Jack Conger

Lochte gets 10 months: big whoop

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Ryan Lochte gets a 10-month suspension. To share the insight offered by a teen observer: big whoop.

You know who the big winner here is? Ryan Lochte.

That conclusion is as undeniable as it is undesirable. It is also, despite the best intentions of Olympic and swim officials, the most profoundly disappointing part of this entire episode — all of it, from start to finish.

Ryan Lochte and Cheryl Burke in this week's DWTS publicity tour // Getty Images

From Ryan Lochte’s perspective, it was all about Ryan Lochte on that boozy night in Rio. For the next week, it was all about Ryan Lochte instead of the scores of other athletes, American and otherwise, chasing their own Olympic dreams in Brazil.

Even since then, too. Since being back in the States from Rio, there have been only two main questions — one, how was it and, two, what about Ryan Lochte?

On Wednesday night, in the hours after TMZ broke the story of the 10-month suspension, it was still all about Lochte — instead of the athletes on U.S. Paralympic team or the Paralympic opening ceremony back in Rio.

And it was all about Lochte on Thursday, when the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Swimming formally announced the sanction. The USA Today headline: “Lochte’s Brazil gas station pals also suspended.”

Dude seriously could not have scripted this any better in advance of being on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Think about this:

In Rio, Lochte put the USOC and USA Swimming between a rock and a hard place. Then he did the exact same thing this week — those sports officials caught between wanting to impose sanction and the deadline of wanting to make that sanction public before next Monday’s season premiere of DWTS.

For that matter, the USOC and USA Swimming were in the same sort of rock-and-hard place dilemma in making it plain Lochte and the three others — Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger — had to be expecting a formal response. In embarrassing themselves, they also embarrassed the USOC and USA Swimming. So something had to be done. But what should that something be, and to what purpose?

Lochte also loses $100,000 in medal bonus money. That’s inconsequential in comparison to the four sponsors who have dropped him. But another has already said it intends to pick him up so he is clearly the farthest thing from radioactive.

The other three got four months away from the U.S. national team. Big whoop.

Bentz is back in college at Georgia. Conger is at Texas. They still can swim for their college teams.

Clockwise: Feigen, Lochte, Conger, Bentz // Getty Images

Lochte has to do 20 hours of community service, Bentz 10 for violating the Olympic Village curfew rules for athletes under 21. As swimming’s world governing body, FINA, pointed out, the International Olympic Committee insisted on a community service element.

Bottom line:

It’s all profoundly disturbing.

Lochte is not a bad guy. Indeed, he can be a very good guy — always willing to sign autographs, especially for kids. He is personable. He can be very likable.

On the theory that everyone has to navigate his or her own path in this life, let’s be honest: there have to be moments when it can’t be easy being Ryan Lochte, with 12 Olympic medals, when Michael Phelps has 28.

Even so, there is so much that remains so troubling.

In late June, GQ magazine published a feature entitled “The De-Broing of Ryan Lochte,” in which he avowed that the 2016 version of himself that would be on display in Rio would be “more mature.”

After Rio, this from Lochte in People magazine:

“I made things up. I didn’t tell the truth.  And that’s on me. I messed up and made a big mistake, and I’m sorry.”

Even if you want to believe him — and there is, again, a lot of good in Lochte — it’s wholly unclear that he gets it.

To be clear: that is not a referendum on Lochte’s intelligence. He is not dumb. Really, he is not.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot, because I have a big heart, and I feel like [I] let down a lot of people,” he also told the magazine. “I feel bad that I have let people down.”

All good. Except for what he said next:

“It sucks that it was one of the main focuses of the Olympics. That’s what stinks. The media blew it up and talked about it. It got out of control, and this was all anyone could talk about.”

The media blew it up? Hello?

“Everyone started watching it and they didn’t watch the athletes. That’s another reason why I’m so hurt by it, because it took away from the Games.”

Ryan Lochte is hurting?

