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Lochte a bit out of practice

Scott Fowler is a national award-winning sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer.

There are screams and then there are screams, and it is the second kind that Ryan Lochte inspires whenever he shows up at a swim meet like he did Friday at the UltraSwim in Charlotte.

Lochte doesn’t really take the UltraSwim that seriously. But give him credit for this: He always comes to Charlotte and he generally enters enough events (eight of them this year) that female fans get plenty of looks at the pink Speedo briefs he usually wears.

On Friday, Lochte finished sixth and ninth in his two events – the 200 freestyle and the 100 butterfly, respectively. He attributed those finishes to a lack of training caused by his post-Olympic break, much of which was spent filming his reality TV show.

“After the Olympics, I needed some time off,” Lochte said. “I was going pretty much 20 years straight without taking a break … I just needed to reboot, to recharge my body… I’ve done that and now I’m back here getting my butt whupped.”

Despite those subpar results, Lochte remains the biggest star in the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center pool this weekend. Michael Phelps – who was the Batman to Lochte’s Robin for the past two Olympic cycles – has retired. Missy Franklin, the bubbly teenager from Colorado, is graduating from high school and didn’t come to Charlotte.

So this meet is a lot about Lochte for the average swim fan, given that he’s the only person in the pool with his own show.

“What Would Ryan Lochte Do” has drawn modest ratings at best and scathing reviews at worst. Entertainment Weekly wrote that Lochte in one episode “says his life is like Seinfeld so even he knows it’s a show about nothing (minus the comedy — and genius).”

Still, the 28-year-old Olympic gold medalist walks red carpets, dabbles in fashion design and does the whole star thing. He even has his own catch phrase – “Jeah” – emblazoned on his swim cap in Charlotte. The question is whether he can truly get his swimming right again in time to be one of the U.S.’s biggest stars at this summer’s world championships in Barcelona.

“Hopefully this is a good wakeup call,” Lochte said Friday of his results.

As for Barcelona, Lochte said he could make the U.S. team in one event or five – he truly doesn’t know.

Although Lochte’s reality show continues to air, he finished taping it two weeks ago. While the show’s producers tried to work their schedule around Lochte’s, he knows that his swimming suffered.

“I really wanted to make the show work,” Lochte said. “Sometimes that didn’t allow me to go to the swimming pool, or I did and I had to cut my swim practice short. I was always training, but it just wasn’t my normal training.… But I don’t have any regrets. I enjoyed it. I loved it. Now the show is over and I’m back in the pool. I told Coach (Gregg) Troy that when the show’s done, I promise you I’ll give you the best six weeks of my swimming career.”

They are less than three weeks into that process, so it’s hard to say how it’s going or what Lochte’s future holds. He might be “The Bachelor” one day. He might star in the Olympics again in 2016.

Or he may be past his prime in a stellar career that unfortunately was hidden in Phelps’ enormous shadow for a number of years.

What will Ryan Lochte do? He will swim a bunch more events and generate a bunch more screams this weekend in Charlotte. Beyond that? It’s anyone’s guess.

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