Ryan Lochte says he 'let everybody down' by not qualifying for Tokyo Olympics
On one side of the pool deck at the CHI Health Center, Michael Andrew raised his arms in triumph.
As the crowd cheered Andrew’s victory in the 200-meter individual medley at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials Friday night, Ryan Lochte lingered in the pool.
He leaned on the lane line, slowly removed his cap and took in the end of his last, best chance to make the Olympics for a fifth time.
Lochte finished seventh in a race where he owns the world record, concluding a years-long comeback when he transformed from U.S. swimming’s resident bad boy to a low-key husband and father of two young children.
“This is the most important swim meet I’ve had in my entire career, the one that meant the most to me,” the 36-year-old said as he fought back tears during a news conference.
He said he felt like he “let everyone down.”
Lochte became one of the world’s most recognizable swimmers during the last decade and a half, as much for his performance in the pool as his sometimes-controversial behavior outside of it. He earned 12 Olympic medals, the second-most by a men’s swimmer, and drew attention for legendary focus, brightly-colored hair and bold pronouncements.
But the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 overshadowed everything. An evening of drinking, allegations of vandalism and lying about being robbed at gunpoint triggered an international scandal.
In the years since, Lochte has endeavored to show he has changed.
“Deep down, he really has a good heart,” three-time Olympic gold medalist Ryan Murphy said. “That’s what I really appreciate about Lochte: he really does care about people.”
In other finals Friday, Santa Clarita's Abbey Weitzeil won the 100 freestyle, Annie Lazor took the 200 breaststroke and Murphy, as expected, captured the 200 backstroke.
But these trials haven't been vintage Lochte. He didn’t advance in the 200 freestyle and scratched three other events. The 200 IM was his shot at the Olympics. He faded to finish in 1:59.67, five and a half seconds off the world record he set in 2011 and more than four seconds behind Andrew.
Lochte was the last man out of the pool. He embraced Andrew and delivered a message.
“Basically to tell me he’s passing the torch,” said Andrew, who will be competing in his first Olympics next month in Tokyo after also winning the 100 breaststroke. “It’s just a special moment that I’ll remember forever.”
Lochte hugged family members in the stands. Michael Phelps, owner of 28 Olympic medals, hustled onto the pool deck to embrace his one-time rival.
“I was getting pressure from all different directions, mostly from me, because I wanted to prove so much to everyone,” Lochte said. “But this isn’t the last you’re going to see of me.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.