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Ryan Lochte’s comeback motivated by new life, another swimmer’s goal

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You could say Ryan Lochte‘s comeback to competitive swimming begins in earnest on Friday, when he plans to race the 100m butterfly, 200m freestyle and 400m individual medley at the Atlanta Classic.

It is Lochte’s lone day of action at the three-day meet (he said he has a charity event Saturday), but it is the first of three meets in four weeks for the 33-year-old, 12-time Olympic medalist.

The finale is a Tyr Pro Swim Series stop in Santa Clara, Calif., which will mark Lochte’s first meet on USA Swimming’s domestic tour since the infamy of the Rio Olympics and resulting 10-month suspension. He has competed in smaller meets since last April.

It’s all in preparation for July’s national championships, a meet that will largely determine the U.S. roster for the 2019 World Championships. If Lochte, the most decorated active Olympian in any sport, does not perform well at nationals, he will fail to qualify for worlds for the first time in 16 years (not counting last year’s ban).

“It is very important,” Lochte said by phone Tuesday. “I definitely want to be back on the USA team and competing against the fastest athletes in the world.”

That said, Lochte stressed what his coach, Gregg Troy, told him when Lochte relocated from Southern California to Gainesville, Fla., last fall.

It’s going to be hell, said the 67-year-old whom pupils call Papi. It’s not going to be a quick fix, but trust the process, and you’ll be fine.

Under Troy’s guidance from 2002-2013, Lochte rose from a team joker to the world’s best all-around swimmer (but never shedding that personality). Lochte surprisingly left Troy in 2013. He said he needed a change of environment.

Lochte faded the next four years as he entered his 30s, set back by injuries while trying different training techniques (but not always giving it his all). He bottomed out by making the Rio Olympic team in just one individual event, injured at trials, and finished fifth in Brazil. Then came that gas-station incident. Lochte went about eight months without training during the ban — including a “Dancing with the Stars” stint — and another four last spring and summer without real dedication.

“I trained for a day or two, then take a week off,” he said. “I was in California, just enjoying the California sun. I was like, man, if I really want to do something in the sport, I’ve got to go back to where it started.”

Lochte asked Troy to take him back.

“I know I messed up,” Lochte said. “I know I kind of took, like, six years off since 2012, really. I want to go back, and I really want to give it everything I have for the next couple of years. I have a different purpose for swimming. I’m hungry again. I want to come back and train where I started swimming.

“[Troy] said, yes, we would love to have you. You’re great for the program. You train hard. Just know that I’m not going to let up on you. It’s going to be hard. Now that you’re way older than you were before, your recovery, everything, you’re just going to have to start taking care of your body. No more partying.”

All that sounded fine to Lochte. His motivation had crescendoed June 8, holding son Caiden for the first time. Lochte remembers staring at him.

“I want to show him about dedication, hard work and commitment,” said Lochte, who married Kayla Rae Reid in a small January ceremony but plans a larger September wedding.

There is little time for partying. Lochte recently put up for sale a chunk of his well-known shoe collection of more than 130 pairs. 

“[My wife said] get these out of there,” Lochte said of their new home in Gainesville, in a subdivision with “doctors and professors” off campus. “We don’t need them. You don’t wear them. They just sit in a box.”

Lochte is down to one sponsor — Tyr, a swimwear company.

Even being back with Troy, with a fresh mindset and extra closet space, Lochte faces a tougher climb than he when he moved from Daytona Beach and enrolled at UF in 2002.

Few make national teams at this age. Lochte, who is a year older than Michael Phelps, will turn 36 during the Tokyo Olympics, making him older than all but two previous U.S. Olympic swimmers in individual events (Edgar Adams, 1904, and Dara Torres, 2008).

Then there is his concerning injury history, a mountain of stories that just seem to fit Lochte. A torn MCL and sprained ACL when a female fan ran toward him, he caught her and fell onto a curb. An MCL strain reaching for his cellphone in the backseat of his car. A torn meniscus from breakdancing in his apartment. A concussion from playing manhunt and falling out of a tree. A hairline fracture in his right foot after losing control of his scooter, flying 47 feet and landing in bushes. Lochte came back every time to win at least one individual gold medal at every Olympics and worlds between 2007 and 2015.

The latest setback came in early November. Lochte posted a Snapchat selfie of him frowning and the text, “Up next….. MRI.”

Soon after moving back to Gainesville, Lochte overstrided in a weight-room sprint and completely tore his right hamstring. He wasn’t able to do a full-on dive off starting blocks until a month ago, though he did race at small meets in Florida in March.

