Charlotte’s Ryan Lochte earns gold on USA’s dominant 4x200 relay team

Townley Haas, left, Michael Phelps, back to camera, Ryan Lochte and Conor Dwyer, right, celebrate winning the gold medal in the men's 4x200-meter freestyle final.
Townley Haas, left, Michael Phelps, back to camera, Ryan Lochte and Conor Dwyer, right, celebrate winning the gold medal in the men's 4x200-meter freestyle final. AP

Ryan Lochte earned his first gold medal of the 2016 Olympics Tuesday night, swimming in the men’s 4x200 relay as the U.S. dominated for another win.

Lochte’s performance means that six of the seven swimmers based in North Carolina that earned a spot on the U.S. team have now earned a medal in the Olympics as well.

The seventh, Cammile Adams, had a shaky night Tuesday in the women’s 200 butterfly but squeezed into the eighth and last spot in the women’s final. Adams will swim that event Wednesday at 9:54 p.m. as she tries to improve her time enough to “join the medal club,” as she said.

Lochte winning a medal in Rio was no surprise. He now has 12 Olympic medals in his storied career, which includes the past three years living and training at Charlotte at SwimMAC Carolina.

Lochte wasn’t that happy with his time on the third leg of the relay – it was the slowest of the four U.S. swimmers in the final – but it didn’t much matter in a race the U.S. won by 2.47 seconds over Great Britain. Japan was third.

“My leg in particular, it wasn’t the best I’ve ever had,” Lochte said. “We had to do what we had to do and just get our hand on the wall first.”

Lochte begins his quest for one more medal Wednesday, in the 200 individual medley. He will likely face longtime rival and friend Michael Phelps in a Thursday night final. Lochte will be an underdog to Phelps, but it’s a race that Lochte could win.

Phelps continued the most decorated Olympic career of all time in a big way Tuesday, winning two gold medals – the 200 butterfly and the relay – to push his total to 25 overall and 21 gold. Phelps especially wanted to win the 200 butterfly, which he had lost in a close race in 2012.

“There wasn’t a shot in hell I was losing that tonight,” Phelps said of the butterfly in a press conference early Wednesday morning.

There was barely an hour between the two races for Phelps, and in between he had to fit in a medal ceremony. Then in the relay race itself, he ripped his swim cap while trying to put it on and had to borrow teammate Conor Dwyer’s.

“He tapped me on the shoulder while I was cheering on Townley (Haas) and said, ‘I don’t have a cap,’” said Dwyer, who had swum the first leg. Dwyer quickly let Phelps borrow his, and Phelps turned it inside out to make it a plain back cap so he wouldn’t be pictured wearing the cap of a different sponsor.

Said Dwyer of Phelps: “He was a little rattled but we’ve seen him go through so many ups and downs. ... I knew he’d be fine with a new cap.”

By the time Lochte jumped into the pool, the U.S. had a substantial lead in an event it has dominated throughout most of Olympic history. Before he retired, Charlottean Ricky Berens used to be a mainstay on multiple gold-medal 4x200 relay teams for the U.S. in international competitions.

“We just had to keep the tradition alive,” Lochte said, “and everyone did their part. ... We wanted to defend that title, and that’s what we did.”

Phelps was tired when he started the anchor leg.

“Doing that kind of double is a lot harder than it used to be,” Phelps said.

“I’m too old for this,” Phelps told Haas. So Phelps told his teammates to give him a big lead, and they did.

Phelps said of his overall Olympic medal count, which went from 23 to 25 in the space of an hour: “It’s just insane. It’s mind-blowing.”

Adams, on the other hand, has made two Olympic teams but hasn’t won a medal yet. She finished fifth in her lone Olympic event in 2012. Now she needs a big race Wednesday night to win a medal of any color. Adams will be lined up in the outermost lane and said she planned to be “outside smoke.”

“I’m a bit disappointed with the swim,” Adams said of her semifinal, “but I know I am capable of so much more. Tomorrow is a new day, and outside smoke sounds like a lot of fun to me.”

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