In the crowd inside the CenturyLink Center, a young girl wears a white shirt with blue and red stripes running horizontally across the front. An eagle and star are traced in gray along the side. On the back, a large No. 8 gives the apparel a jersey-like feel. Above the number, in clear blue type, a name is printed: Phelps.
Beside her, a boy's hair is hidden underneath an oversized hat with a flat, green bill. The front of the hat is white, with green mesh behind it. On the front, the No. 01 is typed in green. Above it, a name is scribbled in black: Lochte.
They've chosen their sides.
At the Speedo store inside the convention center's Aqua Zone, a contest has been ongoing for the past week between the two American teammates. Popular support for the stars has certainly shifted since the 2008 Olympics, with Lochte's carefree, rocker attitude and improving results winning many fans over.
Speedo President Jim Gerson says the sales victor is too close to call.
“It's almost like how they are in the pool. It's pretty tight right now. You definitely have a Lochte camp and you also have a Phelps camp,” Gerson said. “It's interesting because they're coming in and you watch the personalities of everyone and the enthusiasm they have towards this, so it's been really good. We've sold a ton of T-shirts for both those guys.”
Speedo sponsors 14 American swimmers, but its three premier faces are Phelps, Lochte and Natalie Coughlin. When you enter the Speedo store, you are both welcomed and taken aback by the faces of the three stars, printed on large posters donning Speedo gear.
They don't smile at you; instead, they focus. They look ready to have the swim of their life — and help Speedo sell T-shirts and swimsuits in the process.
Each swimmer has a general theme, represented by the colors of their apparel and the general attitude of each athlete. Phelps' is “Americana” — his gear is red, white and blue, fitting for a man who quickly became the face of the country's Olympians in 2008.
Lochte has adopted the “Rocker” theme — a look represented by blacks and greens, as well as an added emphasis on those flashy hats.
“It's inspired by our athletes,” Gerson said. “They give us ideas and so forth. We actually have design staff that comes together and shows things to the athletes, and they'll put their input into it.
“As you see in the different collections, they were definitely involved.”
Gerson, the president of Speedo as well as Calvin Klein Swimwear, has been working the floor inside the Speedo store throughout the Trials. He has restocked shelves, folded T-shirts and ushered shoppers toward fitting rooms.
That's what it takes when your company puts four years of work into one all-important week.
“It's huge. In the States, obviously, this is the mecca,” Gerson said. “There's such intensity on the pool decks, and we want to present our brand in really a unique way.”
The presentation of that brand begins and ends with the faces of Speedo and American swimming — Phelps and Lochte. And fans are more than willing to show their allegiances for the two stars.
It's either red and blue, or black and green.
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