Jul 28, 2012; London, United Kingdom; Ryan Lochte (USA) competes in a men's 400m individual medley heat during the 2012 London Olympic Games at Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
LONDON - Ryan Lochte dominated the men's 400-meter individual medley Saturday night, pulling away from his rival Michael Phelps for the United States' first swimming gold medal in the London Games.
The men's 400 individual medley was long billed as a two-man race between Lochte and Phelps. But Lochte clearly was the stronger swimmer, winning in 4:05.18. Phelps was fourth in 4:09.28.
Thiago Pereira of Brazil was second and Kosuke Hagino was third.
Phelps and Lochte will have one more showdown, in the 200 IM on Wednesday.
Phelps came into the evening with hopes of being the first male swimmer to win the same individual event at three consecutive Games. Phelps set the world record of 4:03.84 when he won gold in Beijing.
Lochte, who won bronze in 2008, beat Phelps in the 400 IM at the Olympic trials and won the world championship in the medley distance in 2009 and 2011.
Phelps barely qualified eighth in the morning heats, leaving him in an outside lane for the finals.
Lochte and Phelps had the two best times of the year entering the race - 4:07.06 for Lochte and 4:07.89 for Phelps, both at the Olympic trials on June 25.
Phelps has never been seeded lower than fourth in an Olympic final. He was fourth in the 200 fly in 2000.
In the morning prelims, he won his heat in 4:13.33, barely beating Hungary's Laszlo Cseh, who finished in 4:13.40. Cseh missed the final after winning silver in 2008 and bronze in 2004.
"A final spot is a final spot," Phelps said. "The only thing that matters is getting a spot in. You can't win a gold medal from the morning."
By Erik Brady, USA TODAY