Ryan Steven Lochte has become one of the most recognizable faces of swimming, overtaking the media’s attention leading up to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and hanging on to it with an iron fist. The 11-time Olympic medalist is known for working hard and playing harder. Skilled in long course and short course competition, Lochte holds world records in the 100 (SC), 200 (LC and SC), and 400 (SC) individual medleys, and shares the 4×200-meter free relay record with Ricky Berens, Dave Walters, and Michael Phelps.
Though Lochte was born in upstate New York, his family moved to Gainesville, Fla. when he was 5, so that his father, Steven, could continue to coach swimming. While under the aquatic tutelage of both parents – his mother was also a coach – Lochte goofed off in practice and gravitated toward land sports such as basketball and skateboarding. It wasn’t until the beginning of high school, when he placed second at Junior Olympics rather than first, that Lochte put his game face on. He has played the up-and-coming underdog ever since.
Lochte’s game face has many masks. His most common ensemble is that of a carefree, sun-kissed swimmer’s version of a rockstar, or rap star, as his favorite (now trademarked) phrase, “Jeah,” might suggest. Despite his original dislike of swimming, Lochte is now an Olympic champion, starred briefly in his own reality TV show, and has often been named the flashy, fun companion of his sometimes-friend and most-times rival, Michael Phelps.
But Lochte likes to be defined separately from the butterfly legend. Even without Phelps as a neutral comparison, Lochte has carved a reputation for himself as one of swimming’s most colorful characters. He named his dog, Carter, after the given name of his favorite rap artist, Lil Wayne. He designed his own green, rhinestone-encrusted shoes, owns several grills (precious metal retainers whose sole purpose is to display one’s swag), and used to wear his pink briefs for Friday races at off-season meets in homage to Nicki Minaj’s “Pink Friday.” But, beneath all the play, Lochte’s intentions remain the same: to beat the odds and to be the best. Even wearing briefs, rather than the racing jammers typically worn at meets, proves Lochte’s dedication to pushing himself to the next level.
2004 Olympic Games
In the pool, Lochte was initially heralded as a backstroke and mid-distance freestyle champion, but under the tutelage of University of Florida’s Gregg Troy, he expanded his abilities and was recognized as NCAA Swimmer of the Year twice. During his college career, he qualified for his first Olympics in 2004. At trials, he met and raced against Michael Phelps, a competitor whose shadow Lochte would struggle to escape for many years to come. Lochte qualified second to Phelps, starting a trend that added to Lochte’s underdog mentality.
At the Athens Olympic Games, Lochte achieved his first individual medal in the 200 I.M., once again second to Phelps. He also teamed up with Phelps, Klete Keller, and Peter Vanderkaay to win the 4×200-meter freestyle relay against the formidable Australian team, which included Ian “the Thorpedo” Thorpe. The relay team repeated the feat the following summer at the 2005 World Championships. Meanwhile, still a strong short course swimmer, Lochte competed at Short Course World Championships. In 2007, Lochte finished his senior year at University of Florida, after majoring in sports management, but continued to swim under Troy’s supervision.
2008 Olympic Games
That summer, Lochte broke his first long-course world record in the 200-meter backstroke at World Championships. The next year, he won his first individual Olympic gold medal in the same event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Although he qualified for three individual events in Beijing and medaled in all of them, even in the face of a grueling double, Lochte was frustrated with himself for contracting a stomach bug that hampered his performance. The mishap fueled his urge to fully access his potential.
Over the following four years, Lochte began to accrue a large share of international meet titles. In 2009, he dominated the I.M. events at World Championships, breaking Michael Phelps’ 200 I.M. record. He also anchored the highly anticipated 4×200 free relay, slipping under the world record line by one one-hundredth of a second. The following year, Lochte had several breakthroughs in short course competition, especially during the Short Course World Championships in Dubai, where he earned seven medals, more than any athlete had ever won at SC Worlds. After his efforts were recognized by a number of organizations, Lochte dedicated many of his awards to his friend, Fran Crippen, an open water swimmer who died during a competition in October.
