OMAHA, United States (AFP) — Ryan Lochte’s bid to make a fifth Olympic team ended in an emotional 200m medley defeat at the US trials on Friday, almost certainly bringing down the curtain on the 36-year-old’s Games career.
“I still want to race,” Lochte said. “As far as another Olympic trials, I don’t know about that. I’ll be 40 — that would be pushing it.”
Lochte has won 12 medals, six of them gold, in four prior Olympics, making him the second-most decorated male swimmer in Olympic history after longtime teammate and rival Michael Phelps.
He won silver in the 200m medley in London in 2012 and was fifth in 2016 in Rio, where his Games ended amid scandal after a drunken late-night episode after which he was found to have fabricated a story about a robbery.
Sponsors fled and Lochte was suspended for 10 months, a punishment that was followed by a 14-month ban for receiving a banned intravenous infusion of vitamins in May 2018.
It was that year Lochte sought treatment for alcohol abuse, deciding that his life “needed a change.”
“I think this is probably the most important swim meet that I ever had in my career,” Lochte said. “I wanted to prove so much to everyone.
“I just want to make everyone happy, I guess, and prove to everyone I have changed. I’m a different person. My life has definitely changed.”
Lochte, whose 200m medley record of 1:54.00 set at the 2011 World Championships still stands, clocked 1:59.67 on Friday to finish seventh in a race won by 22-year-old Michael Andrew in 1:55.44.
As he climbed out of the pool a dejected Lochte was embraced by Andrew and runner-up Chase Kalisz.
Then there were hugs for Lochte’s wife, Kayla, who was poolside with their 4-year-old son Caiden and 2-year-old daughter Liv.
Phelps made his way down from the stands for another consolatory embrace.
“Very emotional,” Lochte said. “I was kind of taking it all in. I really wanted to be on that Olympic team.”
– Good heart –
Sometimes a thorn in the side of authority, the fun-loving Lochte commanded a legion of fans attracted not only by his prowess in the pool but also by his forays into reality television.
“Deep down he really has a good heart,” backstroker Ryan Murphy said. “That’s what I really appreciate about Lochte, he really does care about people.
“He’s done so much for our sport and we will miss him on this team.”
Andrew was grateful that Lochte, still hurting, found words of encouragement for him after the race.
“I think what was amazing is after the end of the race, being able to embrace with Ryan and for him to tell me he’s passing the torch to me, he’s saying “OK, you’re the guy, go and do this, go and kick some butt.
“It’s a special moment that I will remember forever.”
Lochte said those kinds of connections are what he values most in his career.
“One thing about swimming that I love is you’re a family. Anthony Ervin, Michael Phelps, Cullen Jones, all those guys, they’re like my brothers.
“Being in a generation with them, in that era, means everything.”
Not that Lochte plans to go far from the sport, even when he does hang up his suit for good.
“This is not the last you’re going to see of me,” he said.