Sorry, Michael Phelps: Ryan Lochte Is America's New Slacker Sweetheart

Swimmer Ryan Lochte predicted that 2012 would be his year, and he's off to a great start. Lochte won the 400-meter individual medley, while teammate Michael Phelps didn't even make it onto the podium.

When asked about Phelps, Lochte answered, "I know he gave it everything he had. That's all you can ask for."

Despite being rivals, the two swimmers were once portrayed as BFFs. This 2008 Men's Journal article paints Lochte as the yin to Phelps' yang. It's all about their contrasts — Phelps is focused and serious while Lochte is a prankster who says "shit" a lot — but it also suggests that Lochte's free spirit is an important influence on Phelps.

Throughout the piece, Phelps comes across as the Gallant to Lochte's Goofus. He admits that he's ready to relax a bit as he explains his single-minded approach to swimming.

Growing up, never really having a break, never really taking time off — I want to get through [Beijing] and have time to relax. I've always been on other people's schedules. I've been doing what they told me. I'm just looking forward to being able to do whatever I want and only listen to myself.

Lochte, on the other hand, tells Men's Journal a story about throwing water balloons and egging houses. Fellow team member Brendan Hansen says, "He does whatever he wants. He just shows up, and if the water is wet, he gets in."

In reality, Phelps isn't the square this piece might lead readers to believe he is. Writer Josh Gonzalez says of Lochte, "Conversations with him are conducted in stream of consciousness, with 'dude' and 'like' frequently sprinkled between other words that come out sloooowwwly, as if he's just ripped a few bong hits." But it's Phelps who was photographed smoking weed.

Still, there's an undeniable contrast between the two — and if it's a choice between being all-business like Phelps and being a 24-hour party person like Lochte, it's clear which is the more attractive option. Gallant may do things the right way, but Goofus has all the fun.

That's what makes Lochte's dramatic win over Phelps so appealing. While Phelps remains an American hero to many, Lochte is the cooler, mellower version. Who doesn't want to root for that?

In the upcoming Men's Journal cover story on Lochte, Stephen Rodrick updates us on the chillest swimmer. Lochte insists there's more to him than swimming: "I'm still going to be exactly who I am and have fun with life." He listens to hip-hop constantly. He continues to ride his skateboard. Lochte is the Olympic swimmer you want to hang out with.

And with today's win, he's also the Olympic swimmer to beat. Yeah, yeah, Michael Phelps worked hard to break records and he's a model of self-discipline, but Ryan Lochte is America. He's a slacker who fucks around and still manages to come out on top. That may not be the sports narrative we're used to hearing, but it's a much easier model to follow.

Don't stress — just chill, and win. Wink at the camera. Yeah, you nailed it.

[Image via AP]