On his first shot at gold at the 2012 Olympics, Ryan Lochte announced to London that he had arrived. He swam a stunning 400-meter individual medley, winning by nearly four seconds while his archrival, Michael Phelps, missed the podium and finished fourth. The royal swagger Lochte had developed since blowing Phelps out of the water at the 2011 World Championships was alive and well.
Just as he had predicted, Lochte looked to be the new king.
“This is my year,” the 2011 World Swimmer of the Year peacocked to his reporters after his coronation. “I know it, and I feel it.”
That sure didn’t last.
On his second shot at gold Sunday, the king became the court jester. Lochte blew the US lead in the 4×100-meter relay and coughed up the gold to France.
Then on Monday, it wasn’t just the gold the 27-year-old Lochte coughed up. You don’t own an Olympics if you don’t make the podium, and a fourth-place finish in the 200-meter freestyle made it clear that Ryan Lochte will not be king of these Olympics.
Instead of Great Britain being the scene of Lochte’s ascension to the throne of the swimming world, it appears Lochte might be abdicating his heir apparent status. And few things are worse than ceding a royal title to a Frenchman, which Lochte did in the 200-meter race Monday, to the same Frenchman who passed him on the anchor leg the previous day.
“Whatever happened last night happened last night,” a deflated Lochte told reporters afterward. “I had to get over it and move on. Whatever happened tonight, I have a couple more races left. You just gotta forget about it and move on.”
These aren’t the words of a king. These are words of apology. This is Ryan Lochte instructing his home country that, after months of hype and buildup, we all need to carry on. Nothing to look at here. Move along.
“This is one of the deepest fields I’ve ever seen,” was Lochte’s valid excuse. “First to eighth is like a second difference. . . . That last lap hurt. Especially when you’re racing at this kind of level, you just gotta put everything into it. You can’t really hold it back. I put everything into it, but I guess it wasn’t there.”
A man who is supposed to be king doesn’t need to make excuses. A man who is supposed to be king doesn’t tweet things like this after his disappointing swim Monday: “The greatest athletes suffer the Hardest defeats before the biggest and best moments of your life…. God has a plain for everyone.” A king leaves excuse-making to his surrogates. A king also uses spellcheck.
Lochte’s American royal court — many of whom did quite well at Monday’s events, winning two golds and two silvers — were quick to back him up.
“Ryan’s having a great meet, he’s swimming really fast, he just didn’t get his hand on the wall,” said Matt Grevers, who had just won gold in the 100-meter backstroke.
“See, I don’t think fourth at the Olympics is a disappointing swim at all,” said Missy Franklin, the 17-year-old crown princess who had just won her first gold medal, in the 100-meter backstroke. “I think he did absolutely incredible, and I’m so proud of him. I knew that he did his best, like he always does.”
No, when the king does his best, he’s on top of the world. Ryan Lochte was no longer on top of the world. What is going on with him?
“I have to ask back: ‘What do you mean, what’s going on?’” squawked Tyler Clary, who had just qualified for the 200-meter butterfly final. “He had the biggest victory in the 400 IM in history. He went 4:05.1 followed by 1:45.0 (in the 200-meter freestyle final). 1:45.0 for anybody is a pretty friggin’ fast time. It just so happened that there were three guys a little faster here.”
But in each of their voices, there seemed to be a tinge of shock that Lochte hadn’t even reached the podium. This is a man who had won seven golds before this Olympics. This is the man who had predicted he would own these Olympics. This is supposed to be their next king.
And this isn’t supposed to happen to the king.
You can follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @reidforgrave, become a fan on Facebook or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.