As the shot put and rowing fanatics ready themselves for London's Olympics this year, the majority of us endure the more mundane sports (looking at you, decathlon) for the marquee events of swimming and track. They're often the hottest tickets in town, especially for shorter-distance events.
While it would be fun to expound on the prominence of Usain Bolt, we're here to get wet (a dissection of those other events is forthcoming). For Americans at least, the main event during this year's Olympics swimming will be the duel between phenom Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
The duo have spent the better part of three years besting each other in various events, but this in Olympics look to compete head-to-head in only two. But it's two that Phelps once had a lock on, only to lose in recent competitions to Lochte -- some would argue rightfully so.
Curiously enough, Lochte did achieve a minor victory before swimming a single lap. Phelps backed out of the 200 meter freestyle despite finishing first in the event during the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in Omaha.
It could be that Lochte bested Phelps in last year's FINA World Championships in Shanghai, edging out the Olympic record-holder by .33 seconds and finishing 1:44.44. More likely though, Phelps is trying to avoid a short gap between the 200 meter freestyle finals on July 30, in order to stay fresh for the 200 meter butterfly. Had Phelps swum both events, he'd have less than an hour to recover between the two. But more than just head-to-heads are on the line.
Phelps set the record for gold medals in a single Olympic Games four years ago, nabbing eight in Beijing. But in the time since, Lochte has trumped Phelps at several world championships, and is looking to upset the reigning sultan of swimming at the sport''s biggest stage.
Phelps, 26, already has 16 Olympic medals, 14 of them gold. This summer he can break Ukranian gymnast Larysa Latynina's record of 18 career Olympic medals. Lochte has six medals over the span of two Olympic games.
But the older, and arguably wiser, Lochte has spent the better part of the last four years training and undertaking a new diet, in an effort to dethrone at last Phelps in some of his signature events. Phelps, meanwhile, took an admittedly lazy approach to his training, with the exception of the last 18 months, when he got serious.
In a dispiriting way, a Phelps sweep of events would mean a triumph of raw talent over perseverance and work ethic. But you pick your allegiances however you wish.
Should you not be able check them out on TV, scope out NBC's online streaming service and see what medals are actually up for grabs.
Here are the likely Phelps vs. Lochte events you can't miss, their prevailing narrative, and the times they'll be airing -- all hours are Eastern Daylight Time, so make sure you plan accordingly.
More importantly, you're going to need to sound like you know what you're talking about, so we've included a choice quote to blurt out right before the start of the race so you can impress those around you.
200 Individual Medley - August 2, 3:15 p.m.
An event that Phelps once owned wholesale has become one of Lochte's favorites. But the former champ conceded the crown at last year's FINA World Championships in Shanghai, losing his world record when Lochte touched him out with a time of 1:54.00, Phelps coming in .16 seconds behind.
The loss was uncharacteristic for Phelps, who relinquished a lead during the breaststroke leg and never mustered the final burst needed to pull through. It was also among the first world records to be broken in the post-rubber suit era of swimming, after the specialty buoyant suits that were the trademark of the 2008 Olympic games were banned in 2010. Phelps did, however, finish ahead of Lochte during the Olympic trials, though both men were nearly a second off the world record.
If you're at a loss for what to say, try this on for size: "If Phelps is more than half a body length behind at the third turn, Lochte has a good chance of locking this one up."
400 Individual Medley - July 28, 2:30 p.m.
This event has been Phelps' second most reliable event. The world record holder has yet to lost a race -- or his world record of 4:03.84. It may also be among the toughest to beat, as Phelps is miles ahead of his closest competitor. But bear in mind, the record was set while sporting a now-banned suit.
Lochte won the race at the 2011 champs with a time of 4:07.13, and has yet to face Phelps in it head to head with a medal on the line. He squeaked ahead of the world record-holder by .83 seconds at Olympic trials. How far short of the world record the winner finishes will be considered a testament to the banned suits' effectiveness.
If you're sitting there, wondering what the heck is going on and need to impress your friends, just say, "Now we'll see if all that weight training Lochte did will pay dividends for his endurance."