By Emmett Berg
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The lure of trying to beat Michael Phelps' record of eight Olympic gold medals is becoming an irresistible goal for Ryan Lochte, who has now surpassed his fellow American as the world's best all-round swimmer.
Lochte has no idea whether he, or anyone else, will ever eclipse Phelps' golden haul from Beijing but that has not stopped him from at least considering the challenge.
"What he (Phelps) did in Beijing was just out of this world, never been done before, it was amazing," Lochte told Reuters in an interview.
"I don't know if people can duplicate what he did or can do even better but I'll tell you this though, I'm trying."
Lochte, who won five gold medals and a bronze at last week's world championships in Shanghai to cement his place as the top swimmer in the world, is now contemplating adding more events to his busy programme for next year's London Olympics.
He still has not decided on exactly how many he will swim, although the numbers swirling around his head are already mind-boggling.
One more would give him the chance to equal Mark Spitz' golden tally from the 1972 Munich Olympics. Two more would present him with the opportunity to emulate Phelps' record eight from Beijing while three more would take him into uncharted waters.
"Right now, I have no idea what events I'm going to be swimming yet," Lochte told Reuters.
"Everyone (wants to know) if I'm going for nine or not.
"I told everyone, I can go for one or I can go for like 20. It doesn't matter.
"The reason why I love swimming is racing, and any chance I get to step on the blocks and race someone, I'm more than happy to do it."
Lochte has already won three Olympic gold medals, one in Athens in 2004 then two more in Beijing in 2008, but his achievements were largely overshadowed by the incredible feats of Phelps.
That was until last week's world titles in China. Not only did Lochte win more golds than Phelps, he also twice beat him in head-to-head finals, in the 200 meters freestyle and 200m individual medley.
Now, he is the one in the spotlight, although Phelps is not ready to give up his mantle and insists he was not at his peak for Shanghai.
Phelps did swim his best ever time for the 200m individual medley but could not catch Lochte, who broke the world record, one of only two that fell since the ban of polyurethane suits that aided buoyancy and improved speed.
Lochte, who has been a friend and rival of Phelps for years, dismissed the notion he was not at his best for the world championship but expects him to be even better at London.
"There is no doubt in my mind that he's definitely going to be ready and I mean he's going to put everything he has into every race," Lochte said.
Lochte said he was still uncomfortable with the new tag so had erased it from his mind to focus on the future.
"I know everyone says I'm the best swimmer in the world now but that meet's over," he said.
"I knocked myself down, like I go back down to the bottom, so now I have a whole year to work my way back up to the top again and I approach every year like that."
(Editing by Julian Linden)