"Reading some of the comments, it was, 'I looked up to you and now I don't,' " Ryan Lochte recalls of the fallout following his 2016 robbery claims
In a candid sit-down with Today show co-anchor Craig Melvin that aired on Wednesday, the professional swimmer, now 35, recalled the “hard” aftermath of the incident that saw him receive a 10-month suspension from the sport after being charged with falsely communicating a crime.
“It got to points where I would wake up crying and I was like, ‘Man, I wish I could just disappear — go on a remote island and just not see anyone,’ ” Lochte told Melvin, 40.
Lochte initially said he and three other members of the United States swim team were robbed at gunpoint at a Shell gas station while returning to the Olympic Village. He later admitted that he still wasn’t sure what really happened the night of the incident. The Rio police held a news conference a few days later and said the swimmers had vandalized the restroom in the service station.
“I was a role model. Kids looked up to me,” the athlete continued in his Today interview after Melvin asked what was difficult about the incident. “They were like, ‘I wanna be like you,’ and then … reading some of the comments, it was, ‘I looked up to you and now I don’t.’ That hurts me. It hurt me inside, and I didn’t want to be that person.”
Lochte apologized following the 2016 interview, posting a message to his Instagram in response to his claim that he and teammates James Feigen, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were held at gunpoint during a night out.
“I want to apologize for my behavior last weekend — for not being more careful and candid in how I described the events of that early morning and for my role in taking the focus away from the many athletes fulfilling their dreams of participating in the Olympics,” the apology read, in part. “I waited to share these thoughts until it was confirmed that the legal situation was addressed and it was clear that my teammates would be arriving home safely.”
“It’s traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country — with a language barrier — and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave, but regardless of the behavior of anyone else that night, I should have been much more responsible in how I handled myself and for that I am sorry to my teammates, my fans, my fellow competitors, my sponsors, and the hosts of this great event,” he added.
In July 2017, the six-time Olympic gold medalist was cleared of all charges surrounding the incident, with the court deciding that Lochte hadn’t broken the law because Rio police instigated the investigation, not the swimmer.
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More recently, Lochte returned to competitive swimming for the first time following a 14-month ban for posting a photo showing himself receiving an IV infusion, and opened up about his decision to seek alcohol treatment in Florida last year for about six weeks. The athlete now has his eyes set on the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
“About a year ago,” he told Melvin after the host asked when he realized he had an issue with alcohol. “[I knew] if I was to keep going down this destructive path that I was going to end up … something tragic. I checked myself into rehab. I don’t care to go out and party, to be the loud one anymore.”
Today, Lochte is a father of two, sharing daughter Liv Rae, 4 months, and son Caiden Zane, 2, with wife Kayla Rae Reid. And parenthood is everything he could ever want, even though “training kind of started slipping away” after Liv’s birth this past June — and he swam in the nationals competition this past August at “22 lbs. overweight.”
“I went to fast food, and I started eating just everything,” he told Melvin on Wednesday. “Since then, I’ve lost 17 lbs. My swimming, my times that I’m doing in practice, are things that I’ve seen back when I was at my peak in 2012.”
As for deciding not to throw in the towel after his 2016 glory and subsequent controversy? “That’s not me — I want more,” Lochte added with a laugh. “I also want to show my kids that no matter what, no matter how many times you get knocked down, you can get up and you can keep fighting.”