Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte's Bromance Through the Years

They've won medals together, but it's game time when they're in different lanes

Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty

They may both represent Team USA and be friends in real life, but all bets are off when Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are competing in separate lanes.

For four straight Summer Olympic Games, the swimming phenomenons have been going head-to-head in one of the best rivalries in sports, including Thursday night when the pair face-off in the 200-meter individual medley final after Phelps narrowly beat Lochte in the semifinals Wednesday night.

Phelps, 31, is the most decorated athlete in Olympic history. He has 25 medals to his credit – 21 gold, two silver and two bronze.

But Lochte, 32, is no slouch in the medals department. He has 12 of them – 6 gold, 3 silver and 3 bronze. (He’s the second-most decorated swimmer in Olympic history, and the 13th-most decorated Olympian overall.)

It began in 2004’s Games in Athens, when Lochte made the team for the first time after finishing second to Phelps in the 200-meter individual medley at the Olympic Team Trials. Phelps was returning for his second Olympics after first joining the elite team at just 15 years old for the Sydney Games.

The two competitors earned a gold medal together in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay with teammates Klete Keller and Peter Vanderkaay, upsetting the Australian team to capture first place. Lochte then fell short to Phelps in the 200-meter individual medley, but still took home the silver medal.

The Beijing Games in 2008 were history-making for Phelps. The swimmer won eight gold medals, breaking Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals won in a single Olympics, set in 1972.

However, Lochte’s performance was also impressive. He took home his first individual gold and set a new world record in the 200-meter backstroke. Although he fell short to Phelps in the 400-meter individual medley and the 200-meter individual medley, Lochte earned medals in both events.

Lochte finally outswam Phelps at the Olympics in London in 2012. In the 400-meter individual medley, an event Phelps won for two straight Olympics, Lochte won gold while Phelps finished in a disappointing fourth place.

“I think I’m kind of in shock right now,” Lochte said of his unexpected victory. As for Phelps, Lochte said: “I know he gave it everything he had. That’s all you can ask for.”

Phelps got his revenge in the 200-meter individual medley, placing first and leaving Lochte to take the silver medal. At the time, it was thought to be the last of the duo’s match-ups, as Phelps planned to retire after the games.

But that didn’t last long.

In 2014, Phelps returned to the pool after a short retirement, but Lochte beat him in the finals of the 100-meter butterfly. There were no hard feelings, though Phelps did proclaim, “That may have been the worst turn that I have ever done in my entire life.”

“Everyone is happy that he’s back in the water,” Lochte said. “It’s good for the sport.”

Lochte said he and Phelps hadn’t seen each other since London, but they picked up where they left off, joking with each other before facing off.

“I’m going to do everything I can to try to get my hand on the wall before him in every single race; I don’t care what it is, and it’s the same for him,” Phelps said.

The 2016 Olympics in Rio have already earned more hardware for both swimmers. After winning the 200-meter butterfly, Phelps picked up his 21st win when Team USA earned the gold in the 4×200 men’s relay, a four-person squad that also included Lochte.

“They get along really well,” teammate Conor Dwyer said. “But as we all know, the rivalry is really big in the media and when those guys enter the water they want to beat each other really bad. It always brings out really good races, so I’m excited to see it.”

But their rivalry isn’t a fabrication – at least when they’re in the water.

“It’s definitely real when they step up on the blocks,” Dwyer said. “But as far as being in the room and stuff, you would never know that those two guys have battled each other time and time and time again in the water. They’re just friends hanging out playing cards, nothing to do with how they’ve tried to kill each other to win a 200IM at the Olympics multiple times.”

The real test will be during Thursday night’s 200-meter individual medley final. Phelps narrowly took first place in the semifinal with a time of 1:55.78. Lochte was close behind at 1:56.26.

In a joint interview with NBC after the face-off, the two competitors talked about how they inspire each other.

“I love racing him,” said Phelps. “I think for me, he brings the best out of me. We’re racers, it’s meets like these that I love the most where he and I get to go and kind of duke it out.”

Added Lochte: “We bring the best out of each other. We’re been doing it since 2004. Anytime I get up and race him, it’s the best.”

Who will claim victory in their final face-off?

The men’s 200-meter individual medley finals airs Thursday on NBC at 10 p.m. ET.

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