Where is the responsibility and accountability?

That whole actions-matter-more-than-words thing, you know.

The straight line from peeing on a gas station wall to lying about it to abandoning your teammates to deal for themselves with the consequences to being featured on one of America’s most popular television shows makes for a discordant message — a bad, very bad disconnect — when it comes to the values the Olympic movement, the USOC and USA Swimming purport to stand for.

Here was Lochte, in Rio, before the partying but after his last race, fifth in the 200-meter IM, off the podium:

“In life, in swimming, in sports, there are always ups and downs. It is what you do when you have those downs who make you what you are.”

Actions, words, etc.

It’s not that Lochte is going on DWTS. It’s that he’s going now — without taking a hard look at who he is and, in particular, the role alcohol plays in his decision-making.

At 32, he knows the bro thing comes with a sell-by date. But talking about it is one thing and acting like the mature role model he should be apparently another. The question he has yet to examine, and far away from the spotlight: why is he saying one thing and doing another?

For the sake of discussion, which requires in this context putting aside for a moment the peeing and the lying — it’s also a fair question to ask whether Lochte should have stuck around Rio. That is, should he have left Brazil when he did?

Should he, in essence, have kept to his regularly scheduled programming?

Or is the idea of “justice” in Brazil so fundamentally different that he did the right thing by getting out of dodge?

Here’s what Lochte should have done:

The moment Conger and Bentz were dragged off a plane, that is the instant Lochte should have called the USOC and USA Swimming and asked, what can or should I do?

Did he?

Looking at this from another angle:

Lochte didn’t hurt anyone. When Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence, it was because he was deemed a menace to the public health. So: why is Lochte getting more?

Because this is apples and oranges. Luckily, Phelps didn’t hurt anyone. And what’s at issue here is reputation and credibility — for Lochte, the USOC and USA Swimming.

In a statement sent to USA Today, Lochte’s lawyer, Jeff Ostrow, said, “We accept the decision as [we] believe it is in everyone’s best interest to move forward, adding in the next paragraph, “That said, in my oinion, while the collective sanctions appear to be harsh when considering what actually happened that day — Ryan did not commit a crime, he did not put the public safety at risk and he did not cheat in his sport — we will leave it to others to evaluate the appropriateness of the penalties.”

That sort of thing is called advocating for your client.

Back to reality: Phelps got six months. U.S. soccer goalie Hope Solo got six months, too. So six was a starting place for Lochte.

And yet — 10 months away from competition won’t achieve anything, practically speaking.

Frankly, it’s laughable.

Yes, it’s 10 months, ending in June 2017, with a plus — just the way Phelps had to stay away from the 2015 world championships in Kazan, Russia, Lochte will now be ineligible for the 2017 worlds in Budapest next July.

So what?

The 10 months is time Lochte would have taken off, anyway.

He was never going to be serious about 2017. In Rio, after that 200 IM, he said:

“It has been a long journey. I think now it is time for me to take a break, mentally and physically, to just get myself back to when I was a little kid having fun again. i can’t say this is my last time swimming. So we will see what happens.”

Ryan Lochte in Rio, before it all blew up // Getty Images

For two, as the Wall Street Journal reported in a story midway through the Rio Games, Phelps’ lengthy post-London break may now well serve as a template for others, especially older athletes such as Lochte, who is now 32. Why grind away for four solid years when, as Phelps proved conclusively, you can train less — push for maybe 18 months — and still win bunches of medals? For his part, Phelps turned 31 in late June.

For three, in keeping Phelps away from the 2015 Kazan worlds, USA Swimming could not have been any more clear about how it views what is purportedly the marquee event on the FINA calendar in odd-numbered years. Same for Lochte and 2017 in Budapest.

A note: Lochte will now lose out on the chance to win a fifth straight 200 IM worlds gold. Same theme: so what? He already has four, and fifth at the 2016 Olympics hardly makes him the odds-on 2017 favorite.

