DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Michael Phelps can rest easy. Ryan Lochte is not going to match him with eight golds this week at the short-course world championships.
Lochte's golden bid was derailed when the United States' 400-meter freestyle relay failed to medal on the opening night of the meet Wednesday.
Lochte got off to a good start with a dominant victory in the 200 freestyle, but the U.S. fell behind in the relay after Nathan Adrian's dismal opening leg, leaving Lochte too much time to make up when he dove in for the anchor leg.
Never one to take things too seriously, Lochte wasn't dwelling on the loss.
"You win some and you lose some," he said. "As long as we're having fun out there, I guess that's all that matters."
Adrian, however, was assuming responsibility after placing seventh in the opening leg.
"I had a bad swim," Adrian said. "There's really no reason I shouldn't have been faster. The other guys put together good splits and I didn't."
Meanwhile, China set swimming's first world record of 2010, winning the women's 800 freestyle relay.
While world records fell by the dozens in 2008 and 2009, no individual or relay marks had been set this year in long- or short-course pools after rubberized bodysuits were outlawed.
Chen Qian, Tang Yi, Liu Jjing and Zhu Qianwei finished in 7 minutes, 35.94 seconds, lowering by nearly 3 seconds the mark Netherlands set two years ago.
Still, the biggest surprise was in the men's relay.
The French team of Alain Bernard, Frederick Bousquet, Fabien Gilot and Yannick Agnel won in 3:04.78, with Russia a slim 0.04 behind and Cesar Cielo-led Brazil third, 0.96 back.
"A long time we are waiting for this victory, but you know when you believe in something you work hard for that and today it will pay," Bernard said. "It's maybe the first time for us on top of the international podium, but it's not the last -- that's for sure."
Normally the dominant force in relays, the U.S. team of Adrian, Garrett Weber-Gale, Richard Berens and Lochte placed fourth, a distant 1.32 behind.
The U.S. men hadn't finished off the podium since they were disqualified at the 2007 long-course worlds for a false start in morning heats.
At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Michael Phelps led off and Jason Lezak swam against Bernard in the anchor leg, securing a memorable win for the U.S.
Phelps and Lezak were not here, and it was stunning to see Adrian, who upset Cielo in both the 50 and 100 free at the Pan Pacific championships in August, swim so slowly.
"I'm quite surprised. Actually, I'm almost disappointed," Bousquet said of the Americans' performance. "I wish they could have been in the fight, because it brings the intensity up, but I'm sure they'll be there for Shanghai."
The next long-course worlds are scheduled for Shanghai in July.
The U.S. women -- Katie Hoff, Dagny Knutson, Missy Franklin and Dana Volmer -- also finished fourth in their relay.
In other races, Olympic champion Liu Zige of China led for most of the way, but slowed in the final lap and finished only fifth in the women's 200 butterfly, which was won by Mireia Belmonte Garcia of Spain in 2:03.59.
Belmonte Garcia was back in the water later to win the grueling 400 individual medley in a championship record 4:24.21.
Lochte didn't celebrate after winning the 200 free in a meet record 1:41.08, nearly a full body-length ahead of his closest competitor, Danila Izotov of Russia.
"I wasn't really happy with the time," Lochte said. "I thought I could go a lot faster. But it was the first race and usually the first races are always my worst, so we'll take it."
No matter how this meet turns out, Lochte has clearly eclipsed Phelps as the world's top all-around swimmer. He beat Phelps in the 200 IM and 200 back at the U.S. championships this summer, then won six golds to Phelps' five at the Pan Pacific Championships in August.
It even seems that Lochte is taking things more seriously than when he memorably ate only McDonald's in Beijing. For instance, he trimmed his long locks for this meet.
"I say new year, new look," he said, also showing off the sparkling, bright green high-top sneakers he wore on the pool deck and the medal stand.
"I designed them myself and teamed up with Speedo and I love them," he said. "They are out of this world and I call them my Martians. I'll definitely wear the green ones for finals but I'll wear other colors for the heats. You'll just have to wait and see what other colors they are."
That opportunity will come Thursday, when Lochte will swim the 400 individual medley and the 800 free relay.
Lochte, like every U.S. athlete here, wore the initials of Fran Crippen on his warmup suit. Crippen was the American open water swimmer who died during a race in the United Arab Emirates two months ago.
"It's definitely a tragedy," Lochte said. "But he's there next to us to cheer us on and it gives us a push knowing he's here with us."