OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Ryan Lochte knew there would be obstacles on his way to qualifying for his fourth Olympics. He just wasn’t expecting one while trying to get to the U.S. swimming trials.
Lochte’s plane from Charlotte, North Carolina, was diverted to Kansas City, Missouri, because of an oxygen issue, leaving him and his Swim MAC teammates short of their final destination of Omaha. The plane flew at 10,000 feet until it landed safely.
Then the group found a YMCA pool in which to train, surprising the lifeguards and others who had no idea they were being invaded by Olympic-caliber talent.
“One of the lap swimmers said, ‘Gosh, they’re moving through the water awfully fast,'” Lochte’s coach David Marsh said, “and I was like, ‘Yeah, they’re pretty good.”
The group was supposed to take a bus to Omaha, but Marsh realized that would take too long, so they rented two vehicles to make the trip in three hours. Instead of arriving by mid-afternoon on Thursday, they didn’t get to town until midnight.
“I was in first class, true, but still, it was a long travel day,” Lochte said Friday. “David was always saying to us throughout the year, prepare yourself for the worst, and that’s just one thing that we were able to overcome.”
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Lochte’s next challenge comes Sunday, the opening day of the trials when he competes in the 400-meter individual medley. At 31, he’s the oldest of the event’s 100 qualifiers and comes in with the fourth-fastest time.
“When I was younger I was able to recover a lot quicker,” he said. “I’m definitely going to have to do a lot more recovery after the race than I usually do, just so I can have those great races the next days.”
He won gold in the 400 IM four years ago in London. Only the top two finishers at trials make the U.S. team.
“I enjoy it because you can’t be great in one stroke, you have to be good in everything, and it’s a challenge,” Lochte said. “There’s a lot of young guys up and coming and that definitely will be a good battle.”
Lochte’s main competition in the 400 IM will be Tyler Clary, who just missed qualifying by finishing third behind Michael Phelps and Lochte four years ago. Clary owns the leading qualifying time for these trials.
“My biggest opponent will be myself, just because you have to have a certain mindset when you get up on those blocks,” Lochte said. “If my mindset is right, I’m definitely going to do really well. In the U.S. alone, we have had four or five guys that go under 4:13, so it’s definitely going to be a close race.”
Phelps has dropped the 400 IM from the program for his fifth and final Olympics. In London, he struggled to a fourth-place finish in the event in which he holds the world record.
Lochte toyed with following suit, never confirming until Friday that he would indeed swim the grueling event, even though it costs him precious recovery time for his shorter races later in the eight-day trials.
“I could, but then it wouldn’t be fun,” he said, smiling. “For me, fun is a challenge.”
MORE: U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials men’s event-by-event preview