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Lochte gets 10 months: big whoop


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.

Poll: 88 percent - 88 percent! - support for LA 2024


In a western democracy such as the United States, it’s hard to get nine out of 10 people to agree on pretty much anything. Is the sky blue? Does the sun rise in the east? Is Donald Trump an idiot? A poll released Tuesday found that 88 percent of Los Angeles County residents want LA to play host to the 2024 Olympic Games.

Again, and for emphasis: 88 percent.

LA mayor Eric Garcetti at the start of the Feb. 13 Olympic marathon Trials // photo city of LA

The International Olympic Committee, when it evaluates candidates for a Games, typically cares about one figure more than anything, and that is public support. The IOC, like each of us, wants to feel wanted, welcomed and encouraged.

This telephone poll, the first major independent survey to assess local Olympic support, was conducted by Loyola Marymount University and sponsored in part by Southern California-based public radio station KPCC. It underscores why — among many reasons — it’s now time for the IOC to take a good, hard look at returning its franchise to the United States for the first time in 28 years.

Once more: 88 percent.

Those results also stand as vivid contrast to the IOC’s messaging failure in advancing its purported Agenda 2020 reforms, a breakdown highlighted by a column written just four days ago by Paul Newberry of Associated Press, an Olympic veteran. The piece, quoting a Holy Cross college economics professor and others, suggested the Games are a “risky financial gamble” and a bid like LA was being unreasonable in looking at turning a 2024 surplus, just like the 1984 surplus, $232.5 million.

“… It’s difficult to see how hosting the Olympics would benefit Los Angeles,” Newberry wrote.

“Paris, Rome or Budapest, for that matter.

“This is a race where the losers get the gold.”

Olympic cost overruns are overwhelmingly a function of big construction tabs. In LA, 97 percent of the venues are already in place or are planned by private — again, private — investors (one venue outstanding: canoe slalom).

Beach volleyball at Santa Monica beach if the IOC picks LA24 // rendering LA24

And that doesn’t include the new $2- to $3-billion LA Rams football stadium and complex in Inglewood, near LAX international airport. For sure, it would be ready — for free to LA Olympic organizers — way before 2024.

To the point that it’s difficult to see how hosting the Games would benefit LA: over the past 30-plus years, that $232.5 million has turned into more than $220 million in grants for youth sport. And the LA84 Foundation still has millions left.

This is why there’s 88 percent support for an LA Olympics: 1984, as experts agree, offers sustainable proof that the Olympics not only can but would be a good deal, for taxpayers and for the IOC.

“The data nerd in me — I have never seen one of my surveys have this much support for anything,” said Brianne Gilbert,  associate director of the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at LMU as well as a professor at the university of both political science and urban studies.

The poll surveyed 2,425 people during the first six weeks of 2016; it was specifically designed to represent LA County’s extensive demographics, with respondents including blacks, whites, Latinos, Asian-Americans and “others.” It was translated into Spanish, Mandarin and Korean. Regardless of group, researchers found almost no difference in support. The poll’s margin of error: plus or minus 3 percent.

Opposition: 12 percent. (Math made easy.)

When the poll includes those who did not answer in the survey: 85 percent in favor, 11 against, 4 not answering.

To be blunt, 88 percent is the kind of number you might get when polling in a country with a very different form of government. Like, an autocratic system. Where maybe it might be better form to just fall in line.

An IOC-commissioned poll in December 2014 in China, measuring support for the 2022 Winter Games bid: 88 percent in Beijing proper.

The LA 88 percent figure is higher even than the result the IOC found when polling in Sochi ahead of the 2007 election that would give the Russian city the 2014 Winter Games: 79 percent.

Fun with numbers: a poll a year ago found that 85 percent of Russians trusted president Vladimir Putin, with experts saying that in the context of a real presidential election (not on the agenda until 2018) Putin would win with a result approaching 90 percent.

Those Sochi Games now come associated with a $51-billion figure. The Games in Rio this summer are running way, way over initial projections, too — now $10 billion or more in public and private money, with organizers searching high and low to cut about $500 million to balance a $1.85 billion operating budget.

That’s why this 2024 race is perhaps the most critical election in IOC history. Not just recent history but — ever. The IOC, when it picks a 2024 winner in September 2017, really has no choice: it has to go somewhere where the Games make hard-core financial sense and, critically, where it’s wanted.

The 88 percent figure also offers a fascinating trend line for the LA effort:

Before the early 2015 decision at which the U.S. Olympic Committee preliminarily chose Boston for 2024, the poll numbers in LA, depending on whether you wanted the LA city or USOC poll, were 77 or 78 percent.

Last August, a USOC poll put the yes-for-24-in-LA figure at 81 percent.

Now, 88.

A cautionary note: at 88 percent, is there any way for LA's poll numbers to go but down, even if a little?

Then again, who knows? It’s LA.

Raphael J. Sonenshine, a professor, author and expert on almost everything Los Angeles who is now executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State-LA, said, “You cannot overemphasize what a success the 1984 Games was.”

He added a moment later, “It was a ridiculous thing to take on the Olympics the way LA did in 1984. It is still paying off. LA residents have actually seen a case where [a Games] still pays off and provides benefits years later.”

Compare the LA numbers to Boston. There, polls consistently reported in-favor figures in the 30s and 40s, and opposition at 50.

Indeed, the USOC — when Boston finally and mercifully sank last July into the death star — specifically said it “did not think that the level of support enjoyed by Boston’s bid would allow it to prevail over great bids from Paris, Rome, Hamburg, Budapest or Toronto.”

A side note: pretty much every round of dismal Boston polling produced glee not just from opponents but from many in the press, and in particular the New York Times, which — like it or not — often drives what happens in a lot of other outlets. Not that Boston didn’t deserve it. Even so, we live in a world fueled by considerable skepticism. So now in Los Angeles, the city that has twice (1984, 1932) played host to, and loves the Games, a poll comes out that documents that passion — and where is the mainstream coverage? Anything in the New York Times? Six paragraphs in USA Today?

Toronto, for the record, opted not to get in to the 2024 derby. Hamburg has since been voted out by referendum.

The IOC typically wants to see bids with public support at 70 percent or better.

Beautiful Budapest and the Danube River // photo Budapest 2024

The Foro Italico complex in Rome // Rome 2024

The Stade de France // Paris 2024

Budapest? 57 percent “expressed support” for the Games, 70 percent said hosting would “make them proud.” Results, per the recently filed campaign bid book, based on a December 2015 poll of 2,000 residents of Budapest and three regional cities.

Rome: 71 percent in the Rome metro area, 75 percent nationally “expressed support.” Figures come from a January 2016 survey of 2,200 cited in the bid book.

Paris? 74 percent support in the city, 77 percent Paris region, 80 percent France. Source: January 2016 poll cited in bid book, no methodology or details offered.

For a little contrast and context, it’s worth recalling Chicago’s unsuccessful bid for 2016. That bid started with a poll that purportedly put support at 77 percent; subsequently, an IOC-commissioned poll fixed it at 67 percent. Rio and Madrid both came back in that IOC poll at 85 percent, Tokyo at 56 percent.

The IOC voted for 2016 in October 2009. Chicago went out first. Then Tokyo. Rio then went on to beat Madrid.

One final time: LA24, 88 percent.

LMU’s Gilbert said, “Believe me, we checked and double-checked to make sure. Because our name is on the line as well. People are just really excited about it.”