By Julian Linden
LONDON (Reuters) - Swimming's new world order was unveiled in spectacular fashion on the opening day of Olympic competition on Saturday as Ryan Lochte dethroned Michael Phelps and China's Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen provided irrefutable evidence that the sport's sleeping giant has woken up.
Lochte showed why he has surpassed Phelps as the world's best all-round swimmer with a masterful display of raw power and precision as he cruised to victory in the men's 400 meters individual medley final.
Phelps, a shadow of the swimmer won eight gold medals at Beijing four years ago, was unable to offer any real challenge and finished fourth, missing a medal for the first time at the Olympics since he was a 15-year-old at Sydney in 2000.
"I felt fine for the first 200 meters. They just swam a better race than me," said Phelps. "They were better prepared. It was a frustrating race for me. I was lucky to get into the final."
Sun unleashed a devastating late burst to win the men's 400 freestyle final ahead of South Korea's Park Tae-hwan, who only got into the final after winning an appeal that was lodged when he was disqualified for a false start in the morning heats.
Chinese teenager Ye Shiwen also turned on the power to win the women's 400 individual medley final and set the first world record in London's sparkling Aquatic Centre.
The 16-year-old left her rivals dead in the water as she stopped the clock at four minutes 28.43 seconds, wiping more than a second off the world record set by Australia's Stephanie Rice in Beijing four years ago.
Rice finished out of the medals but Australia's women's team were celebrating soon after following a surprise victory in the 4x100 freestyle relay over the highly fancied Dutch and American teams.
Lochte added the Olympic gold medal to the world title he won in Shanghai last year when he sailed to victory in 4:05.18, with Brazil's Thiago Pereira taking second and Japanese teenager Kosuke Hagino third.
Lochte already has three gold medals from his two previous Olympics but is primed for a bigger haul this time with three more individual events and at least one relay still to come.
"I'm ready to rock this Olympics," said the American.
Sun became the first Chinese man to win an Olympic swimming title with an eye-popping last two laps to win gold in 3:40.14.
The 20-year-old is the overwhelming favourite to win the 1500, which he already holds the world record in, and is also targeting the 200, where he will square off with Lochte and Park.
"I believe this gold medal shows that the Chinese people are really good," he said.
Ye became the first woman to break a long-course world record since the ban on polyurethane bodysuits at the end of 2009 as she surged away from America's Elizabeth Beisel, the reigning world champion, over the concluding freestyle leg.
Beisel held on for second while China's Li Xuanxu came third giving China their third medal on the opening night at the pool.
"I didn't think about it too much," said Ye. "The moment I jump in the water my mind goes blank."
The U.S. won medals in all four finals on Saturday with Missy Franklin, the emerging star of the women's team, picking up a bronze in the relay.
The Colorado teenager is chasing seven medals in London, which would be a record for any female swimmer.
The gold went to the Australian quartet of Alicia Coutts, Cate Campbell, Brittany Elmslie and Melanie Schlanger, who won with a combined time of 3:33.15.
"That's the best thing I've ever experienced in my whole life and I can't wipe the smile off my face," said Elmslie.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)