Team USA feels absence of Phelps, Lochte as Olympic 4x200 relay streak snapped

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TOKYO — Seventeen years ago, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte walked out of a call room and onto a pool deck in Athens, Greece, and ever since they and two teammates swam 16 furious laps and out-touched the Australians in a seven-minute race by 0.13 seconds, Americans had reigned in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay at the Olympics.

Phelps and Lochte again led the U.S. to gold in world record time in Beijing four years later. And again four years after that in London. And yet again four years later in Rio.

But the U.S. came here to Tokyo without the pair. And the streak, in due course, fell, taken down by Great Britain, the U.S. far off its former Phelps- and Lochte-led pace.

Kieran Smith gave the U.S. a healthy lead with his opening leg. But by the time Drew Kibler came home at the halfway point, the lead had been lost to the Brits. Zach Apple briefly regained the lead for the American halfway through the third leg, but Team GB’s Matthew Richards pulled away over the final lap of that leg. U.S. anchor Townley Haas dove in a full body length behind the leaders, and Britain’s Duncan Scott easily brought gold home.

Russia finished second, and Australia third. The U.S. didn’t medal.

Phelps retired after 2016. Lochte attempted to qualify for Tokyo, but came up short at trials, and never really came close in the 200 free. The team for Wednesday’s final was strong, and included one member (Apple) of the American team that won the 4x100 relay here on Monday.

But it didn’t have a world-beater like Phelps, or Lochte, or Caeleb Dressel. Turns out greatness is hard to replicate.

Best of Tokyo 2020 Day 5 slideshow embed
Best of Tokyo 2020 Day 5 slideshow embed

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