Ryan Lochte is challenging our concept of an Olympic narrative.
We're used to unlikely heroes, champions triumphing after earlier failures, heartbreaking disappointments, ascending greatness, outright flops and total dominance. They create talking points for those of us watching the Games and make it easy to tie everything up in a little bow when our attention shifts back to the non-Olympic world.
Lochte's 2012 Summer Olympic experience is going to need a bigger bow. Lochte has already checked a few of the boxes from the above paragraph and there's several more trips into the pool for him to continue writing his story of the Games.
On Saturday, it looked like Lochte's story was going to be a variation on ascending greatness. He beat Michael Phelps and the rest of the 400 meter individual medley field by a wide margin, confirming the hype bestowed upon him in the months leading up to London and setting himself up to be the swimming star of the summer.
Everyone wondered whether he could beat Phelps on the biggest stage and once he did it there didn't seem to be much need to wait for other races to confirm his trip to the top of the ladder. Problem is, no one told Yannick Agnel that.
Agnel chased Lochte down on the final leg of the 4X100 freestyle relay on Sunday, earning a gold medal and a healthy sense of retribution for a French team that was caught from behind by Jason Lezak in 2008. Then Agnel won gold in the 200 meter freestyle on Monday with Lochte finishing off the podium in fourth after entering the race as the favorite.
If you're using those loose categories we defined up top, Lochte went with heartbreaking disappointment and outright flop respectively in those two losses. The story has gone in a direction that no one was expecting and Lochte's Olympics are a confused mashup of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
None of this is a remotely fair way of telling the story. Agnel deserves to be more than a sidebar who won only because Lochte didn't meet expectations.
He won both of those races as much, if not more, than Lochte lost them and his own Olympic narrative is one that should make him a lingering star well after the torch is extinguished. That story is going to get told in Paris, though, while our shores will concentrate their attention on Lochte.
It's going to take some time to figure out what exactly to make of the whole thing. Lochte has at least three and probably four more events ahead of him, including another matchup with Phelps, and those results will likely provide us with a final read on what to think about Lochte's performance at these Games.
Should things remain as helter skelter as they've been thus far, it might also force us to rethink the whole notion of putting one athlete's Olympic experience in a one size fits all box. That would give Lochte a lasting legacy, albeit not the one he was shooting for before the Games got underway.
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