Charles Hartley, a 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.