Ryan Lochte boosted by the past for his biggest Olympic challenge ahead

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Ryan Lochte finished fifth in his primary event, three months before the Olympic Trials, but he expressed confidence while at his first swim meet of the year.

That’s because he sees parallels between recent training under coach Gregg Troy at the University of Florida and his memories from the same environment a decade ago, when he supplanted Michael Phelps as the world’s best swimmer.

“The times I’m going in practice, just the yardage, the back-to-back [practices] … I’m seeing it more often. It makes me excited to see what this summer’s going to hold,” Lochte said before placing fifth in the 200m individual medley at a Pro Series stop in San Antonio on Saturday night. “I’m making the finals and being able to be in somewhat of a race with those other guys knowing that I’m dead tired [from training].”

It’s a different takeaway than Lochte’s last meet in November, which he called probably his worst ever.

Michael Andrew, who at 21 is 15 years younger than Lochte, crushed the 200m IM on Saturday. He won in 1:58.05 against a field that included four of the top five Americans since the start of 2019.

For Andrew, the 50m freestyle and 100m breaststroke have been his two primary events, but the 200m IM is now part of his focus, too.

“For years, I’ve kind of neglected pursuing that event because it’s such a tall net in terms of endurance for what I’ve always been as that sprinter,” said Andrew, the second-fastest American in the 200m IM since the start of 2019, trailing only 2017 World champion Chase Kalisz.

Lochte, the fifth-fastest American over the last two years, clocked 2:01.71 on Saturday. His world record from 2011 is 1:54.00. He likely needs to be faster than 1:57 to make the Olympic team at June’s trials, where the top two per individual event are in line to go to Tokyo. The last time he broke 1:57 was at the 2016 Olympic Trials.

“We’re swimming like a foot under water,” Lochte said of the loaded recent training with his group, with the focus on peaking in June. “We don’t have any pop, but we’re racing tough.”

Full San Antonio meet results are here. The next Pro Series stop is April 8-11 in Mission Viejo, California.

Lochte is bidding to make a fifth U.S. Olympic swim team, something only Phelps and Dara Torres have done.

He is trying to become the oldest male swimmer in U.S. Olympic history. And he is trying to do so following suspensions of 10 months in 2016 and 2017 for the Rio Olympic gas station incident and 14 months in 2018 and 2019 for the vitamin infusion photo, plus being 22 pounds overweight when he came back.

Asked Friday to pick out one area he’d like to improve in his swimming, Lochte answered, “Everything.”

“Stick with the program,” he said. “Trust the process.”

Lochte put his trust back in Troy, the man who guided him to his greatest success between 2008 and 2012. Lochte spent time with other coaches after the London Games, including David Marsh and Dave Salo, before returning to Gainesville in fall 2017.

“He’s like my second dad,” Lochte said of Troy, who turned 70 in December. Lochte has said he’s the only swimmer in the group allowed to call Troy by his nickname, “Papi,” to his face. “He got me to where I’m at. And I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.

“[Troy] did say, ‘If you’re coming back, you’re not coming back as a college student, I hope you know that,'” to which Lochte replied, “That’s past me. I’m a family man now.”

Lochte is motivated when thinking of the message he’s sending to his children, 3-year-old Caiden and 1-year-old Liv, in one final Olympic bid.

“I’ve gotten knocked down millions of times,” Lochte said in November 2019. “But, I’m getting up and I’m fighting, and I’m still fighting.”

Lochte said, upon returning from his second suspension, that he conversed with Phelps on balancing training with fatherhood. He asked if Phelps had times when he lacked the drive to swim leading up to Rio.

“He said, ‘Yeah, you have those days, but you’ve just got to think, why are you doing this again?'” Lochte said. “That’s what motivated him.”

Lochte said that Phelps texted him after the 2019 World Championships, which Lochte missed while suspended. The U.S. failed to win the 200m IM for the first time 2001 and took bronze in the 4x200m free relay, which it used to dominate with Phelps and Lochte.

“I hope you’re training really well because we need you. USA needs you,” Lochte said Phelps told him. “I’m like, ‘I’m trying.'”

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