Ryan Lochte swims to live, doesn't live to swim

Updated: December 1, 2007, 5:36 PM ET
Associated Press

ATLANTA -- Swimming is what Ryan Lochte does for a living. It's not his life.

After his races, the 23-year-old Olympian would rather talk about anything but what just happened. Like skateboarding, surfing or his fancy sports car with an awesome sound system.

Lochte might want to get more comfortable in the spotlight. He's expected to be a gold-medal threat at next year's Beijing Olympics, and add to the gold and silver medals he won at the 2004 Athens Games.

At this year's world championships, he set a world record in the 200-meter backstroke, ending teammate Aaron Peirsol's seven-year winning streak in the event.

"It's just encouraged him to want to do even more," said Gregg Troy, who coaches Lochte at Florida where he trains as a professional alongside the college team.

"The morning after the 200 backstroke, he was exactly the same guy he was the morning after something that he hadn't done well. That's a real attribute because it allows him to constantly have a clear picture of where he's going."

Where Lochte has been his entire life is at the pool. His father Steve coaches a club team in Daytona Beach, Fla., and his mother Ileana coached her oldest son until he was 11.

As a 4-year-old, he scampered alongside his father on the deck at the 1988 U.S. Olympic trials.

Easily bored, Lochte was a handful at practice as a teenager. He would find ways to get kicked out along with his best buddy unless there was an especially hard set of laps to do. He viewed that as a challenge.

"But most of the time, he was doing something wrong, pulling on somebody's leg, blowing bubbles underwater, hiding at the other end of the pool," Steve Lochte recalled.

In a typical week, the elder Lochte was lucky to get two days of work out of his son. By the time he was a junior in high school, Ryan managed to stick it out five days a week. Friday was always a goof-off day.

"He loved it," Steve Lochte said.

But the father-son duo frequently butted heads, so Steve began tossing Ryan out of practice before his antics started. Ryan would run to the showers and spend the remaining 45 minutes under the hot water with a smile on his face.

"Ryan would push that button as dad-coach and he would know when to do it," Steve said. "Once we walked out of that pool, I would never say anything to him about being kicked out of practice."

The family business of swimming was rarely discussed back at the house, even though Ryan, his two older sisters and younger brother Devon all swam for their father.

"That was the plan and we stuck to it," Ryan said. "We had a good separation and I think that's what helped me."

The Lochtes are so far from being pushy parents they only have a single photo of Ryan as a 10-year-old at the pool.

Swimming was never forced on Lochte, who played soccer and basketball growing up. He tried out for baseball, too.

"The first day I picked him up, he goes, `You know why those guys chew tobacco or gum? That's all there is to do out there. That's boring," Steve said.

The younger Lochte likes action, whether it's racing rival Michael Phelps in the pool, hanging ten at the beach or careening off ramps on his skateboard. He won't cut back much on his high-voltage hobbies even while training for Beijing.

"After this meet, I'm going to start it back up again," he said. "If I hurt myself, I hurt myself."

So he's hardly nervous when he steps on the starting block.

"That's what makes him good because he's able to control his emotions and his energy into the race," Steve Lochte said.

And when Lochte gets out of the water, he doesn't want to analyze what he did with the media. That just takes time away from socializing with other swimmers and obliging youngsters who clamor for his autograph and photo.

"He treats it very much like a 17-year-old kid that enjoys his sport," Troy said.

As much as he shuns the limelight, Lochte can bring it at just the right moment.

He donned a white suit, a la John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever," at this month's Golden Goggle awards, drawing jokes and laughter from his national teammates.

On a dare from Phelps, Lochte slipped a gold, silver and diamond-encrusted grill in his mouth on the medals stand at this year's world championships in Australia. Seeing Lochte's glittering grin cracked up Phelps.

"Some of that was Ryan being Ryan, and some of it was to disguise the disappointment of not doing as well in the IM as he wanted," Troy said.

Phelps beat him in the 200 and 400 individual medleys.

"He does not like being second or third," Troy said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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