“I guess you could say I’m a 33-year-old that feels like he’s turning 100,” Lochte said. “I’m all beat up, especially the practices that we’ve had earlier this week already.”

Lochte has few pieces of Olympic memorabilia in the open at his new house. They’re all in the movie room — four framed flags signed by every member of the U.S. swim team at his Olympics, starting in 2004.

His 12 medals are all in a sock drawer, including one relay gold from Rio. He said that medal conjures no memories of an Olympics you would think he would like to forget. He said he thinks of it the same way he does the other 11 — not very often.

“I can’t always think about the past,” he said, “or else I’ll never get to where I want to be in the future.”

On March 9, Lochte drove 20 minutes from a small South Florida swim meet to Parkland. He had asked Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School swim and water polo coaches if he could meet the boys and girls teams, three weeks after 17 people were killed in a shooting at the school.

Lochte learned about Nicholas Dworet, one of the 14 students killed, who had been a captain of the swim team. Lochte met Dworet’s parents and saw this piece of paper. Dworet had written down a goal to make the 2020 Olympic team for Sweden. Lochte decided then to dedicate his own 2020 Olympic swims to Dworet, should he defy convention and make it to a fifth Games.

Every day, Lochte wakes in Gainesville, which evokes memories of his best swimming and reminders of how much his life has changed since he previously called it home. Lochte makes his way out of his house to swim on campus. He passes a Marjory Stoneman Douglas swim team cap that he positioned to see daily.

Lochte said Troy’s refrain in practice is “trust the process.” Nationals, the meet that determines his fate in 2019, is in 10 weeks. The Olympics are in two years.

“I’m definitely the underdog, been out of the sport for a long time,” he said. “I’m just trying to get back into it.”

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Today I had one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I'm in Plantation, Florida this weekend swimming in a meet. In between events, I took the 20 minute trip to Parkland for an unannounced visit to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. With the help of Assistant Athletic Director and Swim Coach Lauren Rubenstein, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to speak to and meet with the swim and water polo teams. I also had the privilege and honor of meeting the parents of Nicholas Dworet. Nicholas was the Swim Captain at MSD and he tragically lost his life along with 16 others during the senseless high school shooting. Words cannot describe the emotions that I felt while at the school and how grateful I am that I was able to meet with those incredible students. In honor of Nicholas, I committed to his parents that I would swim on his behalf tonight and I did. I proudly wore an MSD cap and won for Nicholas and the entire Parkland community. I also told his parents that I will dedicate my swims in the 2020 Olympics to Nicholas. One of his goals was to swim in the Olympics and now he will with me!! #msdstrong #parkland #marjorystonemandouglas #broward #17 #swimming #swim4nick #neveragain #neverforget #olympics #japan2020 @tyrsport #teamtyr

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Abdulrashid Sadulayev pins Kyle Snyder in Rematch of the Century

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Kyle Snyder called out Abdulrashid Sadulayev in the spring, saying he could beat the Russian more soundly than in the 2017 Match of the Century. That Sadulayev was getting bad advice from those who told him he could beat Snyder if he entered the world championships in the 97kg freestyle division again this year.

Turns out, Sadulayev’s advisers were right.

The Russian Tank pinned Snyder for gold in the Rematch of the Century at wrestling worlds in Budapest on Tuesday. It was over in 70 seconds.

Sadulayev took control with a single-leg shot at 40 seconds, quickly took Snyder down and, after 20 seconds of jostling, used his 215 pounds on top of Snyder to get the American’s shoulders on the mat.

“Ended quickly,” Snyder said. “That stunk. Everybody knows Sadulayev’s a very talented wrestler. He hit me in a good move, and it worked out well for him.”

Snyder, 22, lost on the global championship stage for the first time. In 2015, he became the youngest American to win a world title. In 2016, he became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion. In 2017, he beat Sadulayev in the worlds final 6-5, overcoming a two-point deficit in the final minute in a battle of Olympic gold medalists.

Sadulayev, a 22-year-old from Dagestan, was undefeated at the senior international level from November 2013 up to that 2017 World final. He beat four Rio Olympic 86kg opponents by a combined 28-1.

Sadulayev was more impressive than Snyder in Monday’s early rounds, winning all four matches by the 10-point mercy rule. Snyder’s closest match was his semifinal, a 3-0 win over two-time world medalist Pavlo Oliynyk of Hungary.

“This one doesn’t even really hurt too much right now,” Snyder said.

In other divisions Tuesday, three-time world champion Adeline Gray beat Olympic gold medalist Erica Wiebe of Canada to reach Wednesday’s 76kg final. Gray took 2017 off to recover from injuries after surprisingly missing the medals at her first Olympics in Rio.