Leading up to the 2012 Olympics, Lochte drew some attention for his unorthodox dry-land workouts lead by trainer Matt DeLancey. He tossed buckets, dragged tires, and jump-roped with chains, while his counterparts criticized him for replacing essential yardage with strength conditioning. However, he raised the bar and shattered his underdog title at the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai, where he took home six medals – five gold and a bronze. In both the 200-meter freestyle and 200 I.M., Lochte blew away Michael Phelps, to whom he had been compared on multiple occasions during and after the Beijing Olympics. While at first he had enjoyed the publicity and the discussion of their friendly rivalry, increasingly, Lochte strove to separate himself from Phelps in the public eye, both in his swimming performance and in his media presentation.
2012 Olympic Games
At 2012 Olympic Trials, Lochte qualified for four individual events and was offered a spot on both freestyle relays. On the first day of competition in London, h
e faced off against Phelps in the dreaded 400 I.M. Lochte left his rival behind. Willing to face the pain, he swam a double with a 30-minute turnaround, earning a bronze medal in the 200 back, behind Tyler Clary and Japan’s Ryosuke Irie, and silver in the 200 I.M
., behind Phelps. With Phelps planning to retire at the end of the meet, the I.M. was their last competitive swim. At the end of the Olympics, Lochte had amassed 11 medals in total. He has 7 individual Olympic medals, the second-highest number of individual medals earned by a male Olympian, topped only by Phelps.
After London, Lochte took a break from the sport to film a reality TV show entitled, What Would Ryan Lochte Do, an accomplishment which he appeared to enjoy, but says he will not repeat. After one season, the show was cancelled due to low ratings. During his multiple television appearances leading up to the show’s airing, he shared his opinion on Phelps’ retirement, stripped down from a suit to a Speedo, and guest-starred in episodes of 30 Rock and 90210. Coach Troy expressed his displeasure in Lochte’s lack of focus and his many press-related absences. Lochte would later admit that during this time period, he considered quitting.
2013 World Championships, move, and injury
During the 2013 World Championships, Lochte only won two medals. What he lacked for in quantity, he made up for in style, swimming a triple in the span of three hours. He started with the 200 back final, which he won, the 100 fly semifinal, in which he seeded first, and the 4×200 free relay, for which he gained a substantial lead, allowing his teammates to secure gold. He was even given the honor of replacing Phelps on the butterfly leg of the 4×100 medley relay, which the US Team won by 1.5 seconds. However, an early start by Kevin Cordes, the breaststroke swimmer, caused disqualification and handed the gold to France.
After championships, Lochte decided to train away from Gainesville – moving north to join his good friend and fellow Olympian, Cullen Jones, at SwimMAC Carolina. In November, an exuberant fan jumped on him, causing an MCL tear and ACL sprain in his left knee, which kept Lochte out of the pool for two months. Again, he considered leaving the sport, and credited his family – and a flood of Phelps comeback rumors in the wake of Phelps’ re-entry to the drug testing pool – for fueling his will.
He returned to the pool at the turn of the year, swimming at the Orlando Grand Prix in February 2014. In April, Lochte faced off against Phelps in the champion’s first final since the London Olympics, winning the 100-fly with the second fastest time in the world of 2014. Despite that victory, Lochte reinjured his knee and was forced to focus his training on the upper body. Nationals in Irvine were rough, but he beat Phelps again, this time in the 200 I.M.
End of 2014 and a new beginning in 2015
At Pan Pacific Championships later that month, Lochte continued to struggle, medaling second in the I.M. and missing the podium in his other individual events. He was not recognized at the 2014 Golden Goggles. However, he returned from a successful Short Course World Championships in Qatar, with bronze medals in the 200-meter freestyle and 4 x 100 free relay, silver in the 200 I.M., 200 backstroke and 4 x 100 medley relay, and gold in the 4 x 200 free relay.
In an already busy 2015, Lochte will compete at the Austin Arena Pro Swim Series in mid-January, and will head down under with a handful of his American teammates for the Aquatic Super Series in Perth. Lochte is currently entered in the 400 I.M. at Austin, perhaps a sign that his injury has truly cleared up, and that he is finally back in the game. With less than 18 months to Olympic Trials, he’s just in time.
2015 World Championships
After Phelps was banned from competing at the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Lochte became a solid favorite in a few events, including his specialty the 200 IM. In one of two individual events, Lochte competed in a stacked field of the 200m IM. After trailing after the breaststroke leg, Lochte tried something new — on his third turn, he completed his underwater kicks off the wall on his back, rathe than his side/front. His tactic, though dangerous and could have led to a disqualification, paid off. Lochte took first as the only swimmer under 1:56, and took his fourth consecutive world title in the event.
After coming off of last year’s knee injury, Lochte chose to take a light load at his first World Championship return. Only choosing to swim in two events and a few relays, he also made it to the championship final of the 200m freestyle, but he failed to make the podium.
2016 U.S Olympic Trials
After a week of ups and downs, Lochte finally qualified for an individual event in his fourth Olympic Games. He did it along side his friend and rival Michael Phelps in the 200 meter medley. For the past three Olympic Trials Lochte finished second behind Phelps. And in what could be their final race on US soil, the same pattern followed. Despite inching closer to Phelps on the backstroke leg and being hot on his heels the whole way, Lochte wasn’t able to take the lead. He finished 0.31 behind Phelps.
He managed to secure his spot on Team USA earlier in the week in the 200 freestyle. He finished fourth to earn a spot on the 800 meter freestyle relay.
On the opening night the defending olympic champion failed to qualify in the 400 meter medley. He revealed that he pulled his groin in the prelims and his strategy was to get out to a strong start and hold on. He managed to gain a three seconds head start at the halfway point, but was unable to hold on and settled for 3rd.
2016 Rio Olympics
Lochte began his Olympic campaign as a member of the 800 meter freestyle relay. Team USA already had a comfortable lead thanks to Conor Dwyer and Townley Haas when Lochte took over for the third leg. Lochte pulled ahead of the rest of the field by three seconds to hand over the reins to Phelps to seal the race. Lochte has been a member of the gold medal winning relay for all four of of his Olympic Games’.
The highly anticipated clash between Phelps and Lochte in the 200 meter medley was not to be in Rio. Phelps held up his end of the bargain, but Lochte dropped of dramatically on the back end to finish 5th.
The American duo along with the Brazilian Thiago Pereira on his home turf set the pool in Rio rocking in the final. In the first half, it looked to be another epic battle with the three switching off the lead. At the halfway mark, Lochte turned first, but only 0.01 ahead of both Phelps and Pereira. But as Lochte started down the breaststroke leg, his race unraveled. He tightened up dramatically but managed to keep third going into the freestyle. He continued to decline on the freestyle leg, only managing 5th in 1:57.47. Pereira also fell apart, finishing 7th while Phelps did what Phelps does best and stormed ahead to take the gold two seconds ahead of the rest of the field.
Trouble in Rio
Lochte found himself along with USA teammates Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger in trouble with Brazilian authorities after it came out they had fabricated the details of a gas station robbery. Lochte originally reported that his taxi was pulled over by an unmarked police car and he and his compatriots were robbed at gun point.
The Rio police confirmed an altercation but alleged it was only after the swimmers had vandalized the gas station’s bathroom. He was later offered a plea deal by the Rio prosecutors after being charged with falsely reporting the crime.
In the weeks following, as details unfolded, some of Lochte’s big name sponsers decided to drop him including Speedo, Ralph Lauren and Airweave, a top bedding manufacturer. He was also handed a 10-month suspension from USA Swimming.
Back on Top
After issuing apologies on social media, Lochte began to put the troubles in Rio behind him and appeared on Dancing with the Stars. He hit the headlines again when two men rushed the stage wearing anti-locte t-shirts when the swimmer was receiving judges comments. Despite that, Lochte kept dancing and exceeded expectations making it to week eight. He was the seventh person to be voted off the show.
In October 2016 Lochte announced his engagement to Kayla Rae Reid. Then in December, the couple posted an instagram picture announcing they were expecting their first child, a boy.