BARCELONA, Spain — Wearing fluorescent orange sneakers, Ryan Lochte eased out of his seat and moved gingerly toward the exit of the Palau Sant Jordi.
It was the first time he was slow all night.
“My whole entire body is hurting,” Lochte moaned. “There’s no other way to put it — I’m sore.”
On a night when Missy Franklin finally lost, Lochte turned in an epic performance at the world championships Friday. He swam three races in less than two hours, coming away with two gold medals and the top time in an event he’s competing in for the first time at a major international meet.
Certainly, this grueling triple was worthy of a “Jeah!” — Lochte’s silly catchphrase that echoed through the arena every time he dove in the water.
“Unbelievable,” said no less an authority than Bob Bowman, Michael Phelps’ former coach. “An incredible night of swimming.”
No one could find any record of someone competing in three races in the same session at either the worlds or the Olympics. Phelps, for all his accomplishments, never did it at one of the major international meets.
Bowman was asked where Lochte’s performance ranked in swimming history. He immediately thought of the night in this same arena, a decade ago, when Phelps broke world records in different events on the same night.
“It’s up there with stuff like that,” Bowman said.
Lochte won the 200-meter backstroke, posted the fastest time in the semifinals of the 100 butterfly, and put the Americans ahead to stay with a strong leg in the 800 freestyle relay. Not bad for a guy who took a long break after the London Olympics and slacked off on his training while filming a reality television show, “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?”
Apparently, there’s nothing Lochte can’t do, or at least isn’t willing to try, when he dons a swimsuit.
“I just love swimming,” he said.
Lochte finished his big night in the relay, taking over with the Americans trailing both Russia and France after Conor Dwyer’s opening leg. Lochte took care of that, turning in the second-fastest 200 (1:44.98) of anyone in the field. Only Sun Yang of China, one of the world’s greatest freestylers, went faster — and he hadn’t already competed in two races.
“When you get together for a relay, you don’t care about the pain,” Lochte said.
Franklin also had a busy night, but the first race didn’t go as she hoped. The 18-year-old American finished fourth in the 100 free behind gold medalist Cate Campbell of Australia, ending a run of four straight victories in Barcelona.
“I’m a little bummed,” Franklin said.
She quickly shook off the defeat, however, coming back about 25 minutes later to easily post the top qualifying time in the semifinals of the 200 back, her favorite event. She’ll be a heavy favorite in that race Saturday night — she’s the Olympic champion and world-record holder — which leaves her still on course to at least match Tracy Caulkins of the U.S. and Libby Trickett of Australia as the only women to win five events at worlds.
Caulkins won her five at the 1978 meet in Berlin, while Trickett did it in her home championships at Melbourne in 2007.
Franklin will have one more event after the backstroke — Sunday’s 400 medley relay — so she’s got a shot at joining Phelps and Mark Spitz as the only swimmers to win as many as six golds at either the worlds or Olympics.
Lochte got off to a slow start in Barcelona, looking sluggish while settling for silver as part of the 400 free relay and even worse in his first individual event — a fourth-place finish in the 200 free. But any thought he was in for a disappointing championships ended with a victory in the 200 individual medley on Thursday.
Twenty-four hours later, he had two more golds — and a performance for the ages.
Lochte pushed the early pace in the backstroke, leading at the first flip, and had enough to hold off his challengers. His winning time was 1 minute, 53.79 seconds — 0.45 ahead of Poland’s Radoslaw Kawecki. Reigning Olympic champion Tyler Clary of the U.S., who edged Lochte for the gold in London, settled for bronze this time.
“The 200 back is probably one of the hardest events on your legs and your body in general,” Lochte said. “With the little training I’ve done this year, it’s going to set me up pretty good for 2016.”
With that, he hustled off the practice pool, located under a tent outside the arena, to get ready for the semifinals of the 100 fly.
This is a new event on his program, and he didn’t have a lot of expectations.
But Lochte, swimming in an outside lane after only the 13th-fastest time in the preliminaries, popped off a time of 51.48 — a personal best — to claim the top seed for the final. Chad le Clos of South Africa, who already won the 200 fly, was next at 51.52.
“I don’t know where that came from,” Lochte said.
Finally, in the relay, he joined with Dwyer, Charlie Houchin and Ricky Berens to give the Americans their fifth straight world title in the 4x200 free. Berens touched in 7:01.72, while Russia took the silver and China — with Sun swimming 1:43.16 on the anchor leg — rallied for the bronze.
In the women’s 100 free, Campbell pushed the pace from right the start, making the flip more than a half-second under world-record pace. That gave her a big enough lead to hold on for a time of 52.34, a half-body length in front of silver medalist Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden. Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands edged Franklin for the bronze by 0.05.
“I don’t think it really sunk in until I got out of the pool and I heard all the Aussies in the crowd chanting,” Campbell said. “In the water I was just like, ‘Why are all these people hugging me? What’s going on?”’
Yuliya Efimova of Russia pulled off an upset in the women’s 200 breaststroke, beating Rikke Pedersen one night after the Danish swimmer set a world record in the semifinals. Efimova got to the wall just ahead of Pedersen, winning in 2:19.41. Pederson will leave Barcelona with her name in the record book but only a silver medal around her neck, touching in 2:20.08 — nearly a second slower than her semis time of 2:19.11. Micah Lawrence of the U.S. grabbed the bronze.
Daniel Gyurta of Hungary won his third straight world title in the 200 breaststroke, finishing more than a second ahead of everyone else in 2:07.23. Marco Koch of Germany picked up the silver, and Matti Mattsson of Finland took the bronze.
Florent Manaudou of France went fastest in the semifinals of the chaotic 50 freestyle — a mad dash from end of the pool to the other. His time of 21.37 was just ahead of American Anthony Ervin (21.42). Nathan Adrian of the U.S. and Brazil’s Cesar Cielo tied for third at 21.60.
The final is Saturday.
Lochte will be back, too, going for another gold in the 100 fly. It’s also his 29th birthday.
“Hopefully,” he said, “I will get a little birthday present.”
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