By Jennifer Mei
12-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte made his return to competitive swimming at the Phillips 66 U.S. National Championships hosted by Stanford, placing first and winning the 200 individual medley (IM) national title with a 1:57.76. He posted a 1:57.88 in the 200 IM time trial on Wednesday, and Sunday’s victory may lead him to qualify for the U.S. national team at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
It was Lochte’s first competitive swim after a 14-month long ban for receiving an unauthorized intravenous infusion above U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) regulations. In a press conference after Wednesday’s time trials, Lochte discussed his “roller-coaster” life outside the pool and what lies ahead.
Over the past three years, Lochte has faced major setbacks. He was served a 10-month ban from competition following “Lochtegate” at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where Lochte and a few teammates lied that they were robbed at gunpoint after they vandalized a gas station. During his more recent, 14-month ban, Lochte spent 6 weeks in a rehabilitation program for alcohol addiction.
“I’m glad that I went to rehab,” Lochte said. “It helped me out, it helped put things in perspective. I went there because I needed help. I needed to change some things in my life. That’s what I went there for, and I came out a better man.”
Lochte said he no longer cares for alcohol, with “bigger and better things going on in [his] life.” His biggest focus now? His family.
“Since Caiden and my new daughter, Liv, were born, I have a new perspective on life,” Lochte said “I’m definitely not the same person as I was three years ago, even two years ago … I’m just trying to be the best version I can.”
Lochte has taken a step back from swimming, and it’s now a second priority, he said. He has nothing to prove with his return to the pool; it’s not a redemption for the ups and downs of his life in the past three years.
Still, he is looking to reach the 2020 Olympics for his family and to teach his children that “if you have a dream and a goal and work on it every day, you can achieve anything.”
“I’m having fun swimming again, and I haven’t had fun since the 2012 Olympics … I can honestly say I’m stepping out on that pool deck with a smile on my face, and I owe it all to my kids and my wife,” Lochte said. “They’ve been my backbone throughout this whole journey.”
Nationals marked the beginning of Lochte’s road to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Although he has already qualified for Trials, his quest to reach his fifth Olympic Games will not be easy. He was one of the oldest swimmers in the pool this past weekend, having turned 35 on Saturday. He trains with and swims against swimmers about half his age who are breaking world records left and right.
“The younger generation is fast,” Lochte said in response to a question from The Daily. “It’s incredible to see the younger generation and what they’re capable of. That’s why we have records: they’re meant to be broken. There are going to be a lot more records being broken this next year, and I’m just happy to be a part of it. It’s a challenge for me, and I’m always up for a challenge.”
Lochte won’t be too upset if he doesn’t make the 2020 Olympics. He doesn’t have the time to recover like younger swimmers do; instead, he goes home and finds whatever energy he has to be a dad. But this is part of the perfect life that he’s always envisioned.
“Everything I’ve ever wanted growing up was a beautiful wife and kids,” Lochte said. “And now I have that, and I’m just so happy.”
Lochte could be named to the national team after his performance on Sunday, marking a big step in his comeback — he has not been named to a national team since 2016. Given that Lochte is the world record holder and newly crowned 2019 national champion in the 200 IM, the race offers him his best chance at heading to Tokyo in 2020.
Contact Jennifer Mei at jennifermei95 ‘at’ gmail.com.