Ryan Lochte Returns With New Love

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick/U.S. Masters Swimming

By David Rieder.

Ryan Lochte has done more than just about anyone else in the sport of swimming. He has made four U.S. Olympic teams and won 12 Olympic medals. He has won 18 World titles, and he’s one of only two human beings to win four straight World titles in one event—the 200 IM, in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015.

But the Rio Olympics did not go as planned, in the pool or out of it. Before his well-publicized gas station incident on the morning after the swimming events concluded, Lochte won a gold medal as part of the U.S. men’s 800 free relay team but was fifth in the 200 IM, the same event in which he won the four World titles, the same event in which he still holds the world record.

When Lochte was suspended from competition for 10 months, few would have been surprised if he decided to walk away. If he had, his legacy as one of the top ten male swimmers of all-time—arguably top-five—would have been secure.

But Lochte came back. He began training with Dave Salo’s pro group at USC early in 2017, and he found a chance to compete sooner than expected. Still serving his suspension from USA Swimming, he decided to compete at U.S. Masters Nationals in Riverside, Calif., making his first appearance in a competition pool since Rio.

“I definitely missed it,” Lochte said. “I missed the racing.”

After the Olympics, Lochte knew that he was not done.

“In Rio, I was disappointed,” he said. “I was embarrassed, and I was like, ‘I can’t end on that note.’ But I definitely did want to take a break. I hadn’t taken a break from swimming since I first started at the age of eight. I took six months off, but I found that passion and that love for the sport again, and I’m back.”

Walking around the pool deck at the Riverside Aquatic Complex, Lochte was relaxed, goofy, laid back, taking plenty of time to chat with the 2000 swimmers aged 18 to 95 in his midst, to sign autographs and take photos. It was plenty clear that he wanted to be there.

“The past four years, my love for the sport kind of drifted away,” he said. “Now, with my son about to be born, I have a new passion, and I’m hungry again.”

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Photo Courtesy: Ryan Lochte (Instagram)

Ah, yes, his soon-to-be-born son. Lochte proposed to girlfriend Kayla Rae Reid in October, and the two are expecting their first child sometime later this month.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” Lochte said. “I’ve been wanting to become a dad for six years. Now that it’s finally happening, my dreams are coming true.”

Lochte credits the support from his family and from Reid for helping him regain his love for the sport, but those who know him—including Jon Urbanchek, who coached Lochte on his first Olympic team in 2004 and now helps coach him at USC—realize that the relationship has put Lochte in a much healthier frame of life.

“He’s in a serious relationship finally. He used to have not the long relationships, no emotional attachment” Urbanchek said. “Finally he’s in a relationship with some emotional involvement, a beautiful girlfriend and expecting a child. Not only the girlfriend is here, Kayla, but her mom is here—he’s getting tremendous support.”

So nine months after he last competed in Rio, Lochte returned to the blocks with Reid, almost nine months pregnant, sitting under a nearby tent watching on.

During each of Lochte’s six races, fans crowded behind the blocks to get an up-close glimpse of the Olympian. Unsurprisingly, he was dominant, winning four races and finishing second behind breaststroke specialist Mike Alexandrov in the 100 breast.

That said, none of his times were particularly stunning—he won the 30-34 men’s 100 back in 46.57, about two seconds off his lifetime best time of 44.60, and he finished the 200 IM in 1:44.21, compared to a best time of 1:40.08.

But Urbanchek insisted that at this point, the times don’t mean all that much.

“Ryan showed up at our program at USC about the middle of January, so he’s put in maybe a couple months of not-real-serious training, but he’s trying to get back. He lost about 12 pounds already—he’s got another 20 to go—but we’ve got plenty of time,” Urbanchek said.

“He looks good in the water,” the coach added. “It doesn’t matter how much he weighs—he still looks good.”

Lochte can’t compete for a spot on the U.S. team at the World Championships this summer, so his next competition will come at the U.S. Open just outside New York, taking place Aug. 2-6. That meet, Lochte said, will lead into “my grueling three years of training for 2020.”

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Yes, 2020—Lochte’s ultimate goal. Tokyo would be his fifth Olympic Games, a feat that only Michael Phelps has accomplished among American male swimmers.

But when Phelps swam in his fifth Olympics last year, he had just turned 31. If Lochte were to qualify for Tokyo, he would turn 36 just days after the Olympic swimming competition ended.

For some reference, only two American men that old have ever made an Olympic swim team: Jason Lezak, who was 36 when he was a prelims swimmer on the 400 free relay in 2012; and Anthony Ervin, who memorably won gold in the 50 free in Rio at 35 years old.

But Urbanchek believes that Lochte’s happiness won’t be dependent on how he performs three years from now.

“I don’t think he’s worried about the medals,” Urbanchek said. “I think he just loves to swim. He’s having fun, and whatever will happen will happen. He does have a TYR contract for the next three years, all the way through the next Games, so that’s important. I was happy that TYR gave him a contract, reassure him, ‘Yes, we have faith in you.’”

It’s way too early to make any sweeping predictions about what Lochte might accomplish in the pool over the next three years. At the very least, let him get down to his typical racing weight and see what he can do in long course this summer, when the suspension is over—a date fast approaching and one Lochte eagerly anticipates.

“I’m missing racing all my other U.S. competitors,” he said. “When I do come back, I’m not going to take that for granted. I’m just going to be happy.”

Already one of the greatest swimmers of all-time, Ryan Lochte has the means and the motive to extend his career for another three years. His support system is stronger than ever before, his laid-back, happy-go-luck attitude is back, and the path to redemption after an all-around rough Olympics is clearly in sight.

Lochte may be past his prime, but it would be foolish to dismiss his chances.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

15 comments

  1. Wyatt Fate

    Yeah… new love for gas stations

  2. Kristie Wisniewski

    He is going to have A LOT of tough competition trying to make the 2020 team. Some of the guys in college now are INSANELY fast….some age groupers coming up are insanely fast. But hey all the best!

    • avatar
      Douglas Klein

      Rio is OVER. Dead and buried . Ryan handled the situation correctly. He WAS the victim of a robbery, as defined by law. Besides, the USA Today verified his version of the events. Why don’t people get over it and NOW.

      He has changed and is so focused that he will clean up in the medal department and will win more medals in Tokyo than all of his prior Olympics combined!

  3. avatar
    marklewis

    The only event where he still looks like a top contender is the 200 IM.

    He has some good coaches who want to help him with his comeback.

    • Jim Bowser

      He should have matured 20 years ago.

  4. avatar
    A S

    Brazil is a crime-ridden cesspool!

  5. avatar
    Gary

    I am not surprised Lochte is going to try for the Olympics again, and as a fan I greatly welcome it. Most successsful swimmers look immensely happy to be swimming when they come on to the scene and Lochte was right there. And remains. He reminds me of Natalie Coughlin as a great that always seemed to be in love with the sport and never backed off. Given how hard it must be to perpetually train hard in a grueling sport like swimming, I am in awe of those with the awareness to stick with it while they can

  6. avatar
    Not Fooled

    What an egomaniac. He should leave the sport forever. He’s such a liar and a disgrace.