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By guest writer Julia Wilkinson-Minks (2008 & 2012 Canadian Olympian)
BARCELONA, Spain, August 2. RYAN Lochte catches a lot of flack. For taking time out of training to film a reality television show. For having so many different types of shoes at World Championships, he probably needed an entire suitcase exclusively for footwear. For, in the past, wearing grills up to the podium.
Tonight, however, he silenced his critics. He acts like a celebrity because that is what he is: a bona fide superstar.
One day shy of turning 29 years old, Ryan Lochte won two gold medals and earned the top seed in the final of the 100 butterfly, an event that has been essentially an afterthought for him until this year. I mention his age because that makes his 200 backstroke-100 butterfly-200 freestyle triple that much more impressive. Not to take anything away from Missy Franklin’s past back-to-back success, but doubling up only gets harder as an athlete gets older.
There is a reason why Natalie Coughlin swims less events at 30 than she did at 20. There is a reason why Aya Terakawa has transformed herself from a 200 backstroker to a sprint backstroke specialist: necessity. Career longevity and 200 meters-plus races do not seem to go hand-in-hand; aging and swimming multiple events even less so.
But the almost 29-year old Ryan Lochte did not just complete back-to-back events. He swam three races in a session that took less than two and a half hours. This is a daunting task, not just physically, but mentally as well.
I can’t fathom even attempting what Lochte succeeded at tonight. On the international stage, the most I ever did was two races in a session: a dreadful back-to-back 100 backstroke and 200 IM in Shanghai, and the occasional individual race-relay mash-up. On a smaller scale, I have swum three races in a single finals session at NCAAs: sandwiching an individual event in between two relays. The last time I did that, I was 22 years old, and it HURT. I shudder to imagine the floods of lactic acid that would surely ensue if I had stuck around until 29.
Beyond the obvious observation that swimming three events–scratch that, winning three events–in one session at World Championships would be physically exhausting, the preparation alone is daunting.
Because his time in between the events would be mostly reserved for swimming down and flushing out the lactic acid, he probably did not spend his entire first warm-up focusing on the 200 backstroke. With three quite different events on his plate, he may have been forced to stretch his attention thin during warm-up, adding some butterfly drills and freestyle pace on top of his preparation for the 200 backstroke. Or, maybe he simply prepared for the 200 backstroke and rode the gold medal success throughout the rest of the competition, but I doubt it.
Psychologically, knowing you have three events ahead of you can be very distracting. It’s hard to enlist the “last one fast one” mentality when the race is not your last, nor your second-to-last for that matter.
What must have been going through Lochte’s head when he sat in the ready room before the 100 butterfly? That it was only going to get worse? Although that would be an easy thought to think, to succeed across multiple events, it is imperative that a swimmer put up their blinders to both the past and the future.
Of course, even though a swimmer can try to think that each of the evening’s swims are independent of one another, both the brain and the body prevent that from being the case. There is no possible way Lochte felt as good before the 100 fly as he did when he was fresh before the 200 backstroke.
That being said, had he not won the 200 backstroke, this could have changed the outcome of his races because of the psychological effects a win can have on the swimmer. While the first win may have uplifted him for his next race, a loss probably would have exacerbated his exhaustion. Nothing keeps a swimmer going like a winning streak.
Multiple columnists commenting on Ryan Lochte’s triple threat may seem superfluous, but considering what a feat his accomplishment was, it deserves everyone’s attention. Once you look past the ostentatious footwear and reality television career, the root of Lochte’s celebrity status is clear: it’s his incredible performances in the pool. He may not have won eight Olympic gold medals in a single games, but he makes history in his own way. The Lochte Way.
Julia Wilkinson-Minks is a two-time Olympian for Canada and was a finalist in the 200-meter IM at the 2008 Beijing Games. In 2010, she became Texas A&M’s first ever NCAA champion in swimming when she won the 100-yard freestyle. She graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Speech Communication. Julia retired from competitive swimming following the London Olympic Games and now lives in Texas with her husband Shane.
Follow her on twitter @juliah2o