• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Frustrated with his training, Ryan Lochte got some help from Michael Phelps, a longtime rival in the pool

·6 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Ryan Lochte sat among stuffed animals, colorful blankets and LEGO bricks in a playroom at his home in Gainesville, Florida.

It was about two weeks before the U.S. Olympics swimming trials, which began Sunday in Omaha, Nebraska.

“I mean, I love this sport," Lochte told USA TODAY Sports during a video interview. “It’s shaped who I am. It’s gotten me to so many different places.

“Sorry if you hear my daughter crying downstairs. I don’t know what’s going on."

What’s going on once would have seemed unimaginable.

At the age of 36, Lochte is trying to make his fifth U.S. Olympic team and compete at the Tokyo Games while overcoming behavior that damaged his reputation and imperiled his swimming career.

Five years ago, Lochte left the 2016 Olympics in Rio early after he acknowledged being intoxicated at 4 a.m. during an incident with Brazilian security guards. USA Swimming suspended him for 10 months.

In this April 8, 2021, file photo, Ryan Lochte pauses after competing in the men's 200-meter freestyle preliminary race at the TYR Pro Swim Series swim meet in Mission Viejo, Calif.
In this April 8, 2021, file photo, Ryan Lochte pauses after competing in the men's 200-meter freestyle preliminary race at the TYR Pro Swim Series swim meet in Mission Viejo, Calif.

Three years ago, USA Swimming suspended Lochte for 14 months after he posted on Twitter a photo of himself receiving an intravenous infusion without a required therapeutic use exemption. (He was not charged with using a banned substance.)

Today, Lochte is a husband and father of two young children whose playroom he used for a recent interview.

His family will be at the trials in Omaha, where Lochte is entered in six events and thought to have his best chance of making the team in the 200-meter individual medley. He is scheduled to swim his first race Monday.

“I’m a new person," Lochte said. “I have a new fire. I’m not swimming just for myself.

“I’m swimming to prove everyone wrong, all the doubters out there, all the haters. And I’m doing it for my family and for myself."

Help from a former rival

Less than six months ago, however, the challenge looked increasingly daunting.

Lochte said he was training harder than ever, and his performances at meets were worse than ever.

Beginning to lose hope, Lochte said, he reached out to Michael Phelps.

Phelps and Lochte, the second-most decorated male swimmer in Olympic history with 12 medals, were teammates and rivals on the U.S. Olympic teams starting in 2004. Their relationship was tested after Lochte found himself embroiled in controversy at the 2016 Olympics.

At the time, Lochte said he tried to get advice from Phelps, who had faced scrutiny after being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in 2004 and 2014.

“I think he texted me back saying, ‘Yeah, sure. I’m here to help,’ or something like that," Lochte told USA TODAY Sports in 2016. “But he didn’t call me. I was like, ‘Hey, can you please call me? Let me know, I need help.’ That never really happened."

But earlier this year, Lochte said, he reached out to Phelps, who had struggled in and out of the pool before winning five gold medals at the 2016 Olympics.

This time, Lochte said, the former teammates connected by phone.

“My confidence was really low," Lochte said. “And then I started to talking to Michael Phelps. Because I know when he took a break from swimming, when he came back he was in the same boat. He was doing horrible, way off his best times.

“So I talked to him and he’s like, ‘You’ve just done so much work that your body is beat up. So when you taper, you’re going to light it up.’"

Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte after the men's 200 individual medley final in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Olympic Aquatics Stadium.
Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte after the men's 200 individual medley final in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Olympic Aquatics Stadium.

As Phelps predicted, Lochte said, his performance improved markedly when he began to decrease the volume of his workouts and increase his rest as the trials approached.

Lochte said he and Phelps have continued to communicate once or twice a week.

“He’s helping me out a lot," Lochte said.

Phelps was unavailable to be interviewed for this story, one of his representatives told USA TODAY Sports. But Lochte’s father, Steve, said he thinks the connection was important.

“Reaching out to Michael really helped Ryan because Michael’s been through a lot and so has Ryan, and why not reach out to the best," Steve Lochte said. “And that’s what Ryan said, 'why not reach out to the best?'"

A loving, grateful father of two

For the past 18 months, Steve Lochte said, he has driven four hours up to four days a week to watch Ryan train in Gainesville. He began to see changes in his son when he reunited with his former coach, Gregg Troy, after the 2016 Olympics.

No more missed workouts. No more excuses.

But Steve Lochte said he thinks the criticism of his son’s behavior at the Rio Games was overblown.

“As far as Rio, quite honestly, Rio what?" Steve Lochte said. “To me, as a father, the only thing bad about Rio was the exaggeration that gun was pointed to his forehead and in reality, it was pointed to his chest."

The only sports newsletter you need: Get exclusive content and expert analysis on the biggest stories of the day. Sign up here!

A USA TODAY Sports investigation supported Lochte’s revised account in which he said he thought he and three other U.S. swimmers were being robbed when they were approached at a gas station by armed men who flashed badges, pointed guns at them and demanded money.

“But what happened in Rio really made him change because he thought maybe he was invincible," Steve Lochte said. “He’s become a loving, grateful father and husband. His priorities have totally changed to becoming more mature and more responsible."

In January 2016, Lochte met Playboy model Kayla Rae Reid. She became one of his closest confidantes when Lochte went into hiding at his parents’ house after the Rio Games.

Before the end of the year, they were engaged.

“It’s been such a roller coaster," Kayla said.

She gave birth to their first child, son Caiden, that next year. The couple married in 2018 and had their second child, daughter Liv, the following year.

In 2019, Lochte said he spent six weeks in rehab for alcohol addiction. Kayla said excess showed up in other areas of his life, too.

“Like, ‘I don’t want one cookie. I want 20 cookies.’ But with everything," she said. “But I think everyone can agree there’s been so much maturity, for sure. What I see in him now, I see dedication, I see more calmness."

Over the past five years, something else has changed: corporate America has begun to warm up to Lochte again.

In the wake of the 2016 Olympics, he lost all of his major sponsors, including Speedo USA and Ralph Lauren. Jeff Ostrow, Lochte’s agent and attorney, said the swimmer now has partnerships with seven companies, including TYR Sport, manufacturer of competitive swim apparel. He also has deals with Rhelief and Tru Niagen, manufacturers of natural supplements, and UBank, a Texas-based bank.

“Ryan is a changed man, and as a result of it, has gotten some solid partners that believe in him and he is really happy to represent," Ostrow said. “It was not easy to get here.

“Ryan’s growing up. He never really had to. It (the controversy from the Rio Games) was the wake-up call of all wake-up calls.’’

Lochte said it cost him millions, and surely making the Olympic team would not only be a storybook ending but a lucrative way to cap his career.

“It’s not about money, even though money does help," Lochte said. “I wanted to prove I have changed and I want (people) to see it."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ryan Lochte says rival Michael Phelps helped him through tough time

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting