By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
The 200 IM is for the Swimmer’s Swimmer. It’s a sprint, but requires endurance. It’s all four strokes, and it requires a surgeon’s ability to precisely conduct every stroke with perfection. There’s no room for error. Only the most well-rounded, well-trained swimmers survive and conquer.
At last summer’s 2013 FINA World Championships, one swimmer was favored to win the “Swimmer’s Swimmer” event: Ryan Lochte. However, questions were asked about how Lochte’s performances would go. To pun his reality show: What would Ryan Lochte do? Lochte spent a crazed half-year filming his reality show, as well as the subsequent promotion and interviews required for marketing that show. He admitted during Arena Grand Prix post-race interviews that he took emphasis away from training to concentrate on outside-the-pool endeavors. Lochte’s performances at the Phillips 66 National Championships were solid.
But no one knew what, exactly, he was going to do.
Turns out, Lochte won the 200 IM world championship and re-established himself as the best all-around swimmer in the world. You can’t fake your way to a 200 IM world title. Lochte pushed ahead of a Phelps-less field and never looked back. He proved to the world that he was still capable of a phenomenal all-around performance, despite distractions outside-the-pool pursuits may bring.
Recently, Lochte announced that he’ll train with David Marsh at SwimMAC Carolina. For the first time in Lochte’s career, he’ll lap in a state not nicknamed “The Sunshine State.” Surprising, sure, but not shocking. Leading up to the Olympic Trials, many veterans switched training locations – especially those who've spent the vast majority of their training days in one location.
But when the greatest all-around swimmer in the world switches training locations, it makes you reflect on the previous season. Lochte didn’t exactly have a “let down” performance or year. He won the 200 IM world title. He won the 200 backstroke, taking down defending Olympic champion Tyler Clary in the process. Perhaps Lochte wanted to get away from the distractions that may arise from a college town. Perhaps he felt like SwimMAC offered a needed change-of-pace. In an interview after the decision, Lochte said he wanted to sprint more.
Considering Lochte had probably been pondering new training locations, as well as taking into account the outside-the-pool distractions reality TV brings, Lochte should win the 2013 Golden Goggle for Male Race of the Year (vote here). His 200 IM performance was impressive, especially considering many swimmers experience post-Olympic lulls. Lochte took time away from training to film his reality show, returned to the pool, and continued his dominance. That’s not luck. That’s skill.
Many expected him to have a “building year” and somewhat lower-key World Championships performance, and yet, there he was, competing and winning. Lochte, one of the toughest trainers in the country, has built a career-long training base. He’s firmly established himself time and time again as the world’s best all-around swimmer.
While his competitor in this category, Matt Grevers, put up an equally great performance in the 100m backstroke, I believe Lochte’s 200 IM was just slightly more impressive. In my opinion, the 200 IM is a more difficult and arduous event. It requires more precision, and when you consider Lochte’s hectic spring (although you could make a case that Grevers, the newly wed, also had a busy spring), it makes the victory impressive.
Looking ahead, David Marsh has a remarkable ability to prolong the careers of older veterans. Cullen Jones, one of Lochte’s best friends, will help create a mature outside-the-pool attitude that, perhaps, could lead to even more success in-the-pool. Whatever the case, we should probably stop wondering what Ryan Lochte will do. Because when he’s in the pool, and when he’s competing, he’ll swim fast.
You can’t fake your way to a 200 IM world title. The IMs are our sport’s recognition of the best all-around swimmer in the world. Once again, Ryan Lochte rose to the occasion, as he has done in many years past, and perhaps, with a new team and new coach, many years into the future.