So went the storyline of the much-anticipated men's 400-meter individual medley race on Saturday night at the Aquatic Center.
Lochte, swimming's brightest star, was dominant in capturing Team USA's first gold medal in London. The defending two-time world champion of the event, Lochte led from start to finish, the crowd roaring its support throughout.
"I'm ready to rock this Olympics," said Lochte, whose winning time of 4:05.18 was an eye-opening 3.68 seconds ahead of second-place Thiago Pereira of Brazil.
"I knew I was in good form going into these games," said Lochte, a former University of Florida standout who won the bronze medal in the 400 IM bronze in 2008 at Beijing. "I could hear the fans screaming, and having my family here helped me a lot."
But much like that performance, Phelps was history Saturday night, struggling to a fourth-place finish at 4:09.28 after eking out the eighth and final qualification spot in the preliminaries earlier in the day.
"I'm a bit frustrated," said Phelps, his expression indicating as much. "I was trying to find a gear that I couldn't find. I felt fine for the first 200 (meters) and spent the last 100 struggling. I have swum better races and been better prepared.
"I just want to put this race behind me and move on."
Phelps had medaled in 16 consecutive Olympic swimming events after finishing fifth in the 200 butterfly as a fifteen-year-old at the 2000 Games in Sydney. He was in good position heading into the final 100 meters, just 0.22 of a second behind third-place Kosuke Hagino of Japan as the swimmers kick-turned out of the breaststroke and into the freestyle.
Hagino not only held off Phelps -- who leads all Olympians with 14 gold medals - but he also set the Asian record in the 400 IM with his bronze-medal winning time of 4:08.94.
Lochte's gold medal was the only one Team USA managed on the opening day of competition.
U.S. men's team co-captain Peter Vanderkaay captured the bronze medal in the 400 freestyle, an event China's Yang Sun won with a strong finishing kick. Vanderkaay, a three-time Olympian, had finished fourth in the event in Beijing, and Saturday's swim represented his first Olympic medal performance in an individual event.
Sun turned in a 3:40.14, just ahead of South Korea's Taehwan Park (3:42.06). It was an odd day for Park, who started the day by getting disqualified for a false start in the prelims only to be reinstated after the sport's governing body (FINA) conducted a video review upon appeal.
American Elizabeth Beisel having to settle for silver in the women's 400 IM was another one of the day's bigger surprises.
China's Shiwen Ye took the gold in the 400 IM with a stirring Olympic- and world-record performance of 4:28.43, taking just over a second off the old mark of 4:29.45 established by Australia's Stephanie Rice at the Beijing Games..
Beisel was even faster on Saturday (4:31.27), yet still had to settle for silver.
Team USA's women's 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay team, made up of 17-year-old Missy Franklin, Jessica Hardy, Lia Neal and Allison Schmitt, had only a bronze medal to show for their American-record time swim of 3:34.24..
Australia won the gold, finishing with an Olympic-record 3:33.15, while the Netherlands took the silver at 3:33.79.
Dana Vollmer looks to be in good position to add another gold medal to the U.S. team's trophy case on Sunday, as she set an Olympic and American record in the preliminaries of the 100 butterfly Saturday morning (56.25) and followed up with the fastest time in the evening's semifinals.
Brendan Hansen kept Team USA's hopes alive in the 100 breaststroke Saturday night, grabbing the eighth and final spot for Sunday's finals by 0.11 of a second.