In praise of Ryan Lochte

Ryan Lochte at the National Championships in 2009 when he began to emerge  from Michael Phelps’ shadow

Ryan Lochte at the National Championships in 2009 when he began to emerge from Michael Phelps’ shadow

The man who is perhaps the best swimmer in the world won’t be helping the U.S. win another “Duel in the Pool” when the five-year-old event is contested Dec. 20 and 21 in Glasgow. (This is one of those events that pits us against everyone else.)

It seems that an enthusiastic teenage girl ran into Ryan Lochte, literally, tearing a ligament in his left knee and spraining another. (In my second novel, “In This Place Your Hold Me,” the rakish star quarterback of the New York Templars breaks his leg when he slides off his girlfriend in a particularly lubricious encounter, paving the way for my main character, Quinton Day Novak, to become the signal-caller. I guess you can’t make this stuff up.)

But you can make fun of Ryan easily – the grilles, the freak accidents, the catchphrases that aren’t particularly catchy, the reality show (“What Would Ryan Lochte Do?”) that posed a question no one would ever ask, the malapropisms. These all suggest someone a few floors short of an observation deck.

But this we know: The guy’s got swim, with 11 Olympic medals alone to show for it. And more important, he gives many of his medals away. I remember seeing a meet from Istanbul where he presented one of his medals to a youngster afterward. The expression on that child’s face told you everything you really needed to know about Ryan: He’s got a lot of heart.

So why the hate? I think his management hasn’t helped, and for that he’s responsible. But don’t underestimate the role of jealousy – a theme of “The Games Men Play” series. My grandmother always said jealousy is like a cancer.

Ryan is a beautiful, brilliant, big-hearted doofus who’s succeeded beyond the measure of most.

That must be so hard to accept for all the perfect people out there.