SI.com: After winning swimmer of the year last season, was this year everything you wanted it to be?
Ryan Lochte: There were some spots where I thought I could have done a lot better in my races, but it was a good stepping stone for 2012.
SI.com: You can do 20 million events, which ones do you think you'll do in 2012?
Lochte: I honestly don't know. Every year I think I'm changing my events, just because I love the challenge, so I honestly don't know.
SI.com: If they arranged the schedule so the Games could be held over two weeks, so you wouldn't have to worry about events climbing on top of one another ...
Lochte: Oh, I'd swim every event.
SI.com: From the 50- to the 1,500-meter?
Lochte: Exactly. Every stroke. Every distance.
SI.com: How gassed are you at the end of the IMs?
Lochte: Not so much the 200, but at the end of the 400, I'm hurting. Once I touch that wall, I need a lifeguard or something. Honestly, your legs go in the backstroke. After the breaststroke, you arms go and then after that your whole body's hurting.
SI.com: For a long time, there was nothing you wouldn't eat. You were a McDonald's and soda guy. What changed?
Lochte: Actually last year I had knee surgery, so after my world championships in Rome, I was out of the water for seven months, and I just didn't want to get fat. Instead of eating fast food all the time I started eating salads and protein stuff.
SI.com: So when you are done with a big meet like the Pan Pacs, you can go out and eat anything ...
Lochte: Oh, I'm going to go out on a fast-food spree. I go to McDonald's.
SI.com: You've become swimming's fashion plate. You wore an all-white suit once to the Golden Goggles, which is supposed to be a black-tie event. What started that?
Lochte: With the first one, everyone wore tuxes and so I wore a suit. The next year everyone wore a black or blue suit, so I thought I'd change it. I wore a white suit.
SI.com: What's up with the green shoes?
Lochte: The green shoes, oh those are my babies. I designed everything about them. I teamed up with Speedo and they made me a shoe. They're crazy. The shoe itself is more like a high-top Supra shoe. I definitely spice it up. It's lime green with rhinestones around the whole shoe. On the bottom of it, it has my name so every time I walk on the pool deck, if it gets wet, it shows up [as] Ryan Lochte as I walk.
SI.com: So you really leave your footprint on the sport.
Lochte: Wherever I go.
SI.com: I asked you this once before. Tell me what "jeah" means. You've become known for saying that word all the time.
Lochte: I honestly don't know what it means. It's another word for "yeah." But instead of a "y" I say it with a "j." It just means everything. If someone asks if I had a good swim, I say, "jeah."
SI.com: You've had some out-of-pool accidents in your life.
Lochte: A bunch. Every year before a big competition, I get hurt doing stuff I should not be doing. One year it was my little brother's 12th birthday. We all played hide-and-seek late at night. I climbed up a 30-foot tree, thinking he'd never catch me. I tripped and fell on one of the branches and I hit my head. I fractured my shoulder, I had amnesia for a day and I was a complete wreck. Another year, I fractured my foot skateboarding. I dislocated my shoulder another year. I tore up my knee break dancing. I have no idea how that happened. Apparently these legs are meant for swimming, but not dancing. I was watching an MTV video, thinking, "I can do this." Definitely not. I heard a pop. I sat down and it blew up like a watermelon. I had to go to the hospital and get surgery.
SI.com: If you're a music guy, what's on the iPod?
Lochte: I guess hip-hop. I grew up listening to oldies, like Motown. That's from my mom.
SI.com: Both of your parents were in swimming. They coached you ...
Lochte: When I was little, I spent more time trying to get kicked out of practice than staying in the water. I had fun with it. That's what you're supposed to do when you're a kid. Just have fun. Instead of practicing, I'd go into the bathroom and turn on all the showers, and my back would be all red. ... Then it changed when I was 14. Every year there would be a Junior Olympics. Every year, I kept getting beat for high point. One year I told my dad it wasn't going to happen again. After that instead of getting kicked out every day, I was getting kicked out once a week. Then it just stopped. I never lost a JO meet after that.
