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Ryan Lochte’s new emphasis adds chapter to Michael Phelps rivalry

May 20, 2014, 2:11 PM EDT

Ryan Lochte Getty Images

Ryan Lochte, a man known for his race-day attire, showed up at the Charlotte Grand Prix last week in a fedora and knee brace.

The 11-time Olympic medalist had pulled out of the meet at his new training location three days in advance after aggravating a left knee injury at the Mesa Grand Prix in April. Lochte tore his left MCL and sprained his ACL when a fan ran into him on Nov. 2 and has been working to get back to 100 percent ever since, with setbacks.

He was held out of last week’s meet as a precautionary measure.

“He’s at a point now where, if he pushes it now, it could cost him going to Nationals [in August],” David Marsh, Lochte’s coach, said last week. “We’re better off playing it safe.”

Lochte, 29, moved from Gainesville, Fla., to Charlotte in October to train under Marsh and with Olympic teammates including good friend Cullen Jones and Tyler Clary. He said he questioned his future in swimming after his November injury but was inspired by longtime friendly rival Michael Phelps‘ return this spring.

Now the question is, will Lochte and Phelps duel again like they have in the previous three Olympics? Phelps and Lochte shared the medal podium in 2004, 2008 and 2012 in the 200m individual medley.

Phelps does not seem keen on picking up the IM, the decathlon of swimming, in his comeback. But Lochte and Phelps share this outlook: they both are favoring shorter distances in this Olympic cycle.

“I have the distance part done, and the endurance; I don’t have the speed,” Lochte said. “The things I want to do in 2016, I’m going to have to start learning how to do more sprint events. I can’t tell you what I want to be swimming in 2016. It’s just going to be a lot of different events and some of the same events.”

One different event would be the 100m butterfly, which Phelps has won at the last three Olympics. Lochte swam it at an Olympics or World Championships for the first time in Barcelona last year, finishing sixth at worlds. He entered it again at the Mesa Grand Prix and beat Phelps by two tenths of a second in Phelps’ first final since the London Games.

Phelps won a Lochte-less 100m fly final in Charlotte. They are the first- and second-ranked Americans in the event for 2014.

That adds a bit more sizzle to the National Championships in Irvine, Calif., in August, and, potentially, the Pan Pacific Championships later that month, when South Africa’s Chad le Clos, who won the 2013 world title in the 100m fly, could join the fray.

“Now that I’m able to compete with [Phelps] and be up there with him in the 100m fly, it’s going to be interesting,” Lochte said. “I’m not going to back down. He won’t back down. We’re going to give you guys a race.”

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