OMAHA – A handful of weeks ago, Ryan Lochte and his coach thought up a pretty crazy idea.
Lochte could swim three extremely physically demanding races in one night with multiple Olympic berths on the line – if everything went according to plan. And it did.
Lochte qualified for both the 200-meter backstroke and the 200-meter individual medley finals. Those races were scheduled to take place about 20 minutes apart on Saturday night. For kicks – or maybe strategy – Lochte also qualified for the 100-meter butterfly semifinals, the final men’s event of the night.
Lochte competed in three events in less than 60 minutes, winning the 200 back and finishing second to Michael Phelps in the 200 IM. Lochte also qualified for Sunday night’s 100 fly final, which he said he will race.
“Tonight was probably the most pain I’ve endured in a swimming competition,” Lochte said after he had finished all three races. “Going back-to-back-to-back was definitely hard, but you know what? I was up for the challenge. It’s something I’ve been training for the past four years. I knew I was able to do it.”
Reporters and fans didn’t doubt that Lochte’s freakishly strong and well-conditioned body could last through the three grueling events. They just didn’t think he’d actually go through with the rare triple.
“I mean, yeah, three events. That’s pretty ostentatious, for sure,” said NBC swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines, a three-time Olympian.
Lochte’s coach, Gregg Troy, didn’t see it that way.
“Ryan thrives in challenges,” Troy said. “It was something that we talked about and wanted to see if we could do. … As he looks to the future, he’s going to be able to swim the 100s real well. We have almost no experience in (the 100 fly), so it was almost laying a base and seeing where we are and what we can do.”
Lochte and Troy both said they’d see how Sunday’s 100 fly final goes before deciding whether Lochte would swim it in London. He has already qualified for four individual Olympic events, so if he qualifies for the 100 fly and swims all three relays, his program in London will include eight events.
It would also include the same triple as Saturday.
Lochte was asked what he thought was the hardest part. He paused, letting his exhaustion sink in for a moment.
“Racing the top people in the world and racing them all the way to the finish,” Lochte said. “It’s one of the hardest things to do because that first event – the 200 backstroke … It just takes your legs out of you. Then being able to come back like 20 minutes later, and going against Michael Phelps … ”
He trailed off.
“I knew I was up for the challenge,” he said. “It was definitely hard. I’m a little tired, but I guess it’s good for you.”
Phelps, who swam in three finals in one night at the 2004 Olympic trials, said he would never sign up for another triple. “It’s not a good feeling. You’re definitely in a lot of pain,” Phelps said. He admitted, too, that he took advantage of Lochte’s tired legs by setting a fast pace at the start of their 200 IM final. He beat Lochte by nine-hundredths of a second.
Sunday’s 100 fly provides Lochte with a chance for payback. It’s not his best event, but it’s one of his rival’s best. Phelps owns the world record.
Or maybe this isn’t about Phelps at all, but about Lochte gaining experience with the butterfly, as his coach said.
“I’ll just see how the 100 fly goes, then get ready for London,” Lochte said.
Now, only one event remains before Lochte heads to the Olympics. One event in one night? That’s not crazy at all.