OMAHA — Swimmer Ryan Lochte, a 12-time Olympic medalist, is finished with his rock-star persona. Instead, he is focused on making his way to his fifth Olympics.
This week Lochte is entered in six events at the Olympic Swim Trials in Omaha hoping to qualify for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. Lochte’s accomplishments include six Gold, three Silver and three Bronze Olympic medals. He is also the current world record holder in the 200 individual medley.
Even with his impressive resume it will be a battle for the seasoned swimmer during the final wave of competitions scheduled from June 13-20. In the 200 free he is seeded No. 53 out of 61 swimmers, and he is the oldest swimmer in the 400 IM—by nine years. If Lochte, 36, qualifies he will be the oldest male swimmer ever to represent the United States at the Olympics. When asked about his age at a press conference Friday, Lochte just smiled and said, "I get tired a lot easier."
"For me personally, I feel like success would be making the Olympic team and not just making the Olympic team, but going to Tokyo and getting another medal," he said. "To me, that would be success."
As much as Lochte is known for swimming, his antics outside of the pool have been well documented. Lochte was banned from competitive swimming for 10 months after he vandalized a gas station with three other American swimmers during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Two years later he was suspended for 14-months by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for getting an unauthorized intravenous infusion.
When asked about those events outside of the pool, Lochte said that he was “going down a dark hole” and now is on a much better path.
"There's more to life than just being a rock star, having that rock star persona," he said. "So, I mean, I had a wake-up call and now I'm the happiest person ever.
"I try not to dwell on the past and I think that's one of the reasons why I'm here standing in front of you guys, because no matter in life how many times you get knocked down, it's how you get up that defines you as a person."
The one thing the 6’2”, 195-pound athlete would go back and change is his diet. Lochte’s advice to young athletes is to pay attention to what is on their plates. Once he started eating healthier he felt better in the pool and on dry land.
The Olympic Swim Trials were originally supposed to happen in 2020, but were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lochte said he used the extra 12 months to increase his chances of beating the competition and making better habits in the swimming pool.
“I think I'm going to swim better than I did last year,” he said. “I'm in a better state mentally and physically.”
This will be the first time Lochte hasn’t competed against Michael Phelps at the Olympic Swim Trials. Michael Phelps first competed at the Swim Trials in 1996, and he qualified for his first Olympics in 2000 at the age of 15. Phelps collected 28 Olympic medals during his career, 23 of which were gold. During the Beijing Games, Phelps set seven world records, eight American records and eight Olympic records. Phelps officially retired from competitive swimming in 2016.
Lochte said Phelps motivated him because they were often swimming against each other. Lochte’s Olympic medals total ranks second all-time to Phelps among American male swimmers
"I am definitely going to miss my spade partner," he said. "It's a love/hate thing with me and him just when he was swimming, just because we swam basically the same events almost."
If Lochte qualifies for the 2021 Olympic Team he will match Phelps and Dara Torres for the most qualifications of any American swimmer.
Although Phelps is no longer competing, Lochte is grateful for Phelps bringing national attention to the sport.
“But Phelps, with swimming, I mean, he changed the sport. He made the sport bigger than what it was,” Lochte said.
Now Lochte said he and swimmers of all ages are working hard to keep up what Phelps started.
"We want to put swimming in everyone's living room," he said. "Like you, when you turn on the TV, you see NBA. Why can't we have that for swimming?"
No matter what happens in the pool this week, Lochte said that he will go home feeling like he is winning at life. Part of his bliss is having a wife and two children who arrived in Omaha on Sunday and will be cheering him on from the stands in custom “Lochte jackets” that they had made.
"Outside of the pool, I am successful. I mean, I got great sponsors," he said. "I have a family now, which is the best thing ever. So, to me, I'm winning. Like I said, swimming is just a cherry on top."