Ryan Lochte spent the day after his 35th birthday reminding everyone that he is still a pretty good swimmer.
In his first meet since serving a 14-month suspension from the sport, Lochte won the 200-meter individual medley Sunday at the U.S. national championships at Stanford. A 12-time Olympic medalist, Lochte won his first national title since 2014 with a time of 1 minute 57.76 seconds, beating runner-up Shaine Casas by more than a second.
The victory puts Lochte a little closer to getting to the Tokyo Olympics next summer, although his time ranks just fourth among American swimmers this year. The swimmers ahead of him — Chase Kalisz, Michael Andrew and Abrahm Devine — did not compete in nationals after swimming at the world championships last week. The top two finishers at next June’s trials will quality for the Olympic team.
“This was a lot easier 10 years ago,” an out-of-breath Lochte told the Olympic Channel, via NBC. “I got a lot of ways to go for 2020.”
Lochte won only that one event at the championships, finishing 37th in the 200 freestyle preliminaries and fourth in the C final of the 100 butterfly. He scratched in the B final of the 100 backstroke.
Although he admitted that his “time wasn’t that good,” he noted that he hadn’t been training much (“maybe” four times a week) since the birth of his second child, daughter Liv, seven weeks ago.
"[I]t’s a good starting point,” he said. “I’m just kicking the rust off.”
In July 2018, Lochte was suspended by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for receiving an intravenous infusion, a method that breaks anti-doping rules. He was not using a banned substance, but rules stipulate athletes cannot receive an IV unless it is related to hospitalization or an exemption has been granted. The violation was revealed by Lochte himself, when he posted a photo on social media of himself getting the IV on May 24. The suspension, retroactive to that date, came just two days before the 2018 national championships, in which he was entered in four events.
“It’s devastating to my family about this because I definitely made myself a better person after Rio, and I was back in training,” Lochte said when the suspension was announced (via NBC). “I was feeling good. I was swimming fast. My son being born. Everything was happening. Everything was perfect, and then this happened. And it’s devastating.
“As soon as you get to a certain point or level, in any kind of sport career, you’re always going to have an eye on you. I think I’ve learned it the hard way. Definitely. Especially since Rio. And now this.”
Lochte said the B vitamin complex he had taken was widely available.
“It’s a hard sanction because I didn’t take anything illegal, but a rule is a rule,” he said. “I wasn’t too clear on the rules, but now I am. And I know there’s other athletes that don’t know this rule. I want to help them and make sure that other athletes don’t make the same mistake I did.”
Lochte, who also used the recent suspension to go to rehab for alcohol addiction, claimed that he is not the same guy who stole headlines at the Rio Olympics for all the wrong reasons, with changes that go beyond the decision to ditch his bleached-blonde hairstyle. He had previously been banned for 10 months for making a false claim about a gas station robbery during the 2016 Games.
“It’s pretty obvious now, I’m 100 percent family,” he told NBC over the weekend. “That party-boy image that I used to have, I know it kind of messed me up, and it stuck with me, but that’s not me. I could care less about that lifestyle. My celebrations are picking up my son and my daughter and playing with them.”
The Rio debacle cost Lochte dearly, with sponsors such as Speedo and Ralph Lauren dropping him. Alex Rodriguez, who knows a thing or two about bouncing back from scandal, recently mentored Lochte on his CNBC show, “Back in the Game,” and a fitness company Rodriguez has invested in pays Lochte $15,000 a month to create content, according to Swimswam.com. A-Rod called out Lochte for his Rio apology, calling it “pathetic. It was awful. Look it up. Half-a--ed, poorly written Instagram post.”
Working with A-Rod has made a difference, and not just because Rodriguez told him to never again refer to himself in the third person.
“Being with him, learning, having him help me out,” Lochte said, “it’s amazing what he’s been able to do.”
A look back at Lochte’s time in Rio: