Lochte’s Possible Final Olympic Race: Brutal Truths About Swimming

Charles Hartleya free-lance writer based in New Jersey, has written more than a thousand published sports articles. He earned Master’s degrees in Business Administration and Journalism. In addition, he was awarded his Bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University where he majored in English and Communications.

It’s so rough, swimming.

It’s such a brutal thing.

Ryan Lochte, one of the greatest swimmers in history, competed last night in the 200 meter individual medley at the Olympic Games. Before the race it was plausible he could beat Michael Phelps. It didn’t turn out that way. Not even close.

He finished fifth.

Phelps won Gold. Again. What could have been possessed by Lochte was, yet again, snatched away by Phelps.

The tough truth is that Lochte wasn’t even close to winning a medal. It was an underwhelming performance. As talented as he is, he was beaten.

Of his many moments in his swimming career, it seems that this was one of the most disappointing. At age 32, he may never get another chance. Age beats us all down at some point.

The sport has no mercy. It doesn’t matter how many tens of thousands of hours of his life Lochte has spent in the pool toughing it out when his muscles have tightened up and he was inadvertently swallowing water and just wanting to quit the sport forever because he was sick of the repetitiveness and boredom. It doesn’t matter how many things he wanted to do but couldn’t because he had to go to swim practice or a meet. What matters is how he did last night with an Olympic Gold Medal at stake.

He didn’t come through. He didn’t swim his best race. It was sad to watch him finish fifth because we all know he’s capable of much better.

Since the race ended he may be wondering if he didn’t train hard or intelligently enough. He may question whether his turn from the butterfly to the backstroke was too slow, or his breaststroke kick wasn’t fast enough, or whether he should have taken the lead from the start and made the others chase him down.

The race may eat at him for the next several days, weeks, and years. Last night’s swim was not the way he wanted his spectacular career to end if, in fact, he retires. He said last night he might not but it is certainly plausible he will.

If he didn’t win the Gold Medal, we assumed he would get at least a Silver or Bronze Medal based on his semi-final qualifying times, the Silver Medal at the London Olympics, and his reputation as probably the second best IM swimmer in the world over the past several years.

But no, not this time, no medal.

Fifth place. Who likes to finish in fifth place?

Even Ryan Lochte, a super talented swimmer, was beaten. The sport does it to everyone. Yes, that includes Michael Phelps, the guy who almost never loses. He lost to Lochte in the 400 IM in London, finishing fourth. At those same London Olympics he lost to Chad Le Clos in the 200 meter butterfly.

This is a sport so often about how to deal with losing, not being first, and not swimming your best time. It’s so often about pure pain and loneliness.

With all this in mind, the swimming world is now wondering what is on Ryan Lochte’s mind? What will he do with the rest of his life? Will he ever compete in a swimming race again? Will he walk away from the sport and do something completely different? Skateboarding? Acting? Modeling?

Should Lochte make one more run at those Games? It’s a question only he can answer. If he pursues this, it would mean several thousand more hours in the pool training and some 1,460 days of waiting.

Is it time to move on?

When you stop doing a sport at which you have been so successful, there is a risk of losing your self-identity. In Ryan’s case, the questions could be: What else am I besides a swimmer? What else interests me? Do I have any idea what I want to do with the rest of my life?

I’ve been a swimming star for my entire life. People have been watching me and complimenting me about my swimming speed since I was eight years old. Now what? If I stop swimming, will the crowds still be cheering for me? How will my life change if I no longer swim competitively? Will I still be a star? Will people still notice me? Or will they ignore me and forget about me?

What else am I passionate about? Is there something else in life as fulfilling and meaningful as swimming? What have all these years of swimming really meant to me? So far has it all been worth it, a pile of Olympic Medals? How did I finish fifth in the IM when I am the world record holder?

Why did I have to be a great swimmer during the same era as Michael Phelps, who is by far the best swimmer ever? How many more medals would I would have won if Michael never swam? If not for him, would I be the greatest swimmer ever?

He may have been. But he isn’t and never will be. Maybe he will take one more shot at the Olympics. Maybe he won’t. Whatever he decides, it will be a tough decision. We should all hope he makes the best decision for himself because he is one tough dude, one of the best swimmers who has ever lived.


This article courtesy of Charles Hartley

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Steve W
5 years ago

Lochte has had an amazing swimming career. He may not have had a good 200 IM last night, but he should be proud to have been in the final – and he still owns the world record. To still be able to say at this point that nobody has ever swam the 200 IM faster than him should not be overlooked.

Reply to  Steve W
5 years ago

espacially when michael phelps is (also) focusing on that event for more than a decade

5 years ago

Ruta is also the WR holder and finished 7th in the 100m Breastroke. Swimming is an unfair sport but surely the best sport. Ryan has done so much for the sport and will always be remembered.

Reply to  DATO
5 years ago

Sun yang is the world record holder in the 1500, didn’t qualify to the finals

Reply to  DATO
5 years ago

Cate Campbell is also the world record holder in the 100 free finished 6th

Cesar cielo is the world record holder in the 50 and 100 free didn’t even make the olympic team

Paul biedermann has the world record in the 200 and 400 free didn’t medal in either event

The olympics is about delivering at that very moment in time, it doesn’t care for any excuses and that is why it is such an iconic event

phelps swims 200 breast rio
5 years ago

Nicely written, Charles.

5 years ago

Ryan Lochte is the greatest male swimmer not named Michael Phelps ever.

Reply to  Gator
5 years ago

And Laszlo Cseh might be the greatest not named Phelps or Lochte. How fortunate we are to get to see these three once-in-a-generation talents battle it out for over a decade.

Reply to  SwimNerd
5 years ago

Greatness is not measured just on times. Mark Spitz was “greater” than Lochte

Reply to  Mal
5 years ago

Thorpe maybe.

RJ Cid
Reply to  SwimNerd
5 years ago

very tru, his Beijing performance was overshadowed by phelps

Scott Morgan
Reply to  Gator
5 years ago

Gator, on what criteria is this opinion based? He may squeak into the top five: I’d say two individual Olympic Golds and four world records–though impressive–do not constitute the second greatest male swimmer.

5 years ago

4 years are not 1460 days its 1461 since every 4 years theres a leap year

Reply to  anonymoose
5 years ago

Cool story bro, changed my life.

Reply to  anonymoose
5 years ago

Wrong. 1460.96 days.

Patrick John
Reply to  wetbook
5 years ago

So every 25 years we have to subtract a day?

5 years ago

A far more important question Charles did not include:

“Does my haircut make me look like a guy who buys axe body spray by the case?”

Michael Larsen
5 years ago

He beat Phelps once, thats commendable

Reply to  Michael Larsen
5 years ago

Not to be a party pooper but when he was in terrible shape. And barely. Actually he beat him 2 times. Remember 400 IM?

Reply to  SwimmerFoxJet
5 years ago

He’s beaten Phelps 7 times.

5 years ago

OMG you could have said all this with half the copy. I gather “succinct” was not something you learned in school.

Reply to  Cate
5 years ago

Was going to comment on the outrageous number of rhetorical questions. Still a well-written article