ONE ASPECT of the Phelps-Lochte dynamic that won't change this summer: As they have at training camps for the last four years, the two will partner up for regular games of spades, and they will subject their opponents, usually sprinter Cullen Jones and Berens, to a torrent of trash talk. "What makes them good as a team is their unwillingness to lose," says Jones. "We're probably not the best spades players," says Phelps of his partnership with Lochte. "We're just risk takers. We shoot for the high side."
In the past Lochte has regularly skateboarded, surfed, ridden a scooter and done inadvisable things with fireworks—on July 4 he and his buddies like to play a game where they stand still as bottle rockets swoosh around them—and as a result has a history of sustaining injuries before major meets. But this year his only mishap of note was a February concussion he sustained when he got up from his bed too quickly, blacked out and smashed his head on the corner post of his bed. "He's not on a skateboard, he's not shooting hoops, not cracking his ankle chasing his dog or falling out of trees like in the past," says Lochte's dad, Steve, who's a club swimming coach in Daytona Beach. "He's a totally different person, a more mature and seasoned athlete."
Phelps, whose favorite distraction from swimming is golf, hasn't put himself in physical peril the way Lochte has. He's never been on skis or a snowboard because Bowman hasn't allowed it. But he has taken other kinds of risks. In Athens he insisted on swimming the 200 free even though he had little chance of beating favorites Ian Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenband. (Phelps finished third, behind those two.) "That was against my advice," says Bowman. "I said if you want to try to win seven gold medals, you should drop the 200 free and swim the 200 back. He wouldn't even hear of it. He wanted to race the best."
Taking on another Olympics after his solid-gold performance in Beijing is another risk. In London, Phelps won't win eight golds and probably won't win seven. Lochte, who will swim four individual events plus at least one relay, could also wind up with a mixed bag of hardware. These Games won't be about perfection, however, and they won't be about determining the greatest swimmer of all time. They will be about the best rivalry the sport will likely ever see, playing out its two final, dramatic acts.