Lochte's dominance the result of hard work
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Matt DeLancey is the kind of man you might mistake for a tree if you bumped into him in the dark. A brawny former football player and wrestler, DeLancey looks like the kind of guy who could pick up a Prius and move it out of his favorite parking space if he wanted.
During a recent workout, DeLancey is using every ounce of muscle he has to pull out his favorite torture device from the gym in his garage: a 400-pound chain.
"It came off a Navy ship. It spent time in all seven seas," DeLancey says. "There's nothing nice about that chain."
DeLancey purchased the unusual piece of workout equipment from a marine salvage store in Tampa.
Ryan Lochte knows the chain better than anyone other than DeLancey, a University of Florida strength coach and one-time strongman competitor.
Still, the former Gators swimmer and six-time Olympic medalist refuses to call it a friend.
"I hate that freaking chain," Lochte says.
A couple of hours earlier, a small group of visitors waits inside DeLancey's home for his return from a Gators track meet. His wife is talking with the guests when a shiny new white SUV with black rims pulls up. Out steps Lochte.
Here is one of America's great hopes for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, walking up to DeLancey's home with the kind of athletic swagger you have read about but never seen in person.
Lochte enters the house on this late January afternoon, says hello to the small group inside and immediately makes his way toward the garage gym to prepare for another showdown with the chain.
Lochte is joined on this day by another decorated former Gators swimmer, Conor Dwyer, who also is preparing for the London Games later this year.
They are here for a specific reason. For the next two-plus hours, as others take a Sunday afternoon stroll around the neighborhood, Lochte and Dwyer take to the streets for a different kind of workout.
When DeLancey arrives, Lochte and Dwyer are already out back in the alleyway, tossing around a small football with a couple of their workout partners for the day: former Gators swimmer Mike Joyce and Austin Voutour, a Florida student who is training under DeLancey to compete in an upcoming University of Florida strongman event.
DeLancey first met Lochte nearly 10 years ago when they both arrived at the university in the fall of 2002.
A former football player at East Stroudsburg (Pa.) University, DeLancey came to Florida following a stint as a strength coach at the University of Richmond. Lochte showed up at the same time as a freshman, considered one of the country's top swimmers following a record-setting career at Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange, about 10 miles south of Daytona Beach.
They quickly formed a bond during training sessions. As Lochte developed into one of the best swimmers in school history — he was named NCAA Male Swimmer of the Year in 2005 and 2006 — and blossomed on the international stage, he continued to work with DeLancey on the side after completing his college eligibility in 2006.
"He finds different ways to make you better," Lochte says. "I wouldn't be the athlete that I am today without the work we do out here."
The workout that DeLancey puts Lochte and Dwyer through on this unusually humid January afternoon is not one many of their rivals in the pool have ever tried.
"Most swimmers don't want to do this," DeLancey says.
Dwyer was introduced to the workouts by Lochte after he transferred from Iowa to Florida before the 2009-10 season. Success quickly followed. Dwyer, a teammate of Lochte on the US National Team, was named the NCAA's top male swimmer in 2010.
A tall and lanky athlete with an extended torso and long arms and legs, Dwyer likes to break away from the traditional. He quickly became a fan of his Sunday afternoons with Lochte and DeLancey.
"I thought it wasn't typically what swimmers do," Dwyer says. "But I had a lot of fun with it and just to change up training — sometimes it can get repetitive — and to do something like this is fun. It's something extra on a Sunday that no one else is doing."
Once they finish tossing around the football, it's time to get to work. DeLancey leads the way in drills he used during his days as a strongman competitor. The workout routine DeLancey has designed is built on three primary principals: "Strength, power and stamina," he says.
Lochte first started coming over to DeLancey's house about four years ago, seeking an edge to boost his career to new heights.
Already a six-time Olympic medalist, Lochte emerged as the potential star of the 2012 London Olympics when he won six gold medals at the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships in California, outshining Michael Phelps (who won eight gold medals in Beijing in 2008).
