"I don't want to say, 'Clash of the Titans,' " Phelps said, but he did.
"It's probably going to be one of the biggest rivalries ever," Lochte said.
How about a few more superlatives?
"I honestly think we could change the sport," Lochte said. "There is no doubt in my mind that, in the Olympics, this will be the biggest talk - or one of the biggest talks.
"Me against Michael."
The U.S. Olympic swimming trials begin in Omaha, Neb., on Monday. The London Olympics are a month away. There will be other countries, other sports, other medalists.
But swimming dominates the first week of the Olympics, and the prime-time rivalry is set, assuming no calamities at the trials.
You know Phelps. He was America's hero at the Beijing Olympics. Eight events, eight gold medals. No one had done that.
He won eight medals in Athens too - six gold, two bronze. The totals: 14 gold medals, an Olympic record; 16 total medals, two shy of the Olympic record held by Soviet gymnast Larysa Latynina.
Lochte makes a fine foil for Phelps. Lochte has six medals of his own, three of them gold - two in relays and one in an event in which Phelps did not swim. The other three medals: silver when Phelps won gold, two bronzes when Phelps won gold.
Fame and fortune awaited Phelps upon his return from Beijing. Lochte hit the pool, hard. He hit the weight room, harder. He cut out fast food, candy and soda.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm not a health freak," Lochte said. "Every once in a while, I have to splurge and get those potato chips."
In last year's world championships, Lochte won gold in every event he entered, beating Phelps twice in the process.
Said Lochte, "Michael definitely was like, 'You know what? I've got to get ready.' "
Said Phelps, "I tried to get away with faking as much as I could. The results were pretty crappy. . . . Obviously, he has kind of destroyed me over the last couple years at major meets."
In swimming, the Olympics is the meet that matters. Phelps would not say Saturday in which events he plans to compete, but he previously said another try at eight golds is out of the question.
He appeared at ease Saturday, just descended from six weeks of altitude training in Colorado, in advance of what he insists will be his last Olympics. He spoke repeatedly of relaxing and enjoying the experience this time, after what he called "the stressful week we had four years ago of trying to make sure everything was perfect."
If Phelps does not strike gold this summer, well, so be it.
"If somebody says that's a failure, I don't care," he said.
Chris Colwill rallied from third place to win the men's 3-meter springboard in the U.S. Olympic trials Sunday in Federal Way, Wash., while Troy Dumais held off Kristian Ipsen in the final round to finish second and reach his fourth Olympics in the event.
Entering the final round, the three divers were separated by a mere 2.40 points, and all three had their favorite dives for their finale. Colwill scored 99.75, the highest of the competition, on a reverse 31/2 somersaults on his final dive that, because of a higher degree-of-difficulty than the other two, all but clinched the title.