Ryan Lochte‘s bid to squeeze out one more Olympics is finished. As confident as we can be that there will never be another Michael Phelps, it’s even less likely that another Lochte will come along.
Lochte, who at 36 is one year older than Phelps, finished seventh in the 200m individual medley at the Olympic Trials in Omaha on Friday night. He was not expected to make the Olympic team, which required a top-two finish. Michael Andrew and Chase Kalisz go to Tokyo.
“I kind of let everyone down,” said Lochte, who received a hug from Phelps on the pool deck. “This ain’t the end of the road. There’s a lot more I want to accomplish in the sport of swimming, whether it’s in the pool or outside the pool making swimming bigger.
“I still want to race, but as far as another Olympic Trials, I don’t know about that. I’ll be 40. That’s pushing it, but we’ll see. I mean, anything can happen. I can take years off and come back and be stronger than ever, who knows.”
In other finals Friday, training partners Annie Lazor and Lilly King went one-two in the women’s 200m breaststroke. Two months ago, Lazor’s father died, and the Olympic 100m breast champ King drove five hours to the visitation. She promised Lazor’s mom that she would do everything possible to get Lazor to Tokyo.
At 26, Lazor, who quit the sport for a year after missing the 2016 Olympics, is the oldest rookie U.S. Olympic female swimmer in the pool in 17 years. More on her story here.
Rio Olympian Abbey Weitzeil and Erika Brown were the top two in the women’s 100m freestyle. Olympic and world champion Simone Manuel failed to advance out of Thursday’s semifinals.
Olympic champ Ryan Murphy and Bryce Mefford, another pair of training partners, went one-two in the men’s 200m backstroke.
Lochte, who a decade ago was among the world’s best in a handful of events, became a 200m IM specialist in the final turbulent years of a 17-year career on swimming’s main stages.
He owns 12 Olympic medals, tied for second in the sport’s history. The prevailing thought for several years is that, had the 28-time medalist Phelps pursued lacrosse instead, Lochte would go down as the greatest swimmer in history.
“I love this sport,” Lochte said. “It’s gotten me to places that people dream about.”
It was 33 years ago that a 3-year-old Lochte was playing on an icy pool deck at Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York, and fell in. His father, a swim coach, rescued him. The story goes that Lochte was laughing, not crying. It became a launching point for Lochte’s what-me-worry relationship with swimming.
The family moved to the Daytona Beach area. Lochte made his first Olympic team after his sophomore year at the University of Florida, finishing second in the Olympic Trials 200m IM to Phelps. The first of many runners-up to the Baltimore Bullet.
But unlike every other international swimmer, Lochte consistently got the better of Phelps for a stretch.
After Lochte earned his first individual Olympic title in 2008 — in the 200m backstroke, not a Phelps event — Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, admitted in 2010 that Lochte had snatched the mantle of world’s best swimmer. Lochte held it through the early days of the 2012 Olympics, and again during Phelps’ first retirement in 2013.
In November 2013, around the time Phelps started training for his comeback, Lochte had a run-in with a teenage fan in Gainesville. She ran at him, he tried to catch her, they both fell over and Lochte hit his knee on a curb, tearing an MCL and spraining the ACL in his left knee.
It was the the most publicized of Lochte’s litany of strange injuries — also a concussion from falling out of a tree while playing manhunt (high school), a hairline fracture in his right foot flying 47 feet after losing control of his scooter (2007) and a torn meniscus break dancing (2009).
Lochte still managed to win a fifth consecutive world title in the 200m IM in 2015. He showed up to the 2016 Olympic Trials with a groin injury and gutted out a second-place finish in the 200m IM and earned a spot on the 4x200m free relay.
Up until then, Lochte was known as a goofball partier, but, largely, a harmless one. Everything changed on that early morning in August 2016 in Rio. Lochte lied about being robbed at gunpoint and was ultimately suspended 10 months, losing all of his sponsors.
He returned in 2017, but in 2018, Lochte was suspended another 14 months for a social media blunder. Lochte posted a photo of him receiving an IV infusion of an illegal amount of a legal substance. While banned, he had a six-week rehab stint for alcohol addiction. He also tore a hamstring overstriding in a weight-room sprint.
“Safe to say Ryan hasn’t always made all the best choices,” said Gregg Troy, Lochte’s coach in Gainesville from 2002-13, then again since 2018, “but he’s learned from those choices.”
Lochte returned from all of that in 2019 to post the fourth-fastest time in the nation in the 200m IM, swimming while 30 pounds overweight. He was a contender to make the Olympic team in 2020, but the postponement was a bummer.
Outside of swimming, Lochte is known for a regrettable reality TV show and getting stage-rushed by critics on “Dancing with the Stars.”
But he’s also a married father of two, whose kids are definitely Lochtes (4-year-old son Caiden paints on the walls of the house; 2-year-old daughter Liv was holding a credit card when he embraced her after Thursday night’s semifinals).
“Swimming is, I guess, my second job now,” Lochte said. “Swimming is just a cherry on top.”
And he’s an empathetic person. Lochte will never forget attending the 1992 Olympic Trials at age 7 and being refused an autograph by an Olympic swimmer in an elevator (Lochte politely refused to name the swimmer, according to Sports Illustrated.)
For years, Lochte has been know to stay for hours signing autographs and taking pictures at domestic meets or clinics. He gives away race medals to kids.
In the late 2000s, Lochte was moved after hearing of a 12-year-old swimmer who drowned in a freak accident. He befriended the swimmer’s younger sister, exchanging texts, phone calls and a happy birthday three years on (also via SI).
Then there’s this story we relayed three years ago:
On March 9, 2018, 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 a 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.
Before Trials, Lochte defined success this week as not only making the Olympic team, but earning a medal in Tokyo.
“This is probably my most important swim meet that I’ve ever had,” he said Friday. “So falling short and feeling like I let everyone down was one of the hardest things.”
Finally on Friday, younger swimmers, including backstroke Ryan Murphy and Andrew, spoke about Lochte’s impact on their careers.
“It means a lot,” Lochte said, getting emotional. “Probably more than winning a gold medal.”
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