Guest commentary by Pam Roberts
I am a fan of Ryan Lochte.
A simple enough statement. Something I've been saying for years now. But also a statement that usually results in questions like, “But why?” For the longest part, it was because in my home country of Germany swimmers like Michael Phelps or the locals Britta Steffen and Paul Biedermann are simply better known for their success in a sport that not many people are interested to begin with, so why would I not list one of them as my favorite swimmer? And the other question, or rather assumption, that was made was that “You like him because he looks good in a brief, don't you?”
Let me just say that no, I am not a fan of Lochte because he looks good in a brief. Sure, he is a good-looking guy, I don't deny that, but that has never been part of why I became a fan in the first place. I really do admire the likes of Michael, Paul and Britta, but I just always preferred Ryan. That's honestly the whole story.
Mostly, I like Ryan Lochte because he is a really good swimmer. I had already been aware of that during the 2004 Athens Olympics, but it wasn't until four years later that I fully caught on (sometimes, I take a while, what can I say?).
When he beat Aaron Peirsol in the 200 back at the 2008 Beijing Games, I suddenly perked up and said, “Wait, that guy, I know him. He's good!” Needless to say, this race ranks high among my all-time favorite races. Also on that list are both the 400 IM and the 200 IM final of the 2012 Trials and the top spot is taken by the 400 IM from the London Olympics. All of those races left me hanging on the edge of my seat during, and nothing but impressed, afterwards. He doesn't even have to win and most times I am still amazed by what he does in the water.
However, what I like more about Ryan is simply that he's different. Random tweets, crazy shoes and funny t-shirts included, he just comes across like a regular guy who just happens to have a slightly different job. He can't and won't be defined just by what he does and that is something I honestly admire. Of course focus is good and necessary, but it is a breeze of fresh air to see someone perform as well as Ryan does while still living life, but without doing it so excessively, he ends up on TMZ once a week. Just like your regular guy.
But the 2012 London Olympics changed everything up quite a bit. Not just because people in my home country suddenly knew who Lochte was as general fans. It is also because I now have to explain why I am a fan of Lochte once more. But not because I think he's better than Phelps or because he looks good in a brief.
We live in a day and age where technology makes it possible to be very vocal about the things we like. This is a good thing. I have friends all over the world that are proof of it being a good thing.
But unfortunately, there is another side to it, as it always is. On that other side, there are a lot of people who are also very vocal about the things they don't like. These days, people love to hate things. And the sad thing is that, once they really love to hate things, they don't stop talking about it and some even resort to belittling others for liking that thing they hate.
Case in point: Ryan Lochte. Ever since the Olympics, hating Lochte became the favorite past time of a lot of people Words like 'dumb' and 'idiot' and phrases like 'well, at least he's pretty' appeared pretty much on a daily basis. I think none of these words or phrases are true, and not just because I am biased because I am a fan of Ryan. I think it simply is a case of people seeing what they want to see.
What people want to see is Ryan being dumb. They want him to be an 'idiot' and a 'player' so that is what they will look for. They put effort into looking for that one interview that portrays him that way, and then shove it at everyone to the point of exhaustion. It's like they're trying to make a point, “See, I told you. He's an idiot.”
I am the last person to deny that interview mishaps happen with Lochte, and I am objective enough to admit that his reality show 'What Would Ryan Lochte Do?' didn't paint him in the best light sometimes. But, I also wish people would open their eyes and realize that a few poor portrayals are not all of what Ryan Lochte is. I don't even know the guy, never met him, but all you need to do is pay a little attention to get a vague idea.
In his show, I have seen that Lochte likes to have fun with his family and friends. From stories I've heard from friends and from being on Twitter during swim meets, I've learned that Ryan signs autographs and poses for photos for ages. And you don't actually have to dig deep into YouTube to find interviews with him where he doesn't come across as 'stupid'.
And that is just the non-swimming part of him. During the past months, I have seen plenty of comments that all came down to the same thing — that Ryan's show did more harm than good in terms of his swimming, that there was no way he was going to be good enough to meet his goals of qualifying for worlds in Barcelona. And those comments became more with every Grand Prix meet.
Again, nearly to a point of exhaustion, even though it isn't a secret that mid-season meets are not where he performs his best. But again, people saw what they wanted to see. (On a personal note, I felt a little smug when I said “I've told you so” a few times after his good swims and victories at the Arena Grand Prix in Santa Clara).
I get that it's probably more entertaining for the masses to see someone make an idiot out of themselves or fall from one scandal into the next. Some people's entire careers seem to be about nothing but that recently. And, I'm not saying that everyone needs to be fan of Ryan Lochte. What I am saying is that books shouldn't be judged by their cover. And that maybe you shouldn't question someone's taste or intelligence just because they like a certain book.