You take the true measure of yourself in a rival, Aristophanes said. If that’s the case, then Ryan Lochte must be the most self-aware man in the world.
For years, he’s been card partners, roommates, friends and, yes, rivals, with the man who owns 22 gold medals – Michael Phelps.
Last night, Lochte finished fifth in the 200 IM to Phelps’ first. I won’t say I’m not disappointed. I would’ve liked to see them finish 1-2, or better, for Lochte to have best him. But it is perhaps fatuous as a fan to be disappointed. Who is more disappointed than the losing athlete? Indeed, disappointment dripped from Lochte like so many beads of water in his nonetheless gracious post-race interview.
Pre-Games, he was candid when asked about what it has meant swimming in the Phelps’ era: “My career would definitely be different. I guess you would say I’d be like the Michael Phelps of swimming if he wasn’t there. But at the same time I love a challenge, and that’s why I do the events that I do and going up against him is a challenge.”
Say this about Lochte, a 12-time medalist over four Olympics, who has been unfairly labeled a jerk and an airhead, particularly after the 2012 London Games: He’s got a big heart, and I’m not just talking about courage. After the 4 x 200 relay victory, he was the only member of the team to credit the swimmers who swam in the preliminaries to set up the victory in a race the U.S. has owned. I like Phelps and am glad he’s matured and put his alcoholic past behind him. But he rarely talks about anyone but himself, in part because the media doesn’t require him to do so. That’s the media’s fault. He’s the easy story. So is the women’s gymnastics team.
A harder story would be Simone Manuel, the first African-American to win an individual swimming gold, tying with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak as they set an Olympic record in the 100m free.
I hope Phelpte will go on. And I hope the press will learn to go for the gold by looking past the easy headline.