FORT LAUDERDALE — Ryan Lochte posted a photo for the world to see, and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency noticed.
It got him suspended — again.
The longtime U.S. swimming star has been banned from competition until July 2019, which means the 12-time Olympic medalist cannot compete as planned in the national championships that start this week in California. Lochte will also be ineligible for other top meets, including the Pan Pacific Championships later this year and next year’s world championships.
Lochte’s offense was that he got an intravenous injection in May — a method typically banned under anti-doping rules.
The 14-month ban, retroactive to May 24 and announced Monday by USADA, is his second in less than two years following his 10-month suspension for his behavior during a drunken incident that created widespread scorn at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
U.S. anti-doping officials said Lochte was not taking a banned substance.
Lochte: Infusion To Avoid Illness
Lochte’s violation essentially came to light when he posted the photo of him getting the IV on his social media accounts. That triggered the USADA investigation, one that Lochte “fully cooperated” with according to U.S. officials.
Lochte said he took the IV because both his wife and his son were ill, and that he didn’t want to get sick as well. He said the IV contained mostly B-complex vitamins, products that he said could be purchased at any pharmacy.
But the issue was the amount — it exceeded 100 milliliters, and that’s the rule he broke.
“It’s crazy to think about,” Lochte said. “I was back in top shape, I’ve been training every day, and now this.”
Unaware of the Ramifications
Under most circumstances, athletes cannot receive IVs unless related to a hospitalization or when allowed under the terms of a USADA-approved exemption — and Lochte fell into neither of those categories.
Suspensions for use of an IV are extremely rare: The USADA database shows only two other athletes being sanctioned for using such a method, one of them getting a six-month suspension and the other a 14-month ban. That same database shows that before Monday, no other U.S. swimmer in the last 10 years, for any reason including actual positive tests, had been suspended for more than one year by USADA.
This week could have been a significant step forward for Lochte, who was entered in four events at the U.S. championships at Irvine, California and was preparing to compete in what would have been his biggest competition since the Rio Games. Lochte said that he and three other U.S. Olympic swimmers there were robbed at gunpoint at a gas station, a story that quickly unraveled.
Lochte was not only suspended 10 months for that debacle but also forfeited $100,000 in Olympic medal bonus money and was banned from competing in last year’s national and world championships.
An Even Bigger Hit to His Reputation
But the bigger hit was to his reputation, one that was less than pristine to begin with.
And now, he’s back in hot water. USADA agreed to start the 14-month clock on May 24, the day that he posted the photo which no longer can be found on his Twitter or Instagram pages. He has previously said that he wants to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, though those hopes would seem to be in at least some doubt now.
Lochte spent much of his career portraying a party-boy image, while his wildly successful exploits in the pool — six Olympic golds, 36 world championship gold medals, no fewer than four world records — were always overshadowed by 28-time Olympic medalist and 23-time Olympic champion Michael Phelps.
After Rio, Lochte was dropped by at least four major sponsors including Speedo USA and Ralph Lauren, though he has added some endorsement deals since. He was also apparently targeted by two men wearing t-shirts bearing an anti-Lochte message rushed the stage while he was competing on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”
Lochte returned to competition last year, most notably winning the 200-meter individual medley at the U.S. Open. He also has become a father and a husband since Rio — he married former Playboy model Kayla Rae Reid in January, seven months after their son was born.
Lochte will turn 36 during the Tokyo Games. He won gold medals at the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 games, and if he found a way to win another in Tokyo he would become the oldest Olympic swimming champion.