Is Ryan Lochte Doing the Right Thing to Grow the Sport?

Commentary by Jeff Commings

PHOENIX, Arizona, September 12. RYAN Lochte continues to cash in on the post-Olympic frenzy he's created for the “Ryan Lochte” brand, announcing last week that he's going to appear on the hit NBC comedy “30 Rock.”

This announcement came while Lochte was working as a “journalist” for E! News during Fashion Week in New York City. Like you, I never expected to put all those words together into an actual sentence during my lifetime, but it's happening. I don't have an issue with Lochte mingling with people like Ralph Lauren and others last week, but I'm still waiting for him to do something swimming-related that doesn't involve a British prince.

Let's list some of the things Lochte's done since he finished racing in London: Filmed “Funny or Die” videos, walked the red carpet at “Expendables 2″ premiere, filmed a cameo on “90210″ and raced Prince Harry at an exclusive party in Las Vegas. Certainly Lochte deserves the opportunities to do all these things, but with Michael Phelps out of the sport, Lochte has become our most famous athlete, and yet I saw nothing on this list that would qualify as “growing the sport.”

Swimming generally gets pushed aside this time of year, especially when college and professional football seasons start and the baseball World Series approaches. It's unavoidable. The country would rather see grown men beat each other up in an attempt to move a leather ball down a 100-yard field while consuming as much alcohol, pizza and potato chips as possible. I'd rather watch grown men (and women) race up and down the pool in front of adoring spectators, some of whom might be consuming alcohol, pizza and potato chips. These past few weeks would have been a great opportunity for many of the athletes we saw in London to continue to grow the sport, advance their marketability and make a few bucks along the way.

That's what happened last weekend at the RCP Tiburon Sprint Classic, where eight men and six women gathered in Tod and Cathy Spieker's backyard for the chance to win some much-needed cash. As I watched Josh Schneider collect $10,000 at the end of the event, I wondered why Lochte and Nathan Adrian chose to be in New York City instead of Atherton, California. I'm sure Schneider is glad they didn't show up, but what a great opportunity it would have been for the crowd — and the sport — to see these guys going head to head in a 50 freestyle for cash.

Hmmm…OK, if I had the choice, I admit I might have chosen New York City. Lochte probably got paid more than $10,000 for his “journalism” work for E! News, and Adrian probably wanted a few days rubbing elbows with celebrities that didn't smell of chlorine. But maybe the two could have dropped by Asphalt Green Unified Aquatics in Manhattan to inspire the young swimmers there and chat with head coach Rachel Stratton-Mills about putting on something similar to the RCP Tiburon Sprint Classic at her pool. If I had nothing to do for a day (and I was fast enough), I would jump at the chance to fly to New York, see the sights and swim a couple of 50s. And you have about 8 million potential fans within a few square miles.

Bob Placak, the founder of the RCP Tiburon Sprint Classic and the Tiburon Mile, told me he'd love to help others around the country get more “boutique” swimming events held. Imagine if we had one of these every week after the Olympics. The plan is simple: Get eight men and eight women to confirm their attendance, sell tickets at $10 apiece, fill the building and watch a few new people find interest in the sport.

While Lochte is keeping his name in the mainstream media with recent TV work, many people aren't going to search for a swim team after seeing him on “30 Rock.” He needs to do something sport-specific in the next few weeks before he gets too immersed in training. That goes for the other pro swimmers in the USA who are taking this well-deserved time off lounging on a beach somewhere. Break time is over. It's time to get to work.

Contact Jeff Commings at jeffc@swimmingworldmagazine.com.

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