When he is swimming, Michael Phelps looks like the logical endpoint of human evolution. He is tall-chinned and broad-shouldered, with muscles that look specifically invented for his body and no one else’s. He looks like every dude from 300 mashed together, like Michelangelo’s David with less pudge. The problem is, when he takes off the swim cap and goggles, Phelps is an undeniably goofy-looking guy. To a certain extent, this is part of Phelps’ charm: He comes off like a gawky kid you knew in kindergarten, if that kid decided to spend the next two decades becoming the greatest athlete in history. I only mention Phelps’ looks because yesterday marked — at least for the moment — the end of the Phelps era in swimming. And when Ryan Lochte — the new god of the pool — takes off his swim cap and goggles, “gawky” is not the word that comes to mind.
If Ryan Lochte were just a handsomer alternative to Phelps — if the only difference between the two men was that Lochte resembles a young Josh Lucas and Phelps resembles the henchman who dies last in a Bond movie — then Lochte’s resounding gold medal victory in the 400 Individual Medley would have been merely spectacular.
But Lochte incarnates a very different Olympian theory. Whereas Phelps’ persona was based on pure unthinking power, Lochte’s is simultaneously looser and more expansive. Lochte works out by flipping truck tires. He designs shoes — neon-green shoes with his name printed on the bottom. He spent half his interview with John McEnroe talking about the redemptive power of his skateboard. He owns a ridiculous red-white-and-blue diamond grill. (Apparently, the Olympic committee wouldn’t let him wear it on the podium last night.) The most banal thing about Lochte is that he has a poster of Scarface up in his room. But you get the vibe that he watches it for the fashion.
It will be interesting to see if Phelps can regain his crown this week — Lochte’s winning race was also the first time Phelps hasn’t qualified for a medal since 2000. For the moment, though, this is Lochte’s world: We’re just walking through it, wishing that our shoes were neon-green.
Runner-Up Studs: Australian beach volleyball players Natalie Cook and Tamsin Hinchley — the oldest and tallest player, respectively, in the sand this Olympics — put up a good show against Misty May-Treanor and Kerrie Walsh Jennings. And the U.S. men’s gymnastics team is filled with stud potential. But let’s give a special shout-out to Brit gymnast Louis Smith. Smith has a nasty college ‘stache and a perfect Eurotrash haircut and generally resembles an ’80s movie villain, but after his team put up a great showing, cameras caught him shedding beautiful Rudy tears. If Team Britain manages to make a successful comeback this year, expect more fun with Smith in the days to come.
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