His performance wasn't a surprise — Lochte has long been considered one of the United States' top swimmers — but it made some profess that he had supplanted the Phelps as the world's best.
"Ryan has proved that today — present tense — he is without a doubt the best swimmer in the world," NBC analyst and three-time Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines said at the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships. "I say that with some trepidation because we all know what kind of shape Michael's in."
While Phelps reportedly has regained focus of late and returned to serious training for London, Lochte hasn't let up. At the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai in early August, Lochte defeated Phelps head-to-head twice in three nights on the way to winning six medals, including the gold in a thrilling race to the wall against Phelps in the 200-meter individual medley.
Their rivalry, undoubtedly, will be one of the top storylines entering the US Olympic Trials later this summer and the London Olympics in August. DeLancey won't be at all surprised if Lochte is the man of the hour in London.
"He is always looking to get better," DeLancey says. "He is one of the hardest-working athletes I've ever worked with."
For anyone who might think the 27-year-old Lochte's edge over Phelps the past two years has created a sense of comfort, DeLancey said they better think again.
If anything, Lochte has turned up the intensity of his training.
"His philosophy is that every year he puts himself at the bottom of the list. If he was No. 1, when we start back to training, in his mind he puts himself back at the bottom of the list, and we start from there," DeLancey says. "That is pretty much the way he has handled his business from Day 1. That guy has been chipping away at the world since Day 1.
"I feel like he has kind of worked his way to the point where it could be his turn to be the dominant swimmer. It's been pretty awesome to be a part of it. Ryan makes us all look good."
They begin warming up with some skipping and light running exercises in the alleyway behind DeLancey's home, eventually placing a dozen small U-shaped hurdles into the street.
With DeLancey in front, Lochte and Dwyer follow him down the path.
"It gets your blood pumping," Lochte says.
By the time they are finished, DeLancey's T-shirt is soaked in sweat. Lochte and Dwyer are as dry as the brown grass in the small yards along the street.
As DeLancey's wife, former Florida volleyball player Aurymar Rodriguez, walks out into the garage to observe, DeLancey and Lochte laugh while reminiscing about how others looked at them strangely when they did a similar workout before the SEC Championships one year.
That was around the time when some of Lochte's non-traditional workouts started to garner attention. They later resulted in a Gatorade commercial featuring Lochte and DeLancey in a spot filmed outside DeLancey's home in northwest Gainesville.
With the warm-ups out of the way, DeLancey hands the group large medicine balls. Meanwhile, he begins rolling out a pair of massive tires that are used on earth movers. One weighs 900 pounds. The other tips the scales at 650 pounds.
Lochte rolls the 650-pound tire down the alleyway and onto an adjacent street as a couple of neighbors watch curiously from their screened-in porch. DeLancey rolls the other one, and they eventually place them in the middle of a quiet street in the back of the neighborhood.
The neighbors have no clue that one of the guys rolling a tire is an Olympic champion.
"He's always looking for an edge on his competition, so that's why he is not afraid to come out here and flip a tire, drag a chain," DeLancey said.
As the tires rest, the group heads toward the back of nearby St. Andrews Church to toss the 8-, 10- and 12-pound medicine balls into the air repeatedly. The goal is to touch a branch on a large Live Oak tree about 50 feet above the ground.
"You want to ideally limit your movement," DeLancey tells them. "You want to vertically project the ball."
The exercise helps build core strength. To prevent injuries, they do not catch the ball as it drops to the ground.
Finally, it's time for the tire-flip drills. After nearly an hour, some beads of sweat have formed on Lochte's forehead after the medicine ball routine.
"Now the fun starts," Lochte says.
Dwyer, wearing a pair of sunglasses and no shirt, is ready to tackle the 650-pound tire. Only DeLancey works with the 900-pound one. But as Dwyer moves toward the massive oval, DeLancey quickly intervenes.
"Let me coach you up," he says. "You will lose skin you want to keep, without your shirt on. You come in like a forklift, not a crane."
