IRVINE, Calif. -- Five-time Olympic gold medalist Nathan Adrian listened to the question, leaned back in his folding chair, put his hands above his head and paused. He didn't want to throw his longtime American teammate under the bus. He didn't want to say that Ryan Lochte should have known better.
Was Adrian aware of the USADA rule requiring a therapeutic use exemption for the use of an IV drip with more than 100 milliliters of fluids? The rule that Lochte violated, so that he'll now miss 14 months of his competitive career?
"Yes," the 29-year-old Adrian said.
Adrian said the topic has been covered multiple times at USADA seminars when athletes visit the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Lochte and USADA agreed Monday on a 14-month suspension after Lochte posted an Instagram photo of himself in May receiving an IV drip at a Los Angeles clinic.
"These are harsh sentences," Adrian said. "But this is what we've been told since we were junior-team athletes. If you mess up and it's accidental, you can still get banned for years. These were the messages that have been pounded in our head. And here we are. They were true."
Fellow American Chase Kalisz, who was set to compete against Lochte in the 200-meter individual medley at the U.S. championships this week, agreed.
"Every time you go to the training center, you sit in one of those USADA meetings," Kalisz said. "And this is one of the things that comes up."
Adrian said there are numerous resources available to athletes who are unsure whether a particular supplement or action is against the rules, including a direct line to USADA.
"You just have to ask," he said.
A USADA investigation revealed that Lochte did not take any banned substances in the IV drip. The bag contained a mix of B12 and other vitamins, but it doesn't matter. The rule is in place to prevent athletes from using IVs at all. Violation of the rule can result in a ban between one to four years in length.
"While in this case, I don't think it caught a cheater, perse, I think in 99 percent of the cases it would," American backstroker Ryan Murphy said. "These are the rules we need to have in our sport and in all sports to ensure it's clean."
Lochte's suspension -- and the two-year ban of fellow American Madisyn Cox announced last week after a trace of trimetazidine was found in her system -- has altered the competitive landscape for U.S. nationals, the biggest domestic meet of the year. Lochte was entered in four events at his first major swim meet since the 2016 Rio Olympics, and Cox was entered in five events.
Now neither of them is here, and the pre-meet chatter has taken on a decidedly different tone.
"To be totally honest, we are watching the American team be leaders in accountability right now," Adrian said. "I don't think the punishment would have necessarily been as strict with other federations, to be honest. I think you're seeing us stay true to our word -- if it happens to the U.S., we bring on harsh repercussions."
American athletes have long complained that the doping punishments have been too lenient for non-American athletes. Two years ago in Rio, no American was more outspoken about doping than breaststroker Lilly King, who famously wagged her finger at Russia's Yulia Efimova after defeating her in the 100-meter breaststroke, telling reporters she "did it clean."
Efimova had previously been suspended for doping violations and was allowed to compete in Rio only after appealing a suspension just before the Games opened. On Tuesday, King's anti-doping stance didn't dampen when the athlete in the crosshairs was Lochte, a fellow American. Even if some might suggest he was guilty on a technicality.
"It's hard to see that happen to a friend and teammate and someone you look up to, but then again, you can't break the rules like that," King said. "I appreciate FINA, WADA, USADA and all the agencies cracking down on that. If you do something wrong, you should serve your time. I don't see anything wrong with the punishment."