Ryan Lochte (left) and coach David Marsh pose for a picture after Lochte completed his first official swim workout in Charlotte Monday morning. Lochte, who has already won 11 Olympic medals, then gave me an exclusive interview about why the international swimming superstar was moving to Charlotte.
Ryan Lochte granted an exclusive interview with The Charlotte Observer Monday, which was his first interview since he moved to Charlotte last week.
I talked with Lochte one-on-one after his first practice under SwimMAC coach David Marsh at Queens University's sparkling new pool at the Levine Center. The plan is for Lochte to live in Charlotte for much of the next three years, training under Marsh and alongside his best friend, former N.C. State swimmer Cullen Jones, as they prepare for a run at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. (Lochte will also maintain a residence in Florida, which is where he grew up and went to school. If you'd rather just see the photos, here is a slideshow by The Observer's Jeff Siner of Lochte's first practice).
Lochte, 29, is generally considered the best male swimmer in the world, and so this is a coup for Charlotte, SwimMAC Carolina and Marsh. An 11-time Olympic medalist, Lochte had based his training at the University of Florida under coach Gregg Troy for more than a decade.
"I was at a college town, at the University of Florida for so long," Lochte said Monday. "I love that place to death but I'm getting to a point in my life where I'm getting older and it's time for a change."
Lochte is also something of a sex symbol, and every time he has swum at Charlotte's UltraSwim meet over the past several years he has been greeted with screams from teenaged girls who sound like they are at a One Direction concert. He is so popular that he has more than a million Twitter followers, has come up with his own catchphrase ("Jeah"), dabbles in fashion design, enjoys a good party and starred in a reality TV show based on his life earlier this year (although it was not well reviewed and was short-lived).
Lochte said a number of things drew him to train in Charlotte -- not just Marsh and fellow Olympic gold medalist Jones, who calls Lochte "the best athlete in the world when it comes to swimming."
Said Lochte: "They host the UltraSwim here and I've been coming to this meet for eight, nine years straight, and I mean I love this city. I wanted to move to a city, but I didn't want to go to like to L.A. or New York where it was really big and just chaos. This is perfect.... And my best friend, Cullen Jones, he's here. I love it."
Lochte also said he will live alone for the first time in his life in Charlotte. He has gotten a place in the same complex where Jones lives, but just down the hall so he can have his own space, he said.
Marsh is known for his unique training methods, which emphasize quality of work over quantity and include a number of innovative approaches to dry-land training as well. Marsh did not actively recruit Lochte to come to Charlotte -- although Jones certainly did, the swimmer said -- but the coach was very happy to see Lochte dive into the Queens University pool for Lochte's first workout with SwimMAC's Team Elite Monday morning.
"It's almost like back when I was a graduate assistant at Auburn and Bo Jackson was running," Marsh said. "You'd hand him the ball in a game and everybody in the stadium would hold his breath. Ryan dove in the water today and the way he moves through the water, it is very special.
He has a relationship with the water I'm not sure even he understands."
Lochte said he would not be training in other places (Australia had been rumored) and was committed to staying in Charlotte through the 2016 Olympics (although, again, he will continue to keep the Florida residence as well). He will be 32 by the time those are held. There would be only one reason why he would stop training in Charlotte earlier than that, he said.
Said Lochte: "I'll be here through 2016, unless something happens where I start doing really bad in the sport. Then I'll have to go back to where my swimming career started, back in Florida. But I don't plan on getting any slower -- 2016 is my biggest goal. I want to stick it out here and see what me and David Marsh can do."
Lochte said his usual swim practices at Florida -- where he became a worldwide force in swimming under Troy but was sometimes overshadowed by Michael Phelps -- constituted churning out thousands of yards per day. He said he wanted to become more of a sprinter under Marsh, who is known for coaching the shorter distances particularly well.
Said Lochte: "In my next swimming career, which started this morning, I want to train for some sprint events now.... I'm not done yet. I think there's a lot more I can accomplish in the sport of swimming. I want to take my swimming to a new [level], and I want to bring it here to Charlotte."
Lochte, Marsh and Jones after practice Monday. The friendship of Lochte and Jones was a big reason for Lochte's move to Charlotte, both swimmers say.