Ryan Lochte was used to stopping a step or two below.
Mr. Runner-up is a world champion.
While Phelps remained perfect Down Under, winning his fifth straight gold medal at the world championships, another American turned things upside down Friday - if only for a night.
Ryan Lochte, a laid-back resident of Daytona Beach who sounds as if he just wondered in from the surf, pulled off a stunning upset in the 200-meter backstroke, beating the supposedly invincible Aaron Peirsol with a world-record time.
Then, Lochte joined Phelps and two of their teammates to set another world record in the 800 freestyle relay.
"I'm not going to lie," said Lochte, who just couldn't shake that deer-in-the-headlights expression. "I'm still kind of in shock that it actually did happen."
Lochte turned it on over the final 50 meters against Peirsol, handing the fellow American his first international loss in the 200 since the Sydney Olympics seven years ago.
Peirsol's streak of three straight world titles came to an end when Lochte touched the wall in 1 minute, 54.32 seconds, erasing Peirsol's old mark of 1:54.44.
For Lochte, it was an especially sweet victory. He is one of the world's most versatile swimmers but hardly gets noticed, because his best events happen to be the same ones that are ruled by Peirsol (the 100 and 200 backstroke) and Phelps (the 200 and 400 individual medley).
Not long after, Lochte had another triumph to savor. He teamed with Phelps, Klete Keller and Peter Vanderkaay to swim the 800 free relay in 7:03.24 seconds, lowering the time of 7:04.66 set by Australia at the 2001 world championships in Fukuoka, Japan.
Phelps moved steadily along in his remarkable quest, also coasting through to the finals of the 100 butterfly for a much-anticipated showdown Saturday night against the world-record holder, fellow American Ian Crocker.