Ryan Lochte didn’t have to get drunk and vandalize a Rio de Janeiro gas station during the Summer Olympics in August. And the now-suspended U.S. swimmer didn’t have to “overexaggerate” when initially talking about the incident.
But he did, and it’s at times like this when people really need their friends. For Lochte, a guy named Rob Van Winkle — better known as rapper Vanilla Ice — has really come through.
Swimming teammate Michael Phelps? Not so much, Lochte told USA Today.
Lochte said he stayed secluded at home in Charlotte, N.C., for six days upon returning from Rio, as the story he told about being robbed at gunpoint unraveled.
“I did not step foot outside, not even to get the mail, because there were news cameras,’’ Lochte said. “I’ve never seen so many TV station vans parked right outside my front lawn. [Reporters] running up, ringing the doorbell, hoping that I open it up and they have cameras on me. Like, it was insane.’’
He added: “In my eyes, I was the most hated person ever.”
At that low point, Lochte said, he reached out to Phelps, who had been through similar public scrutiny at various points during his celebrated swimming career, including the times he was charged with DUI. When he couldn’t reach his longtime teammate by phone, Lochte tried sending a text.
“I think he texted me back saying, ‘Yeah, sure. I’m here to help,’ or something like that,’’ Lochte said. “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.”
But Lochte said he doesn’t hold it against Phelps. “He’s busy,’’ Lochte said. “He has his own life. He has a kid. So it’s gotta be hard, you know?’’
Phelps’ agent did not immediately return messages Sunday from USA Today seeking comment.
Lochte said he has gotten plenty of support from the tight-knit group he joined when he became a competitor on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” a gig he had tentatively lined up before Rio. One of the cast members who has really been looking out for Lochte is Van Winkle, who first had to give the swimmer a pep talk in August just before this season’s cast was introduced on live TV.
“He seemed lost and embarrassed,’’ Van Winkle said. “He didn’t know what to say. You could see it.
“He was flustered, and I kind of told him, ‘Put it together, man. Yesterday’s history and tomorrow’s a mystery. You know, what you did yesterday you can’t go back and change it. It happened. It’s done.’”
The 12-time Olympic medalist said Van Winkle also helped talk him out of quitting the show after anti-Lochte protesters stormed the stage during his performance on the first show of the season.
“You just got a gold medal for America,’’ Lochte recalled the rapper telling him. “You’re the man! Keep your head up!’’
He added that the entire cast of the show “whether they know it or not, they’ve helped me out so such. I was in the lowest point of my life and they’re the ones that brought me up. And I was able to breathe. I was able to keep going.’’