Helen Maroulis, a 2015 and 2017 World champion and Rio gold medalist, opens her bid Wednesday to tie Tricia Saunders for the U.S. female record of four combined Olympic and world titles.

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Skate America champ Satoko Miyahara hopes to challenge Russians

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Like many elite figure skating coaches, Mie Hamada trains two of her country’s top athletes: Satoko Miyahara, the four-time and reigning Japanese champion who won her second straight Skate America title on Sunday; and Rika Kihira, the sport’s leading female proponent of the triple axel.

Also in common with many of her colleagues, both of Hamada’s star pupils will compete at the same Grand Prix event: NHK Trophy, held Nov. 9-11 in Hiroshima, Japan.

Unlike most coaches, though, Hamada is clear about which student she wants to win, be it at NHK or this season’s Japanese and world championships.

“I hope the champion is 18, because we want to see a senior lady, not a senior girl, don’t you think?” Hamada said in Everett. “A skater who has a story, not only jumps.”

A skater like Miyahara, who at age 20 is about four years Kihira’s senior.

“Jumps are very important, we know that, but the five (program) components, the artistry, should also count,” Hamada said.

“This is figure skating,” she added, drawing out each syllable for emphasis.I hope judges understand what is important for the sport.”

In Everett, Miyahara had it all: two intricate, elegant programs; gorgeous spins and steps; clean triple jumps – everything except a triple axel. She was the only lady in the event to land a triple lutz, triple toe combination that wasn’t judged under rotated. In fact, none of her jumps received the dreaded “<” – quite a feat, given some of her prior results and the new, more stringent international judging system (IJS) guidelines.

“During the off-season I did some training with very light weights, and it was very new for me,” said the tiny Miyahara, who is listed in her ISU bio as five feet tall. “I was training to make my hamstrings stronger. I had a bad habit of not using the butt and the hamstrings, only to use the front side (of my thighs), and that was not good for big jumps.”

Hamada, weary of the under rotations that have cost Miyahara dearly in the past, is behind the new regimen.

“This year, Satoko has a new strength trainer, and she worked very hard in the summer time, so she gets extra muscle,” Hamada said. “Then in October, we just relaxed and did some easier exercises before (Skate America).”

Miyahara has grown stronger in other ways. At last season’s Skate America, the skater spoke of her dangerous calcium deficiency, for which she was taking supplements. That has improved, but Miyahara remains underweight. Off-ice in Everett, she was never without a small canvas bag packed with snacks, and she apologetically delayed our interview so she could sit down and eat some.

“I like to eat, so it’s not hard for me, but I don’t know why I lose weight when I come to competitions,” Miyahara said. “There is no practice like the usual practice, it’s a lot less, but I think maybe I am using my mind a lot and I need food.”

Hamada speculates the weight problem is due to her skater’s deep work ethic, which includes her studies at Kansai University in Osaka.

“Each day, every day, every moment, she is working hard,” Hamada said. “She has to think about nutrition all of the time. Most skaters her age are trying to lose weight, but she is the opposite. She has to take carbohydrates, she has to take everything.”

Both coach and skater hope the increased strength – plus a revised judging system that includes grades of execution (GOE) for elements ranging from -5 to +5 – help Miyahara challenge the Russian contingent this season, including Olympic champion Alina Zagitova and two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva.

“It is not a very easy thing, but I think I have to improve my programs and jumps, and everything, to get more (GOE) pluses,” Miyahara said. “When I compete with Russians, I always watch them and think, ‘why do they jump like machines?’”

For now, though, Miyahara’s main competition is training partner Kihara. In the few weeks leading up to NHK, they will share the ice in Osaka, where they always skate together in the same sessions.

“Rika learns how to use her edges from Satoko, who has beautiful edges and skates without any noise,” Hamada said. “But Satoko learns how to jump from Rika, so it’s a good situation. They are not enemies, they are good rivals. It is very important to have a good rival.”

Kihira – the first lady to land a triple axel-triple toe loop combination in history, at the Junior Grand Prix Final last season – plans two triple axels in her free skate at NHK, Hamada said. Although she is working on quadruple jumps, including toe loop and salchow, she likely will not attempt them this season.

“(Kihira) is working very hard on the artistry, because I want her to become a very beautiful lady skater with triple axel and quad,” Hamada said. “This year I am not planning to have quads in her programs but I want beautiful edges, beautiful flow.”

And Miyahara, as always, vows to work harder.

“It’s a very good environment for me to practice (with Kihira), because she pushes me and I feel like I have to do more,” she said.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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