For four, and this is a nugget that swim geeks would understand immediately but takes just a few words of explanation for a wider audience:

Leaving U.S. college racing aside, because it is measured in yards, there are two kinds of racing at the world-class level, both in meters: long-course events, such as the Olympics or the (2017 Budapest) worlds, which take part in a 50-meter pool, and short-course, over a 25-meter set-up.

Lochte has for years been one of the few U.S. swimmers to excel at both, a mainstay of the U.S. short-course team.

Anytime Lochte wants, he can start racing short-course to get himself back up to speed. So it’s way off the mark, as some might suggest, that Lochte’s career is at a dead-end for two or maybe even three years, until the 2019 long-course worlds, now set for Gwangju, South Korea.

At the DWTS “cast reveal” party this week in New York, Lochte also told People, “I’m excited for, not only myself, but everyone else to forget about what happened and to move forward. I think that’s what the biggest thing is — what we’re gonna do is just move forward and show off my dancing skills.”

Just — so troubling. All around.

U.S. Kazan 2015 mantra: 'are defeats necessary?'

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KAZAN, Russia — David Plummer is a championship backstroker. Here, he served as a captain of the U.S. team. Two years ago, at the world championships in Barcelona, Plummer earned silver in the 100 back. Here, though, he managed only a ninth-place finish, not even good enough to make the finals, ultimately won by Australia’s Mitchell Larkin. As the 2015 world championships drew Sunday to a close, Plummer turned to Twitter, and some philosophy from the Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho:

“I ask myself: are defeats necessary? Well, necessary or not, they happen…

“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.

“Only when we overcome [our trials] do we understand why they were there.”

David Plummer in the heats of the 50 backstroke // Getty Images

The quest for understanding begins now.

These 2015 Kazan world championships marked arguably the American team’s poorest performance in the history of the world championships, dating to 1973.

When all was said and done, the U.S. ended up with 23 medals, eight gold.

The American team’s weakest world championships performance, before this one: 1994, in Rome, with 21 medals, four gold.

Take out the two medals in the mixed relays, both new events (gold in the 4x100 free Saturday, silver in the 4x1 medley Wednesday) and the total drops to 21.

Those figures stand in stark contrast to the 2013 total: 29 overall, 13 gold.

Compare, too, to recent years: 29 and 16 at Shanghai 2011, 22 and 10 in 2009 (Rome again), at the height of the plastic-suit craziness.

The only Americans to win individual gold: Katie Ledecky (four), Ryan Lochte (one). That’s it. The other winners: that mixed relay, the women's 4x200 free relay (anchored by Ledecky), the men's medley.

The question heading toward a different set of Trials, next summer in Omaha, a few weeks before the Aug. 5 start of the Rio Games, is whether what happened here amounts to aberration or the confluence of potent trends that mean the United States’ long-established role at the top of the swimming world is at significant risk.

— It’s indisputable that, owing to the worldwide import of Michael Phelps, world-class swimming has gotten better and, more so, better in more places. Argentina won its first-ever medal here. So, too, Singapore. Akram Ahmed of Egypt took fourth in the men’s 1500 Sunday night. A record 189 nations competed in Kazan, up from 177 at Barcelona 2013.

— The Australians are back, and in a big way. The Aussies won one gold in swimming at the London 2012 Games, three in Barcelona. Here, seven gold, 16 overall.

— The Brits emerged as a force, in particular 200 free champ James May and breaststroke god Adam Peaty. Their final tally: five gold, nine overall.

— The Chinese have both talent and depth, with 13 medals overall, five gold, including Ning Zetao's victory in the 100; he is the first Asian to win swimming's male heavyweight fight.

Ning’s victory made things a little crazy on the internet in China. The Wall Street Journal reported that a CCTV host wrote on his verified account that Ning “is the husband in everyone’s dream.”

Never mind that Ning is just 22.

