AUSTIN, Texas -- Ryan Lochte isn’t searching for a fountain of youth, but it sure looks like he’s swimming in one.
Lochte, 31, competes in one of swimming’s hardest races against some of the youngest competition. And he keeps winning at the highest levels.
The 11-time Olympic medalist had no problem cruising to victory in the 400-meter individual medley Saturday on the second day of the Arena Pro Swim Series at the Lee & Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center at the University of Texas.
His time of 4 minutes, 12.66 seconds was almost two seconds ahead of Chase Kalisz, who completed it in 4:14.64. Lochte is 10 years older than Kalisz. In fact, Lochte was one of only two swimmers in the final four 400 IM heats who is older than 26. Most are in the lower 20s or are teenagers.
Lochte said that guys like him and 30-year-old Michael Phelps don’t worry about the young guys nipping at their heels.
“I don’t. I know that even in this world, all over the world, that there’s up-and-coming swimmers,” Lochte said. “Everyone’s getting younger, and they’re finding different ways to get faster. Us old guys, we’ve gotta keep trucking and finding different ways to get better. It’s a lot harder for us but, we’re doing alright.”
Lochte jetted out to an early lead in the butterfly portion, almost an entire second faster than the next-closest competitor. He extended his lead to nearly two seconds after the backstroke, then coasted to victory in the breaststroke and freestyle legs.
He’s the current Olympic champion in the 400 IM after his 4:05.18 in the 2012 London Games. The individual medley is regarded as one of swimming’s most difficult races, and that’s what drives Lochte to continue his domination in this event.
“The reason why I swim that event is that I love racing. It doesn’t matter what event it was. I just love getting on those blocks and racing everyone else,” Lochte said. “And you know, to me, that event the 400 IM tells you that you’re a true swimmer. You can’t be good at one stroke. You have to be good at every stroke. I think it’s amazing, and I love training for every stroke.”
Lochte trains more than five hours a day. He starts with two hours of swimming in the morning, followed by an hour and a half of weights. He comes back in the evening for aerobic, cardio and abdominal workouts followed by two more hours of swimming.
“It’s fun, but it hurts so bad,” Lochte said.
The grueling workouts are punishment on a body that gets older while the completion gets younger. But Lochte said his approach to training and recovery are what’s helped him maintain his status as one of the most elite IM swimmers in the world.
“As you get older you find different ways to get better. You definitely listen to your body a lot more,” Lochte said. “You take care of your body also. I think that’s one of the biggest things I’m doing. I’m doing a lot more recovery than I’ve ever done.
“I never did recovery. But I’m definitely taking care of my body outside the pool. It shows as we get older. I guess you could say we’re finding our old-man strength.”
Lochte, who is aiming at his fourth Olympic Games, said he sees no finish line for his swimming career at this point. So, after his race Saturday he was asked about retirement, or if this would be his final push to an Olympic Games.
“I don’t see that happening anytime soon,” Lochte said with a boyish grin complete with dimples underneath rosy cheeks. “I’m finding different ways to enjoy the sport.”
Lochte said that whenever he finally hangs up his goggles, he’d like to continue training younger swimmers all while launching his own clothing company.
Yes, his own line of clothes. Something he really does plan to pursue, and not just nonchalantly.
“Anything I do I want to go all in to it. I do want to design my own clothes, but I won’t do that until after I’m through swimming,” Lochte said.
Right now, the design is to get past the U.S. Olympic Team Trials and make it to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games. And the desired color there? Gold, of course.
Then he will decide on his future, but that probably won’t happen this year.
“I enjoy waking up every day and doing something that I just love doing,” Lochte said. “I’ll quit swimming when I stop having fun, and I’m having a blast right now.”
Scott McDonald is a Houston-based freelance writer who has 17 years experience in sports reporting and feature writing. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.