One of the more endearing relationships to watch unfold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio has been the one between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. The two American swimmers have been competing against one another for years, but they've nonetheless developed a personal friendship during the same period. On Thursday, Phelps defeated Lochte in the 200-meter individual medley, taking home his 13th individual gold medal — more than any other Olympian, ever. Despite the fact that they compete against each other, there are a lot more similarities between Phelps and Lochte than there are differences.
For one, they both hold similar world records in the 200-meter individual medley: Phelps has taken home the gold in that event at every Olympics since 2004, while Lochte has won every world championship since 2009. Not only do both of them have places on the top 10 all-time performances in the 200-meter IM; collectively, they hold every spot on that top 10 list. On a slightly more superficial note, both Phelps and Lochte have been named male swimmer of the year multiple times by Swimming World magazine.
A lot has been made of a "rivalry" between the two, but that term doesn't feel quite right. The pair has developed a close bond during the 12 years they've been competing with one another, and by all indications, their relationship is more of a friendly competition, wherein both athletes benefit and enjoy being challenged by one another, than an actual rivalry.
"The history him and I have had with one another is something special and something I’ve never had with another competitor of mine," Lochte said of Phelps earlier in the Rio games. "We’ve been racing for the last 12 years and having one more battle tomorrow. It will be fun. I consider that Ryan and I have probably grown closer together as friends this year than we have in the past. We have one more time to hop in the pool and duke it out."
Phelps echoed those sentiments to ESPN, referring to their relationship in 2014 as "a fun competition" and adding that "we bring the best out of each other." And over the course of the 2016 games, the friendship between Lochte and Phelps has become almost as popular on social media as any of the events in which they're competing.
Lochte once joked that he would be "the Michael Phelps of swimming" if only Phelps wasn't in competition. But in reality, they're both world-class swimmers, and the lack of any personal animosity between them makes their competition that much more enjoyable to watch.