The same host, referring to the social media-app WeChat, “All women went crazy overnight, and pictures of all angles of his abdominal muscles swept my WeChat moments.”

By mid-day Friday, more than 100,000 web users had posted selfies with the hashtag “Ning Zetao’s Girlfriend.”

“We call handsome boys little fresh meat,” a Weibo user wrote. “But for special ones like Ning, he should be called little fresh fish.”

As for the Americans, and first the bright spots:

— Ledecky raced into the history books, winning five gold medals, the 200, 400, 800 and 1500, and that 4x200 free relay.

In all, Kazan 2015 featured 12 world records. Ledecky set three of them.

For the next year, she will be the face of the American team, which is lovely, because she not only wins, she wins with great class.

On Saturday, after her final race, the 800 free, which she won in world-record time, Ledecky met with the press, then as she was walking away from a media clutch, she met up with a gaggle of red-shirted volunteers who squealed in happiness that she would take a picture with them.

Unaware that three reporters were lingering behind, Ledecky said to the volunteers, “Thanks for all the great work you do.”

Ledecky and Kerri Walsh Jennings, the beach volleyball star, are in this way always gracious and polite to seemingly everyone they meet. Maybe it’s something about Stanford, which is where Walsh Jennings went and Ledecky is due to attend.

— Phelps, assuming he sticks to his vow to keep doing the hard work that swimming absolutely demands, figures to race for gold in at least three events next summer, the 100 and 200 flys and the 200 individual medley.

Swimming this week in San Antonio, at the U.S. nationals, Phelps won the 100 fly in 50.45, the 200 in 1:52.94. Both times would have won here.

More pointedly, both victories came amid some smack-talk from the likes of Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh, winner in Kazan of the 200 fly, and South Africa’s Chad le Clos, winner here of the 100 fly.

Le Clos won Saturday in 50.56, then declared Phelps hadn’t gone that fast in years.

Oops — just hours later in San Antonio, here came that 50.45, Phelps' fastest-time ever in the event in a textile suit.

Le Clos also said here, referring to Phelps, “I’m just very happy that he’s back to his good form so he can’t come out and say, ‘Oh, I haven’t been training,’ or all that rubbish that he’s been talking. Next year is going to be Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier.”

Cseh won Wednesday in 1:53.48. Of Phelps’ 1:52.94 in San Antonio, the fastest time by any swimmer since Phelps himself in 2009, Cseh said, “It’s quite good but it doesn’t matter because I won the world championship.”

Gentlemen, we are not here to tell you what to say, or not, but history has shown repeatedly that if Phelps puts in his training blocks, you mess with fire when you blow this kind of smoke.

Ask the likes of Ian Thorpe, Ian Crocker and, famously, Milorad Cavic.

When Phelps has someone he can — in his mind — target, it has not gone well, swim-wise, for said target.

“The comments were interesting,” Phelps said Saturday in San Antonio. “It just fuels me. If you want to do it, go for it. I welcome it.”

— Lochte's victory in the 200 IM made for his fourth world championship gold in a row in the event.

At the same time, he finished fourth in the 200 free, same as in 2013 and 2012.

Lochte is for sure Mr. Reliable on the relays, where the American performance here — without Lochte or Nathan Adrian, the U.S. men failed to qualify for the 4x1 finals — showed just how valuable he is.

Here is the challenge for Lochte in the 200 IM come the U.S. Trials in Omaha and, presumably, Rio:

Phelps.

At an Olympics, the 200 IM traditionally comes on the same night as the 200 back, and thus it will be in Rio, on Thursday, Aug. 11. At previous Games, Lochte has opted to try to pull off that grueling double. In London, he took third in the 200 back, then silver — behind Phelps — in the 200 IM.

-- Connor Jaeger broke the 11-year-old American record in the 1500 on Sunday night, going 14:41.2. Larsen Jensen had gone 14:45.29 at the 2004 Athens Games.

