By Alex Abrams//Red Line Editorial | Sunday, August 4, 2019
Ryan Lochte insists he’s a changed man. He said he has everything he has ever wanted now that’s he’s sober, married and the father of two children, including a baby girl born in June.
One of the most decorated swimmers in Olympic history, Lochte’s approach to the sport has changed. He said it’s now something he does for fun. It’s no longer his main priority.
While his life is much different, Lochte showed Sunday he’s still the swimmer to beat in the 200-meter individual medley.
A day after celebrating his 35th birthday, Lochte continued his comeback from a 14-month suspension and won the 200 IM in 1:57.76 on the final day of the Phillips 66 National Championships in Stanford, California.
“It feels good to be back racing, be back in the sport that I love,” Lochte told NBC after the race.
Lochte is a 12-time Olympic medalist, including six gold, and holds the world record in the 200 IM at 1:54.00. He’s hoping to qualify for his fifth Olympics, and his performance Sunday helped dispel the notion that he can’t regain his old form before the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Lochte got off to a slow start and was in sixth place after the first 50 meters. However, he closed the gap, took the lead once he moved to the breaststroke and pulled away from the rest of the field.
He didn’t have an outpouring of emotions or a huge celebration after earning the 27th national title of his storied career. He simply removed his goggles and needed a few moments to catch his breath after he stepped out of the pool.
“This was a lot easier 10 years ago,” Lochte told NBC.
Lochte’s struggles over the past few years have been well documented. He checked into a treatment center for alcohol abuse in the fall of 2018. He also received a 14-month suspension for receiving an infusion of vitamin B-12 above the allowable limit.
However, Lochte’s redemption story continued this week at the national championships, which are a part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity. USA Swimming gave him an exemption to compete in the meet at Stanford University, and he made the most of it.
Texas A&M’s Shaine Casas, who won the 100-meter backstroke in dominant fashion on Saturday, finished behind Lochte to earn the silver medal in 1:58.83. Jake Foster took bronze in 1:59:15.
Meanwhile, Ally McHugh cruised to a convincing win in the women’s 1,500-meter freestyle and capped a stellar week with her third national championship. Her time of 16:05.98 was nearly four seconds better than silver medalist Kensey McMahon, who finished at 16:09.80. Sierra Schmidt rounded out the podium with bronze in 16:10.12.
McHugh showed no fatigue after her heavy workload over the past two weeks. She arrived at the national championships fresh off swimming in the 400 IM at the 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.
McHugh earned her first national championship of the week with a time of 8:26.04 in the women’s 800 free on Wednesday. She added to her medal count Saturday when she narrowly beat Haley Anderson to win the women’s 400-meter freestyle at 4:07.08.
Bobby Finke also earned his third national championship of the week Sunday, winning the men’s 800 free in 7:47.58, the fastest time by an American this year. Zane Grothe took the silver in 7:50.47, while Michael Brinegar earned bronze in 7:54.56.
Finke also won national championships in the 400-meter IM and the 1,500 free.
The five-day meet, which was broadcast live on national TV, offered a glimpse of which swimmers could be a part of Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics. Madisyn Cox made a strong case by winning a pair of national titles.
Cox jumped out to an early lead and never let up Sunday, winning the women’s 200-meter IM in 2:10.00. Vanessa Pearl earned the silver in 2:12.49, followed by Julia Poole in 2:12.53.
Cox’s victory came three days after she broke her personal best by nearly two seconds to win the women’s 200-meter breaststroke at 2:23.84.
Meanwhile, Erika Brown and Ryan Held closed out the national championships with narrow victories in their respective 50-meter free races. Brown edged Gretchen Walsh with a time of 24.71 seconds to Walsh’s 24.85.
Held posted a time of 21.87 seconds, beating co-silver medalists Robert Howard and Bowe Becker at 22.00 seconds, to win his second national championship of the week in a new lifetime best.
Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to USA Swimming on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.