The truth about Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps’ relationship

In the midst of the unfolding dystopian nightmare that has been 2020, four years ago might look like a more halcyon era — but unfortunately for us, bad and weird things can happen at any moment during any given year.

Take American swimmer and 12-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte, who, during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro made international headlines after he filed a false report to Brazilian authorities in which he claimed he and three other teammates were robbed at gunpoint. After Rio officials found no evidence or corroboration of his claims, Lochte came clean — sort of — by admitting on-air in an exclusive interview with NBC that his report was, on his part, “over-exaggerated.” (Though it was initially reported that Lochte and his cohorts had been vandalizing the bathroom of the gas station where the swimmer claimed the fake attempted robbery to have occurred — and that Lochte was severely inebriated at the time — only the latter was fully verified.) Charges filed against Lochte for the false report were eventually dropped, but the damage tainted the remainder of the games.

While Lochte’s popularity among fans might have wavered at the time, apparently the hit the Olympian took the hardest was from his swimming rival and friend, fellow medalist Michael Phelps. So what happened? What was their relationship like before Lochte’s fraudulent Rio de Janeiro report and subsequent lackluster cover-up? And lastly — were they able to reconcile, or are they still on the outs? Let’s find out.

Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte were close competitors and friends

As Bustle noted in August 2016, the relationship between swimming champs Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps was once so celebrated that the media decreed it an actual “bromance,” one rife with the hallmark dramatics of a professional rivalry. Prior to the 28th Olympiad summer games in Rio de Janeiro that year, both Phelps and Lochte’s friendship was a years-long affair — ostensibly, they had known each other since 2004, when they competed against each other at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

Considering that along with the 2004 games, the multi-medalist Olympians were both on the U.S. swimming team and shared close quarters for long stretches of time — like, for instance, during the 2008 games in Beijing, the 2012 games in London, and their final stint together in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 — it was only natural that the two high-profile athletes would become close. As The Baltimore Sun put it (with accompanying links to respective social media posts documenting their friendship): “Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte have competed in four Olympics together. They’ve roomed together, eaten together and grown old (relatively speaking) together.” How, indeed, could they not get caught up in a rad bromance?

Unfortunately for Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, one Olympian’s bizarre allegations in an attempt to cover up some bad behavior was all it would take to unravel their years-long relationship.

Rio de Janeiro created a rift between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte

After Ryan Lochte’s now-notorious Rio games incident in 2016 and the fallout that ensued, it seemed that Michael Phelps decided to distance himself from his decade-plus friendship with his former fellow teammate. In an exclusive interview in October of that year with USA TODAY, Lochte stated that despite his attempts to get in touch with Phelps via text message, a standoffish Phelps had since neglected to respond.

“I think he texted me back saying, ‘Yeah, sure. I’m here to help,’ or something like that,” Lochte recalled at the time. “But he didn’t call me. I was like, ‘Hey, can you please call me? Let me know, I need help.’ That never really happened.”

What made it worse was that aside from their close friendship, Lochte had reached specifically because of Phelps’ own experience with bad press and ensuing media scrutiny, both due to DUIs in 2004 and 2014, respectively (via USA TODAY).

While Lochte recounted that he understood the reason for Phelp’s reluctance to reach out to him post-Rio, he said that he wasn’t given a particular reason as to why. “I figured it could have been like his people saying, ‘Don’t associate with [Lochte] right now. Lay low,’ ” the gold medalist speculated, adding. “It could be anything.”

Are Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte friends again?

While his actions in Rio de Janeiro and the public backlash that ensued might’ve sounded like the first event out of many in Ryan Lochte’s fall from grace — not to mention the beginning of the end of his friendship with competitor Michael Phelps — the swimmer has since made a veritable comeback.

In a March 2020 interview with The Washington Post, Lochte cited his battle with substance abuse, his propensity for risk-taking, and his immaturity as major factors that led to his dip in popularity (not to mention a 10-month suspension from USA Swimming post-Rio). But after finding sobriety and shifting his focus back into the ring (or pool, as you’d have it), Lochte’s only agendas were working towards competing for the U.S. in the upcoming 2021 Tokyo games and parenting his two children along with his wife, Kayla Lochte. 

And as per an October 2019 interview with TODAY correspondent Craig Melvin, Lochte credited Phelps as one of the main people responsible for reorienting his focus. While it is unclear as to when Phelps and Lochte reconnected, the advice itself was simple: to “lean on his family for support.”

While it’s still unclear as to whether the upcoming Tokyo games will definitely take place in 2021 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there’s one thing we know for sure: thanks to the power of friendship, it looks like Lochte will be ready for them, no matter when they happen.

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