Lochte struggles to balance demands of TV, pool
Published: Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 10:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 10:19 p.m.
ORLANDO — Ryan Lochte is warming to the idea of being a TV star.
Even if it’s not doing much for his swimming.
Lochte is struggling to balance the demands of getting ready for this summer’s world championships and filming a new reality television show, which begins airing on E! Entertainment Television in April.
The 11-time Olympic medalist, and former UF standout, concedes that shooting “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?” makes it difficult to do the sort of training he needs to be consistent in the pool.
He’s supposed be practicing nine times a week, but rarely makes more than four or five sessions.
“I didn’t realize they were going to be pulling me in different directions all the time,” Lochte said Saturday night after wrapping up the Orlando Grand Prix with a victory in the 200-meter individual medley. “I’m stronger than I’ve ever been outside the pool. But in the pool, I haven’t been able to train on a consistent basis.”
While Lochte won his final event in Orlando, he wasn’t happy with the way he did it. “I messed up everything possible in that race,” he said.
His other events were even worse. He finished second in the 100 butterfly, third in the 100 backstroke and a disappointing fifth in the 200 back, which has long been one of his strongest races.
While Lochte has made cameos on “30 Rock” and other shows since winning two golds, two silvers and a bronze at the London Games, the reality show has proven to be much more demanding.
“This is totally different,” he said. “This is consuming my life.”
Even when Lochte makes it to practice, he has to get right back to filming as soon as he’s done.
“I have to go home, change and start shooting for the show,” he said. “It doesn’t stop until 10 or 11 o’clock at night. We’re shooting every day, all day, nonstop. I swear, in the past two weeks, I’ve gotten a lot of gray hairs just from this meet and shooting this show.”
Not that Lochte is complaining.
He wasn’t content to fade away after a somewhat disappointing performance in London, jumping at every opportunity to build his brand — and bring more attention to a sport that, despite the presence of stars such as himself, Missy Franklin and the now-retired Michael Phelps, still struggles for headlines in non-Olympic years.
The fact is: Lochte might become more famous for an eight-episode reality show than anything he’s done at the pool. He’s got six more weeks of filming — a small price to pay, he figures, and why he pushed so hard to persuade his demanding coach, Gregg Troy, this was the right thing to do.
“I tell him, ‘Look, this is for me. Just stick with me for eight weeks, until I’m done shooting this show. Then I’ll get back into it,’” Lochte said. “He’s been working with me. But it is frustrating for him and for me. I love swimming. I love being in the water. It just hasn’t really happened that much. The training really hasn’t been up to par.”
Troy has struggled to be patient with his most famous swimmer.
“Gregg hates it,” Lochte said. “He calls me all the time, yelling at me. He’s been threatening to kick me off the team, telling me to just go somewhere else.”
Unlike Phelps, who walked away from the sport at roughly the same age, the 28-year-old Lochte has every intention of swimming at least until the 2016 Rio Olympics.
His more immediate priority is July’s world championships in Barcelona, Spain, where he intends to tackle the sort of demanding program that has become his trademark, even though most swimmers scale back as they approach their 30s.
“I’m really not looking at narrowing down my events,” Lochte said. “I’m keeping them all open. I love racing. I’m going to race as many events as I physically can.”
Even the 400 individual medley, which he won in London with a dominating performance but hasn’t been swimming on the Grand Prix circuit, will likely remain a part of his schedule at major events such as the Olympics and world championships.
“A lot of people are saying that I’m done with the 400 IM,” Lochte said. “You know what? I’m still going to swim it. I like the 400 IM, even as much as it hurts, because it’s one of the hardest events. I think that’s why I like it. I’m going to keep doing the 400 IM. I’m not going to train specifically for it. I’m going to train for the other events. But I will be swimming the 400 IM.”
He continues to be a huge favorite with the fans, taking time at every meet to sign autographs and pose for pictures.
“I asked him, ‘How do you stay so patient when everyone is always coming up, asking for your autograph,” said Franklin, who also competed in Orlando, with much more success. “He told me, ‘One day, they won’t want it.’ That’s so true.”
One of these days, Lochte will dive into another of his passions: fashion design.
He certainly has a unique approach to what he wears, especially on his feet. After finishing up his last race in Orlando, he donned a pair of yellow sneakers adorned with colorful flowers — and what appeared to be stuffed cats attached to the tongues.
“Ever since I was little, going to school, I was wearing different things than anyone else,” Lochte said. “As you can tell by my shoes, I’m completely different. With fashion, you have that leeway to pretty much be yourself. You can have your own personality. You can do what you want.”
But there’s no time for fashion at the moment.
He’s got to get back to swimming.
Well, unless E! orders up another batch of “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?”
Asked if he’d do a second season, Lochte didn’t hesitate at all.
“By all means,” he said, breaking into a big smile.