Ryan Lochte’s stroking toward Olympic gold — and superstardom
- Last Updated: 11:36 PM, July 7, 2012
- Posted: 9:17 PM, July 7, 2012
Four years ago in Beijing, swimmer Michael Phelps and his freakishly fit physique dominated the Olympics and swept international headlines. But in the hype leading up to the London games in August, it is Phelps’ teammate, Ryan Lochte, who has emerged as the sport’s anointed one.
With six Olympic medals (three gold, one silver and two bronze) and a face that could have been sculpted in the boardroom of Abercrombie & Fitch, the 27 year old is the complete combination of almost-too-good-to-be-true looks and athletic prowess. Last month, he became only the fourth man to grace the cover of American Vogue. He was also chosen to model the Ralph Lauren Olympics uniforms and scored high-profile endorsements with Speedo, Gatorade and Gillette.
The attention is something the Gainesville, Fla., resident is embracing, despite the scrutiny that comes with adoration.
“I thought [the Vogue cover] was amazing,” Lochte tells The Post. “I want to make the sport of swimming bigger than it already is, so if being on the cover of Vogue and Men’s Health can do that, great.”
Last week, spectators packed an arena in Omaha, Neb., to watch Phelps and Lochte duel in the Olympic trials, an indication of the hyper-excitement surrounding the two. In the four events in which they swam against each other, Phelps, also 27, won three — but two of those were by margins measured in hundredths of a second.
If there is tension between the pair, Lochte insists it stays underwater.
“We don’t do any trash talking. Me and him are good friends,” Lochte says in a surfer-dude drawl that defies his ferocious work ethic. “But when we step on the blocks, we’re both competitive and we both want to win.”
In fact, Lochte — who has accepted many a medal wearing a ridiculous diamond grill over his teeth — says he reserves his serious side only for the pool.
“I’m not really afraid to show my personality out there. Other than when I’m swimming, I’m embracing every opportunity and having fun,” says Lochte, who hijacked the catchphrase “Jeah!” from a song by rapper Young Jeezy. On his Web site, he sells $15 Wayfarer-style sunglasses with the slogan; his surname is scrawled across the perforated plastic lenses. “I just started saying yeah with a ‘J,’ and it kind of stuck with me.”
Lochte grew up in Port Orange, Fla., a small town near Daytona Beach. His mother, Ileana, a k a Ike, was a Cuban immigrant who moved to the US from Havana when she was 7. A competitive swimmer, she met Steve Lochte, also a swimmer, at the University of Miami. Both built careers as swimming coaches and both coached their son, the middle child of five, in different phases of his career.
Lochte’s goofy side emerged early on, when his antics would interrupt his father’s swimming class. But after a loss at the Junior Olympics, he pledged to take to the pool seriously. By the time he was a sophomore at the University of Florida, he had set an American record in the 400-meter individual medley.
At the 2004 Olympics, Lochte won a gold medal on a freestyle relay team with Phelps. He took silver, behind Phelps, in the 200-meter individual medley. In 2008, he earned four more medals, but was overshadowed by Phelps’ record-setting sweep.
Ever since, he has steadily gained on his rival, and for the past two years he has topped Phelps in every category at the US Swimming Golden Goggle awards. Now the two are set for an epic duel in the pool.
When Lochte decides to hang up his Speedos, he hopes to have a career in fashion making his own suits — and not of the bathing variety. He’s been attending New York Fashion Week for the past few years.
“I’ve done [the] Tommy, Calvin, Ralph and Perry Ellis [shows]. I’ve always had a thing for fashion. It’s a different world,” he says, noting that he’s already started designing clothes for Speedo.
Last week, though, Women’s Wear Daily eviscerated his red-carpet look — a Ralph Lauren cream tuxedo jacket, velvet slippers and polka-dot scarf (inset) — from last year’s Golden Goggles, saying he looked like “a Chippendales dancer.” Un-aware of the sartorial skewering, Lochte is unperturbed. “I don’t really read that stuff. I looked like Hugh Hefner! In this world the better you do, the more haters you’re going to get.”
For the moment, Lochte is arguably the world’s most eligible bachelor (sorry, Tom Cruise). He says he appreciates a woman with a fit body, but he’s done dating swimmers. “I dated a girl on my team in college. What didn’t go wrong?” he muses.
Lochte loves New York, eating “hole-in-the-wall pizza” and hanging at 40/40 Club and 1Oak. Whether he’ll be able to slip unnoticed into local pizzerias after he goes for the gold will be another issue.
“I feel like I’m always under the radar,” he says. “I’m not sure if that will change.”