Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte has a deep and abiding passion for the sport of swimming, so much so that he wants to share it — along with other aspects of his active life — on his E! Entertainment Television reality series “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?” premiering Sunday, April 21.
“Swimming is my passion, it’s my love,” the 28-year-old Gainesville, Fla., resident tells Zap2it. “And every four years, you have the Summer Olympic Games, and the most watched [sport] on everyone’s television is swimming. … So why can’t swimming be like the NBA [or] the NFL? Why can’t it be like that? That’s what my main focus is, is that I want to bring the love and passion I have for swimming to you guys, into your living room.”
The six-episode 30-minute series follows the winner of 11 Olympic medals — five of them gold — through his daily life as he trains, works at his business interests (including designing his own line of athletic shoes), hits the clubs, and interacts with his outspoken and close-knit family.
Lochte first came to fame at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, when he set world records with gold-medal runs in the 4×200-meter freestyle (with Michael Phelps, Ricky Berens and Peter Vanderkaay) and 200-meter backstroke. Five more medals (including two golds) at the 2012 Games in London and two World Swimmer of the Year and American Swimmer of the Year awards — along with his free-spirited, offbeat personality — have made “the Lochtenator” the most famous current American swimmer not named Michael Phelps.
“Basically, I’m not your average Olympian,” Lochte says. “I know in people’s eyes, like when they think of Olympians, they think that they train, they eat and they sleep. That’s what they do, and that’s what they’re like, like every day. But for me, that’s not the case. Swimming is a sport that I’m fairly good at — that’s all it is. It doesn’t define who I am; it’s just a sport that I love to do that’s a part of my life. But there’s so much more to me than just swimming, like I love skateboarding, playing basketball. I love doing things that I most likely could get hurt in. I like the adventure, I like challenges, and I don’t let swimming define who I am.”
Lochte made, er, a splash several years ago with his “grill,” a diamond-encrusted mouthpiece with a stars-and-stripes pattern that he wears to competitions. The idea for the piece, which he says is valued at $30,000 and sits “in my drawer,” came about as a lark.
“I’ve been a big hip-hop fan all my life,” Lochte says. “I listen to music every day, all day. And back in 2007, I got a grill pretty much just for laughs. And I was in my room with one of my roommates on the team, and I showed him it, and he was like, ‘Man, you know what would be funny? If you wore that on the podium if you ever got a medal.’ And I was like, ‘You know, I’ll do it.’ He was like, ‘No, you won’t.’
“So it started out as kind of like a dare. And the next day, I won a gold medal, and I wore it on the podium, and then it just went viral; it went like worldwide. And then since then, it’s kind of been like a tradition, like if I’m getting a medal or anything, I’m going to wear the grill.”
Another Lochte trademark — literally, it is on file with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office — is the phrase “Jeah!” (pronounced “JEE-uh”), which adorns some of his designs.
“I think it just happened,” Lochte says of the phrase’s origin. “Like we were swimming at the World Championships, and someone asked me a question which you would reply with like a ‘yeah,’ but instead I said ‘jeah!’ I put a J in front of it, and they were like, ‘What did you just say?’ And I said, ‘Jeah!’ And they’re like, ‘Uh, OK.’ And they’re just like, ‘This guy’s wacked.’ … Because I always like being different, and I want to be different, and it just kind of stuck with me after I said that.”
On the show, viewers will also meet Lochte’s family — mother Ike, older sisters Kristen and Megan, and younger brother Devon — with whom he is very close.
“They’re a little nervous,” he says of their initial reaction to the ubiquitous E! cameras trailing them, “like in the beginning, just because they’re not used to the cameras being always around. But they knew what I was doing, and they supported it, and they’re a bunch of goofballs. They just like to have fun when we’re together. We don’t care if there are cameras around. We’re just going to act like ourselves and just have a good time just being in [one another’s] presence.”
And he tabs Devon as having breakout star potential. “He lives with me; he’s a big part of the show. … He just acts like himself, and he’s hilarious.”
Lochte hopes to keep swimming competitively until at least 2016 and the Summer Olympics at Rio de Janeiro — and maybe beyond if he’s still successful.
If not, his TV resume — which also includes guest starring gigs on “30 Rock” and “90210” — suggests an acting career might be in the offing.
“It’s definitely up for grabs,” Lochte says. “I mean, I like it, it’s different, I’ve enjoyed it when I’ve done it. But right now, my focus is swimming and my reality TV show. Right now, those are my two focuses. But when swimming’s done, who knows; I might fall into that line of work.”