SI.com: Did that come from your dad or from you?
Lochte: It was me. I'm very competitive. I remember being 4 years old trying to out-chug my dad in a milk-chugging contest. It's been in my blood. I was tired of getting second.
SI.com: So fast-forward to now. You were always in Michael Phelps' shadow. What have you learned from him?
Lochte: I've learned how to keep focused, how to always set goals high enough so you're always going into the water every day. And I've just learned how to race. Every person swims differently. Since he's one of the best swimmers and he swims a lot of what I swim, I've learned how to approach the races the way he does.
SI.com: Take us through an IM race against him.
Lochte: Well, breaststroke was my worst event, but I've worked on it and it's now one of my best. I think that's where I pull ahead of everyone. With the fly, I know he's going to be at the wall first. I'm really good at underwaters. I use that to my advantage. We usually pop up even in the backstroke. [Phelps] has a great backstroke too, so we're usually even. I usually pull ahead in the breaststroke and then it's dogfight at the end.
SI.com: The last two years, you've kind of supplanted Phelps as the guy. How satisfying is that?
Lochte: Every year since I started, I've always felt I could win no matter who I'm racing. It was just a matter of time. It's like when I was 14, saying I was tired of getting second. I changed a bunch of stuff, like in my diet, my weight training, everything. Honestly, my weight training has completely changed. I picked up an extra session. I usually do weights three times a week. It's fun. My weight coach back home, he's done the Strongman competitions. In his backyard, he has those big tires, like kegs. He has these big cement boulders. We go there on Sundays and just lift. It's actually really fun. I pull a 400-pound chain across the street. The fast-twitch movements and the speed have really correlated with my swimming, especially getting off the blocks faster.
SI.com: What's your take on what happened at USA Swimming with Mark Schubert [the national team head coach who recently resigned]?
Lochte: I definitely don't know the issues with why Mark left, but he's a great guy and it's definitely going to be hard to fill his shoes.
SI.com: Because of Michael and you and Natalie Coughlin, there has been a really good run for swimming. Where do you see it in the next few years?
Lochte: I think with all the hype in Beijing, it's going to keep getting bigger from there. It's not just Michael; it's me, Natalie, Dara [Torres]. We're all trying to change the sport, get people out there to watch it, get it on TV.
SI.com: How many more Olympic teams does Dara have left, like eight or nine?
Lochte: Man, I don't know. She surprises me so much. I thought she was done after '96 or 2000. She was, what 30? Now she's 42, [and planning to swim in 2012]. It's amazing.
SI.com: What would make London successful for you?
Lochte: I definitely want to swim in as many events as possible, because I love racing. If I make one event or 12 events, making the Olympic team means everything.
SI.com: Could we see you in eight?
Lochte: It could happen if I play my cards right.
SI.com: After Pan Pacs, Phelps mentioned that he'd had an off-meet.
Lochte: Honestly, that stuff goes in one ear and out the other. If he says he hasn't been training, well, that's his fault. It's up to the swimmer to get in the pool every day and swim. I can't be focused on what he's doing.
SI.com: It seemed every race in Rome [site of the 2009 world championships] was a world record. Now that they've regulated the suits, is that going to slow the sport? Will people be playing catch-up to the records?
Lochte: Everyone loves watching world records get broken, but I think in time there will be records again. I love that the suits are gone. Now it's up to the swimmer. The suit doesn't make the swimmer; now the swimmer is going to make the suit. If I had it my way, I'd go back to the banana hammock from the 1970s. I have a couple of ideas for suits.
SI.com: Well, Gary Hall was the guy who came to mind when it came to suits and warm-ups. Will we see something like that from you?
Lochte: Oh, yeah, I'm already starting to do that. Speedo is one of my sponsors, so I designing suits with them. I've been breaking them out at little swim meets. I made some that are purple and they have a big star right on the crotch. Then I have an all-white suit, which is kind of risky because when it gets wet, it's kind of see-through. I have different bright colors. Lots of ideas.