Now for some question marks:

— This U.S. 2015 team was picked a year ago. Was that a good plan? No Caitlin Leverenz, Allison Schmitt, Jack Conger or others who might have made a difference.

— The U.S. sprinting program, excluding Adrian, needs someone to step up, and big time. No one did here.

— Tyler Clary had won a medal of some sort at the 2009, 2011 and 2013 worlds; he is the 2012 London 200 back gold medalist. Here? No medals.

-- Jaeger: That 14:41.2 earned him silver, 1.53 seconds behind Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy, in 14:39.67. China's Sun Yang, the world record-holder and pre-race favorite, did not swim, saying he felt a heart problem -- literally his heart, not his desire to race -- before the call to the blocks. Jaeger's other Kazan races: fourth, 400 free; fourth, 800 free.

— The relays: That the U.S. men missed out on the finals of the 4x1 free is, in a word, inexcusable. The men’s 4x2 free relay finished second, the first time since 2004 the Americans had not won at a worlds or Olympics (the British took first, with Guy making up a 1.63-second deficit and then some, touching 42-hundredths ahead of Michael Weiss).

In 2001, the U.S. men won no relays. That had been the only time ever at worlds history there had been no U.S. men’s relay gold.

Thus the stakes were high for Sunday night’s medley, the Americans opting to lead off not with Matt Grevers — gold medalist in the 100 back at London 2012 and Barcelona 2013, silver medalist in the event at Beijing 2008 — but with Ryan Murphy, who threw out a 52.18 in the mixed medley relay heats.

The thinking? Larkin won the 100 back in 52.40. Murphy’s 52.18 made for the fourth-fastest time ever in the event.

Larkin kept the Americans close, third, with a 53.05; Larkin turned the race over with the Aussies in first, in 52.41. On the third leg, butterfly, Tom Shields put the Americans in first; Adrian held on to bring the Americans home to gold in 3:29.93.

Adrian's free split: 47.41.

The split for Australia's Cameron McEvoy, who was closing: 46.6.

— Dana Vollmer is back in training. She won the women’s 100 fly in London. Can she, now a new mom, make it all the way back to the top of the world stage?

— Missy Franklin? Ohmigod, she did not win every single thing she entered. What?!

Franklin did, for instance, come through, and in a big way, in that mixed 4x1 free relay, anchoring the team to victory and a world record.

As Franklin heads back home to Colorado, however, it’s clear that Ledecky is now the 200 free boss, so there’s that.

For another, Franklin was clearly not her best self here. She faded significantly on the last lap of Saturday’s 200 backstroke, a race she has owned for years. Summoned to swim the backstroke leg of the women's medley Sunday night, she managed 59.81, fifth; the Americans would end up fourth.

Franklin’s longtime coach, Todd Schmitz, told the Denver Post a few weeks ago that he has had to “rekindle” in her “the same kind of fire that I used to see.”

Franklin said Saturday she was “proud” of what she had done here, given the work she had put in over the past two months; she said she looked forward to seeing the results of a full year of going at it hard.

Plummer, meanwhile, has been chasing Rio since missing out on London 2012 by 12-hundredths of a second.

His ninth-place Monday in the 100 came while he was, literally, sick. “Have been battling a stomach bug, but I can't make any excuses,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “I have to find a way to be faster.”

On Sunday, in the 50 back, a non-Olympic event, Plummer finished eighth, of eight, in 24.95. Camille Lacourt of France won, in 24.23; Grevers took second, in 24.61.

Maybe, then, time for another quote that Plummer once cited, this one on his Facebook page, from “The Boys in the Boat,” the story of the University of Washington rowing crew that won gold at the 1936 Berlin Games:

"The trick would be to find which few of them had the potential for raw power, the nearly superhuman stamina, the indomitable willpower, and the intellectual capacity necessary to master the details of technique."

The deadline in this instance is already marked on swim calendars: the first day of the U.S. Trials in Omaha. It's Sunday, June 26, 2016.