A Q&A with Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte

Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte was in Minneapolis this past weekend competing in the USA Swimming-sponsored Minnesota Grand Prix at the University Aquatic Center, where he took first place in the 100-yard backstroke and 200-yard individual medley and second place in the 100-yard breaststroke. Lochte has competed in both the Athens Olympics in 2004 and Beijing Olympics in 2008, where he took home two bronze medals and two golds. He edged out teammate Aaron Peirsol to set the world record in the 200-meter backstroke. What motivated you to get into a career in swimming? Well my familyâÄôs always been in swimming; both my parents were coaches when I was younger. Both my sisters swam. IâÄôve basically been around the pool my whole life. I played a lot of sports, but swimming was the most natural âÄî the one sport that I felt the most comfortable with. YouâÄôre dad was your coach at one point. Did you ever feel any pressure having him as your coach? No. It was really good having him as my coach because he didnâÄôt treat me different than any other swimmer. When I was at the pool, he was my swim coach. I couldnâÄôt say, âÄòHey Dad, whatâÄôs the next set?âÄô It was all strictly âÄòcoach.âÄô As soon as we left that pool, it was âÄòDad.âÄô So we divided that, and I think thatâÄôs what really helped. I heard that when you were 3 years old you fell into a pool, and from there your Dad said you were a natural. He coached for a community college team, and he was on the pool deck. I just came from outside, and it was snowing, so I had my snowsuit on. I was waddling in when I was 3. I tripped and fell and landed in the diving well. Everyone ran to try to get me because they saw me go in, but I popped up and I was on my back and I was smiling. And my Dad pulls me up, and then he kind of drops me and leaves me there, right by the side of the pool, and IâÄôm just laughing. IâÄôm splashing the water. Normally a 3-year-old, when they do that they start crying. I was floating, I was laughing, I was playing with the water. I guess from there on I just knew waterâÄôs just natural. What goes through your mind when youâÄôre up on the starting block? Honestly, nothing. Before I step on the blocks nothing is going through my head. At the most IâÄôll probably be thinking about what kind of food IâÄôm going to eat later, just anything but swimming. The more I do that, the calmer IâÄôll be. The most calm I am, the better off IâÄôm going to be. If IâÄôm ever thinking about swimming, itâÄôs probably going to be a bad swim. Why did you choose to go to Florida? It was kind of funny because coming out of high school I wasnâÄôt the best athlete. I think I was the 12th or 13th recruit. The only college that wanted me to go a full ride was Ohio State, and that wasnâÄôt a big swim school at the time. Florida talked to me. They were like, âÄúHey, yeah, we can get you here for, like, 25 percent or something if youâÄôre interested.âÄù I was like, âÄúWell, no. I want a full ride.âÄù But then two guys that they were already recruiting in Florida âĦ they went somewhere else. So the coach calls me the next week and says, âÄúHey, listen, we have a full ride opened if youâÄôre interested.âÄù So I signed the papers, and I swear basically where my swimming career began was my freshman year at Florida. How did you become the swimmer you are today after entering college as one of the least competitive recruits? It actually happened my freshman year after the first month. One weekend we had our first swim meet. It was against Tennessee or somebody. Coach said, âÄúI donâÄôt want you swimming at this meet. Go home and actually think about if you want to still be on the swim team.âÄù I was always last in the lane. I never went first. IâÄôd just get beat all the time. So I went home for that weekend, and I donâÄôt know what happened. Something happened. When I got back on Monday to practice I started training harder. I started leading the lane. People hardly ever beat me in practice. I started winning races at meets. That weekend just kind of turned my head, and I kind of got more serious and focused. What was going through your head in Athens? You were entering the biggest international stage that there is. My coach, the head coach for Florida, he said, âÄúWhen you go to the Olympics, just think of it as another dual meet.âÄù So I went into the Olympics thinking that this was just another swim meet. ItâÄôs not the Olympics. ItâÄôs just another dual meet. I think that helped a lot because that calmed me down, and I was just having fun. How did it feel to get your first individual gold medal in Beijing? I just remember touching the wall and just throwing my head back and finally saying, âÄúYes.âÄù ItâÄôs a dream come true. ItâÄôs just something that I always wanted, since I was little, to get an individual gold medal while breaking a world record. It finally came true, and I was kind of in shock that it finally happened. It was definitely a relief. Did you sample the nightlife? Yeah. I definitely did that. We finished the 17th [of August], and we checked into a hotel that day. I was there until the 21st, so I had about four nights to go out and experience China. It was a lot of fun. Clubs and bars donâÄôt close until the sun comes up. I remember walking out of a club, dripping sweat from dancing all night, and the sunâÄôs up. IâÄôm like, âÄúWhatâÄôs going on?âÄù Are you a party animal? I wouldnâÄôt say that. I just like to have fun. I like to go out and just have a couple beers and relax. Is there a little bit of competition between you and some of your teammates on the national team? Oh yeah. There is. I do so many events that IâÄôm starting to get a little bit more rivalries with other swimmers, not just one. But, I mean, thatâÄôs the sport. ItâÄôs all about racing. ItâÄôs all about having fun. Me and Michael [Phelps], we always go head to head, and me and Peirsol now. ItâÄôs just fun, and weâÄôre friends; weâÄôre both friends no matter what. Win or lose, weâÄôre still friends at the end of the day. ThatâÄôs how it should be. We donâÄôt hold grudges. Does having a friendly rivalry in the pool help you compete? It helps just because I want to become better than that other person. I want to become the best in the world, so it kind of motivates me while IâÄôm in practice. When I do step up on the blocks, it also helps. What do you think of the facilities and program at the University of Minnesota? IâÄôve been coming to this pool since I was a freshman. I love the pool. ItâÄôs a great facility. I love it because we usually stay at the Radisson right across the street so itâÄôs walking distance. The barâÄôs right there, the foodâÄôs right there, so everythingâÄôs just in a walking distance. I just donâÄôt like the cold. Even though I did live in upstate New York for 11 years, IâÄôm more of a Florida boy now. What is next? The first week in December thereâÄôs a meet in Atlanta. Short course senior nationals, so IâÄôll be going to that. Then, I guess itâÄôs just a little dual meet here, a little dual meet there, and then at the end of the summer itâÄôs Worlds in Rome. Hopefully IâÄôll be going to that. IâÄôll start my Olympic training from there. Do you hope to compete in 2012? Definitely competing in 2012.