Olympian Ryan Lochte breaking up with Charlotte, but it’s not us, it’s him

Ryan Lochte dumped Charlotte Friday in Brazil.

He tried to let us down easy. He took a “It’s not you, it’s me” approach. He said we could still be friends.

But the 12-time Olympic medalist – after finishing a disappointing Olympics by his standards on Thursday – is moving on. First, to a vacation. Then, most likely, to California.

“It’s been on my bucket list to move to the West Coast ever since I was a little kid,” Lochte said. “So I’m definitely going to get that chance when I get back to the States. So I should be on the West Coast anytime between September and October.”

It sounded like Lochte, 32, might take a year or more off from swimming. When he did return, he said he might train in California or in Gainesville, Fla., where he went to college at the University of Florida and also spent most of his 20s. But there was no doubt during the 15-minute news conference Lochte held Friday in Rio that Charlotte was in his rear view mirror.

Ultimately, The Great Ryan Lochte Experiment turned out to be not so great in terms of production. He matured in Charlotte, there was no doubt about that. He won some races and made his fourth Olympic team. He kept out of trouble, and was generally nice to people.

In the pool, however ...

But he’s not as good a swimmer as he was in the 2012 Olympics, either. While Michael Phelps at 31 has turned back the clock and had another astounding Olympics in Rio, Lochte (who is 11 months older) finished fifth in his only individual event Thursday night and just couldn’t summon quite enough passion in that race.

Lochte led halfway through that 200 individual medley, then faded to fifth as Phelps won yet another gold.

“It felt like someone jumped on my back and it felt like I was carrying multiple people on me,” Lochte said of the final 100 meters of the race. “I don’t know what happened. It just fell apart.”

Lochte said nothing but good things about Charlotte during the news conference, praising SwimMAC Carolina, his teammates, coach David Marsh and the Queen City. He obviously wants the breakup to be amicable. “I think moving to Charlotte was the right choice for my swimming,” said Lochte, who made that move in 2013.

But he also said he needs a vacation, and then he needs a change.

“I need to bring that smile I used to have back into the sport,” Lochte said.

Ancient for Tokyo

Lochte will be 36 by the time the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo roll around, which is pretty ancient for a swimmer. Then again, Olympic teammate Anthony Ervin is going strong at 35, and Lochte fully expects Michael Phelps to join him in Tokyo despite Phelps’ insistence that he is retiring for good after one last relay race Saturday night.

“He said he was going to retire after 2012, and I was the only person that said he’s going to come back,” Lochte said of Phelps. “I think he’s going to come back again just because, when you get to this stage, we thrive off that excitement of getting on those blocks and racing the seven best other swimmers in the world. We love that excitement. We love that challenge.”

Lochte has always had a thing for Los Angeles, which makes sense because he likes to be a Hollywood kind of guy. The grayish-green dyed hair, the flashy shoes, the short-lived (and cringe-inducing) reality show a few years ago – it’s all part of Lochte’s image.

It would be surprising for any other American swimmer at a news conference in these Olympics to get asked – and to answer – a question about whether they are on the dating app Tinder. But Lochte did get asked that Friday.

“I am on Tinder,” Lochte confirmed with a smile.

No, it wasn’t me who asked him.

I have a little more pride than that.

Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140, @scott_fowler

Related stories from Charlotte Observer