Guest commentary by Pamela Roberts
ORLANDO, Florida, February 15. So it did happen. Ryan Lochte is back. And what a show it was. Fans of the swimmer had to wait longer than expected for Lochte’s return. The man himself had to take an unwanted snow day that had him trapped in Charlotte because of a snowstorm and had to miss the entire first day and prelims on day two which meant he couldn’t compete in finals either.
Lochte had announced via his Instagram account that he was going to swim nine races over the weekend, a crazy endeavor for sure (aka normal for Lochte-standards), with four of those nine races set for the Saturday which now was his only day of competition.
Stating that he was “at 80%” after his knee injury, Lochte then shortened his race load by scratching the prelims of the 200m IM, eliminating himself from one of his best events pre-injury. But just shortly after, he got into the pool for the prelims of the 200m backstroke and showed in an astonishing way that fans have no reason to worry. He finished the race in 2:00.61 in his heat, a time that would later make him top seed for finals and two seconds faster than second-best Tyler Clary.
In his second race of the morning, the penultimate heat of the 100m freestyle prelims, he was racing none other than Brazilian superstar Cesar Cielo, who did end up out-touching him with a time of 50.35, but Lochte’s time of 50.54 put him at fifth going into finals.
During finals, Ryan then stepped up his game. He battled Arkady Vyatchanin almost all the way through the 200m backstroke and only had to give in during the final 25 meters and ultimately finished in 1:58.12 (Vyatchanin posted a winning time of 1:56.95) which is still a monster of a time considering. The final of the men’s 100m freestyle was another tough challenge and Lochte finished the race seventh with a time of 51.54, admitting afterwards that the injured knee did hurt before limping away.
Overall, I think it was a successful comeback. Obviously the number of events was slimmed down and of course he can’t just come out of a months-long injury and beat people who are way ahead in their training at this point. It wasn’t about winning. It was testing the waters, it was about seeing what had already been accomplished and finding out what and how much still has to be done.
In addition, I’d like to say that the Ryan Lochte I have seen today may have been the best in-season Ryan Lochte I have seen in a few years. Just for comparison’s sake, let me drag up some numbers. Last year at the Orlando Grand Prix, a year ago almost to the day, in the 200m backstroke, Lochte finished the prelims with a time of 2:02.84 and then ended on the fifth place in the A Final with a 2:01.32. I can’t drag up times of the 100m freestyle from last year, because Ryan wasn’t even swimming it in Orlando.
Back in February 2013, Ryan was in the middle of filming his reality show. So it wasn’t an injury, but Lochte himself admitted that while he was filming the show his focus was off. So if we compare the blank times, Lochte is better right now than he was at the same time last year and that’s on top of an injury plus the change that comes from moving to a new club and training under a different coach. (For the sake of comparison, today’s winner Arkady Vyatchanin was seventh with a 2:03.88; 2:04.17 in prelims). Do we need to worry? I don’t think so.
Granted, things could have ended in an entirely different (and not essentially good) way this year had Ryan not be trapped in a snowstorm but I think the game of ‘what if’ is a battle long lost when it comes to Ryan Lochte, because he simply doesn’t do ‘what ifs’. He just does and then sees what to take from it.
What we can take from today is that, even at ‘just’ 80% of his strength, Ryan is still able to hold his ground against the best and with the work he will undoubtedly put into his training during the next few months, there is absolutely no reason to wonder whether or not he will be at 100% when he needs to be, in August for Nationals.