For more than half an hour, they take turns flipping the tires. Lochte makes it look easiest among the group, with the muscles on his nearly 200-pound frame bulging with each flip.
Dwyer struggles at first with his form, but once he gets some pointers from DeLancey, he conquers the rubber beast. Dwyer has put on about 25 pounds since he joined Gators coach Gregg Troy's successful program — Troy is also head coach of the US National Team that will compete in the Olympics — in part because of these Sunday afternoon workouts.
"I'd say it's been a huge piece of the puzzle," Dwyer says. "At Iowa, I didn't really know how the best in the world trained or even how a top program changed. Coming here that summer changed my whole swimming career."
By the time they finish the tire flips, Lochte and Dwyer look a little worse for the wear. Still, there is more work to be done.
Although the workouts are intense, DeLancey doesn't bark orders like a Marine drill sergeant. He encourages and leads by example, getting in his strongman workout in as if he were training for the Olympics, too.
He often injects humor. After the tire-flips, they return to DeLancey's garage and retrieve a huge medal object with handles and shaped like a log for what DeLancey calls the "log press."
With Dwyer's sunglasses back on and his shirt back off, he presses the log above his head.
"Look at him," DeLancey says. "He looks like the world's strongest man."
They perform the log press for about 20 minutes until DeLancey returns to his garage. It's time to meet the chain.
Lochte goes first, pulling the chain about the length of the next-door neighbor's house until Dwyer takes his turn. One by one they take turns pulling the chain up and down the street. With each pull, the chain scraped a new trail onto the street.
At one point, an older lady driving a Honda Civic turns the corner and heads down the alleyway. Everyone lets out another moan.
"Geez, I'm really sorry guys," the woman says.
"No problem, you're OK," Lochte replies.
Once she passes, they pull the chain back into the street and finish the drill.
About 2-1/2 hours after they pulled up in Lochte's customized SUV, Lochte and Dwyer are finished. They do some stretching and take swigs of water to cool down after another Sunday with DeLancey.
Lochte has participated in the workouts for around four years; Dwyer, 23, has added them to his routine on a more inconsistent approach.
"Most swimmers take Sunday off, so by being active and lifting a bunch of weight, I think it benefits us both from a swimming aspect and just an extra edge," Dwyer says. "Right now, my body is pretty punished. We have the most competitive country in the world, but I plan on making it in one or two events and, hopefully, winning an event or two.
"I think that would be a big step in my career. I've been training the best I've ever trained."
While Troy works closely with both in the pool, the Sundays with DeLancey offer a unique approach that has Lochte and Dwyer dreaming of Olympic gold.
Asked how training devised for strongman competitions can benefit swimmers, DeLancey offers specifics. Sure, the exercises at their core are aimed to build strength, power and stamina, but that directly translates into the pool.
"The biggest impact in swimming is in starts, turns and underwater kicks," DeLancey said. "That chain drag was all about mental toughness and stamina at the end. It's all metabolic. It's pretty awful."
In recognition for his effort at the World Championships and his head-to-head victories against Phelps last summer, Lochte was named male athlete of the year at the Golden Goggles Awards in Los Angeles in November.
He told the crowd the he is working to make this his year and looks forward to dueling with Phelps at the Olympics.
"I wouldn't get this if it wasn't for Michael. He's pushed me to so many limits," Lochte said. "We have a great sportsmanship and a great rivalry."
Lochte also gives DeLancey some credit. All the Sunday afternoons they have spent together in recent years have made a difference in his career.
"He finds different ways to make you better," Lochte says. "It's brutal. He definitely knows how to push an athlete."
Once the tires, chain and other equipment are stored safely back into the garage, Lochte and Dwyer prepare to head out to relax for what is left of the afternoon.
They walk back through DeLancey's home on the way to the front door.
Both are thankful to be saying goodbye to the chain. In a few hours, they will say hello to another challenge.
Lochte and Dwyer have a 7 a.m. workout planned for Monday morning, running stadium stairs at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
No one ever said winning gold was easy.