SI.com: What do you see after swimming?
Lochte: After swimming I want to get into fashion. I want to design my own clothing line. I'm already playing around with it. I've designed business suits. The suit I'm wearing tonight [for the Golden Goggles] I've designed. I love fashion.
SI.com: Not that you're old now, but if you knew what you know now when you were just starting out ...
Lochte: I'd try not to get kicked out of practice. Honestly I go to swim clinics and teach the kids there what I've learned. I tell them to have fun. I know a lot of swimmers who feel like they have to do all this yardage and do weights at a young age. Just have fun. All those kids who are really good in the beginning tend to die out. I say just enjoy it.
SI.com: At what age do you have to start becoming committed to swimming in order to be really good at it?
Lochte: One of my best friends, Cullen Jones, almost drowned when he was 5 or 6. He started working at it when he was like 17 and now he's an Olympic swimmer. It's never too late as long as you have a goal.
SI.com: The swim world had a real tragedy recently with the loss of Fran Crippen [who died during an open water race this summer]. How did you find out about it?
Lochte: He was actually a good friend of mine. I talked to him a few days before he went. I wished him good luck. His little sister goes to the same school I did. Before she went there he told me to look after her. She's like my little sister. I couldn't imagine what she was going through. I told her if she needed anything, I'm there. He's definitely cherished and in my prayers.
SI.com: You talked about Dara Torres going on for a long time. How about you?
Lochte: My biggest goal is 2016. I think I'm going to put all my eggs in a basket for 2012, but I want to go to 2016. After that if I'm still enjoying racing, I'll keep going, but I'll keep going to 2016.
SI.com: How do you keep your training fresh?
Lochte: Where I train at the University of Florida, it's never the same practice. You're always doing something different. I enjoy it. That's what motivates me.
SI.com: A guy like Phelps always seems to thrive on any perceived sleight. If a person says something negative in a magazine, [his coach, Bob] Bowman will practically put it in front of his face. At least on the surface you seem way too laid back to get ticked off at those things.
Lochte: I don't get ticked off. I really don't care. Honestly, I don't get nervous for a race. Minutes before a race, I'm exactly how I am now. When that whistle blows, something changes. I'm not laid back Ryan; I'm a racer. Once I touch the wall, I'm back to laid-back Ryan. I don't know why, but it just happens like that.
SI.com: You put the grill on your teeth and you're all set.
SI.com: What made you think of wearing that for an award ceremony a few years ago?
Lochte: I love jewelry and it comes with the whole fashion thing. In 2007, Cullen was my roommate. We both love hip-hop and I was showing him my grills. It started out as a dare, when he told me I should wear them on an awards stand. So the next day, I won the 200 backstroke and I wore them out there. Now it's my tradition and I have to keep them going.
SI.com: What are you going to do here in New York?
Lochte: Yesterday we went ice-skating. I shouldn't be on top of the water.
SI.com: OK, what did you do now?
Lochte: I didn't know how to stop and I took a girl out. Some little girl. I couldn't help her up because I couldn't stop. There were a couple of other swimmers out there, but they could skate.
SI.com: You said one day you'd like to get into a surfing competition. Were you serious about that?
Lochte: Yeah, that would awesome if I could. Since I live on the East Coast, there aren't that many surfing competitions. I definitely want to do that, maybe in my offseason ...
SI.com: You have a motorcycle. Did anyone ever try to tell you to stay off it?
Lochte: Everybody has. I have a scooter, too. I was driving to practice and I just lost the wheel and I football-tackled some bushes. I fractured my foot right before 2007 Worlds. I was out of the water for a week. Then getting back into the pool, I hit the bottom and I re-fractured it. So the whole meet I swam on a fractured foot. It worked out because I got my first world record. I need to get hurt all the time.