Start with this: in 2008, when Ryan Lochte competed in the Summer Games in Beijing, he took his meals at the McDonald’s in the Olympic Village. “Breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” he later told ESPN, explaining simply: “I knew what I was getting.” In so doing, he took a bad habit of American culture and made it a discipline, creating for himself a training table of the familiar. He super-sized. Sadly American. Then he won four medals—two of them gold—and set a pair of world records. Very American.
Now, on the cusp of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero, Lochte is the most dominant American athlete in the Games, perhaps on the planet. Eleven career Olympic medals, at least one gold every four years since 2004. He’s favored to win four more this summer. Why? He persists. No matter the obstacle, he overcomes it. He wore speed-enhancing bodysuits until they were outlawed, and then he still won. He used a revolutionary kick turn that was named for him, then outlawed, and he won after that, too. He was given his own nickname (“Himbo”) and had his own reality-TV show (What Would Ryan Lochte Do?, on E!), and even amid these distractions—the likes of which have waylaid countless other celebrity jocks—he won.
The Ryan Lochte Mindset
Watch to learn about Lochte's training and strategy going into the 2016 Rio Olympics
So forget his advancing age. (He turns 32 a few days before the opening ceremony, making him older than the majority of his teammates.) Forget his recent unimpressive times. (Almost half a second off the other guy in the 200-meter individual medley in January.) And, oh yeah, forget that other guy, too. (You know who we’re talking about.)
Instead, look at his face. Ryan Lochte believes in Ryan Lochte. If he appears a little cold, that’s just the steely assertion of faith in himself. Take it as another sign of his indifference to the occasional defeat. Observers of American sports have seen this face before. Icy and excellent: Michael Jordan. Dazed, familiar, a bit disconnected: Tom Brady. Propelled by the concrete strength of physique: Serena Williams. And now, in a cloud of boundless American hope and expectation: Ryan Lochte.