EAST MEADOW, N.Y. – Ryan Lochte had questions.
He needed answers.
After a fifth place finish in the men’s 100 meter backstroke final with a time of 55.16 seconds Saturday at the U.S. Open, the Olympian believes knows where he stands.
“It’s a good starting point,” Lochte said following his first USA Swimming-sanctioned event after a 10-month suspension for his behavior at Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“Coming into this meet is just (to) get a starting point and build off from there.”
Arkady Vyatchanin was first with a time of 53.91, followed by Christopher Reid (54.54), Xavier Mohammed (54.62) and Brock Bonetti (54.99) ahead of Lochte, who qualified for the finals by placing seventh in the preliminary meet with a time of 55.59 seconds.
Matthew Josa (55.38), Hennessey Stuart (55.38) and Clark Beach (55.48) rounded out the heat. All eight swimmers stood on the podium after the race.
Lochte will swim in the 200 intermediate medley Sunday, where where he is the top seed. The weeklong event, held at the Nassau County Aquatic Center, is serving as Lochte’s first recognized competitive meet following an incident at the Rio Olympics.
After a night out with teammates Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and James Feigen, Lochte had claimed in an interview with NBC that the taxi the swimmers were in had been pulled over and the athletes were robbed at gunpoint. In a subsequent interview with NBC, Lochte said he “over-exaggerated” the incident.
However, Brazilian authorities, citing videotape evidence, revealed the swimmers were confronted by security personnel after destroying a gas station bathroom.
Lochte eventually posted a mea culpa on his Twitter account.
Last September, USA Swimming and the United States Olympic Committee announced Lochte was suspended for 10 months and would be fined $100,000 for his role, which cost him sponsorships with Speedo, Ralph Lauren, Airweave and Gentle Hair Removal.
A Brazilian appellate court in July dismissed criminal charges against Lochte, saying he did not break the law because the swimmer’s claims to NBC were not equal to filing a false police report.
“Whatever happened, happened in the past. I’m a human. I made a mistake. I learned from it. Just like everyone else. And I’ve moved on from it. I’ve bettered myself. I settled down,” Lochte said. “I’ve learned from my mistakes. I think every one in the world is understanding of that. The past is the past. Every one is moving on from it.”
Fans stood and shot video of Lochte on smartphones and tablets, and they cheered when his name was announced.
“The love and support that I see at this swim meet – the fans – is awesome. It’s one of the reasons I’m still swimming. Because of those fans and the love and the support they show me,” said Lochte, who had his fiancee Kayla Rae Reid, infant son Caiden, father Steven and mother Ileana with him. “I knew just from social media and how people are so supportive of me, but I didn’t know it was going to be like this.”
Lochte has said he is eying a spot on the 2020 Olympic team. The 33-year old has won six Olympic Gold Medals, three silver medals and three bronze medals while representing the U.S. in the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics. He would turn 36 during the 2020 Summer Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo.
“It’s going to be a long journey the next three years,” said Lochte, who is training at the University of Southern California. He estimated that he swims once-to-twice a week. “I wish I could be there more. Like I said, I go once, maybe twice a week. A good week I go twice and that is nowhere near where I need to be at.
“Before 2012 when I was at my peak, I was training daily. I was hungry. Then I lost that the past four years. Now the hunger is inside but I haven’t done the training. … Now it’s go time.”
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