals, at 14.

Lochte won two gold medals of his in Beijing and set a record in the 200-meter backstroke.

"He's always been in the shadows of Michael Phelps, and in London he is going to come out of those shadows," said retired Olympic gold medalist Summer Sanders at Yahoo Sports. "Ryan Lochte has been an amazing swimmer that just happened to be in the same era as the greatest swimmer of all times."

Phelps is just two medals away from surpassing Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina for the most medals in an Olympic career with 18, and after that he said he'll be ready to hang up his goggles. After all, what's left to accomplish? "It's really ... how many toppings do I want on my sundae," said Phelps.

Yet, retiring from the sport he loves will be a challenge. "It's been a part of my life for so long, so walking away will be weird," he said. "But it's something that I'm ready for. Eventually it will hit me, and it will strike me that it is all over. Who knows what will happen then? I'll just take it all in steps and deal with it along the way."

With Phelps out of the picture, Lochte not only has the skills in the pool, but the personality and looks to grace magazine covers. Lochte has already appeared on the cover of Time and Vogue, and seems very comfortable with the exposure. Sporting diamond "grillz" on his teeth at the podium to receive a medal has become a hit with fans.

On Saturday, the two are set to race in the 400-meter individual medley. After that, they will meet in the 200-meter medley.

"You know I'm here to swim as fast as I can. And if I do that that's all that matters," said Phelps.

The rivalry has so far been friendly between the two teammates. "Me and him, we've created a great rivalry, but at the same time we've created a great friendship," said Lochte.

Let the games begin.

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