As of this month, Ryan Lochte is officially back in the swim.
The 10-month ban enforced on the 32-year-old six-times Olympic champion by the US Olympic Committee (USOC) and USA Swimming, following the international incident he provoked during the 2016 Rio Olympics when he lied about being held up at gunpoint by men posing as police, ended on June 30.
This effectively barred him from the impending World Swimming Championships in Budapest, which run from July 14-30, as he was ruled out of last month’s US trials.
But already Lochte, a serial misbehaver from the cradle if family accounts are to be believed, has warned the sporting world to “watch out” for him at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, adding: “Everything happens for a reason.”
Trying to square that not very original dictum with the events that took place on and after the night of August 13 last year in Brazil, it seems that the whole spiralling controversy began because Lochte didn’t want to admit to his mum that he and his mates had been forced by an armed security guard to pay for damage they had caused at a petrol station to which they had repaired on a drunken night out in order to, as the phrase has it, take a leak.
Pictures of the fateful petrol station show a large sign on the forecourt advertising a range of hot dogs with the words “Quer uma dica?”, which translates as “Do you want a tip?”. If only Lochte could have taken a tip after his drunken excursion – “Now don’t go lying about this to your mum. It will only make things worse.”
In tragi-comic sequence, Lochte told his mum that he and his friends had been robbed at gunpoint by men posing as police who had forced them out of their taxi. Lochte’s mum Ileana, naturally enough, expressed her outrage at this turn of events to the wider world. Journalists realised this was a sensational story. But when some basic questions were asked, the facts began not to hang together.
As all of this was breaking, Lochte, with his gold medal for the 4x200m freestyle relay safely stowed, had already flown back to the US. He said in an interview that he had been drunk and that he had "over-exaggerated that story".
Further questions were asked, surveillance video was viewed, and the banal truth emerged that Lochte and his team-mates – Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger – had been obliged to hand over cash to cover damage to the bathroom alleged to have been caused by Lochte.
Lochte was accused of having pulled a metal advertisement in a frame to the ground and it was then claimed he "stood up and began to yell at guards" after they were caught.
He was soon charged in absentia with providing a false claim of a robbery, which carried a possible 18-month jail sentence. On August 30, appearing on the Good Morning America TV show, he said: "I don't know if I would consider it as a robbery, or extortion, or us just paying up for the poster being ripped.”
A reparation deal was eventually done with the prosecutors.
So Lochte was banned. He forfeited $100,000 (£77,000/€87,500) in bonus money that would have gone with the gold that brought his Olympic medal collection to 12, one more than Mark Spitz, although 16 less than his US contemporary and friend Michael Phelps.
He also forfeited his monthly funding from the USOC and USA Swimming and lost access to USOC training centres. He was told he had to perform 20 hours of community service and would miss US team’s post-Olympics trip to the White House.
His three companions received four-month suspensions.
“As we have said previously, the behaviour of these athletes was not acceptable. It unfairly maligned our hosts and diverted attention away from the historic achievements of Team USA,” the USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun said.
“Each of the athletes has accepted responsibility for his actions and accepted the appropriate sanctions.”
However, perhaps the greatest damage that was done was to Lochte’s always somewhat flaky reputation. There was widespread anger at the thoughtless way he had lied and its ramifications and also at the drunken and entitled manner in which he had acted.
In the wake of what inevitably came to be known as "Lochtegate", he was dropped by key sponsors such as Speedo USA and Ralph Lauren. Estimates put the financial cost for those losses at around $1 million (£768,000/€875,000).
What other effects have there been on Lochte? Speaking to ESPN last month, he claimed he had contemplated suicide in the wake of the controversy, adding that he felt he was "probably the most hated person in the world" after the Rio 2016 Olympics".
"There were a couple of points where I was crying, thinking, if I go to bed and never wake up, fine," Lochte said.
"I was about to hang up my entire life."
The American also claimed that "people wanted a reason" to hate him. "You can be at the all-time high and then the next second the all-time low," he added.
"I love being at the Olympics, but I'm the opposite of what you'd expect. It's been that way my whole life. I don't fit in."
But Lochte said he had found a new reason to go forward when his fiancee, model Kayla Rae Reid, gave birth to a son, Caiden Zane, on June 8.
He added: "Everything happens for a reason. I was done with swimming back in 2013. I was drained, wiped out.
"Now I've found a new purpose with my son. This fire has been ignited, and it's bigger than ever.
"I'm just so excited because I know what's going to happen in Tokyo. Everyone is going to have to watch out."
So it seems Lochte, despite the fact that he will turn 36 during the Tokyo 2020 Games, is already set on his comeback.
“I’m not sure I would even call Lochte’s return a "comeback"," one highly experienced observer of world swimming observed to insidethegames.
“I don’t think he ever retired, just took an extended break after the Olympics, which is not uncommon. Becoming a father may have grounded him. He clearly needs it.”
The world of sport is full of comebacks from a sliding scale of, at one end, injury or illness, to the other end, release from jail following serious crimes, with a huge range of misfortune or misdemeanour in between.
Exactly where Lochte’s wrongdoing falls on this sliding scale is hard to estimate. On the one hand, he was guilty of a banal and commonplace misdeed, and a foolish and hasty misjudgement. On the other hand, he caused grave offence to the Olympic host country, and embarrassment to his own.
In terms of international reverberations, the indiscretions of his team-mate Phelps over the years – and there have been a few – hardly compare. But such is the standing of the swimmer who has amassed a record 23 Olympic golds and 28 Olympic medals in all during the course of his career, despite being almost a year younger than Lochte, that any of his mistakes have been of prime public interest.
In November 2004, aged 19, Phelps, having recently earned six golds and two bronzes from his second Olympics in Athens, was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and sentenced to 18 months’ probation and fined $250 (£192/€219). Asked about the incident later on US TV’s Today Show, he said he had “let a lot of people in the country down".
In February 2009, a few months after Phelps had added another eight gold medals to his Olympic resume in Beijing, a photograph of him smoking cannabis through a bong was released on social medial. This resulted in the loss of the Kellogg Company as one of his major sponsors and the imposition of a three-month suspension by USA Swimming.
Phelps admitted that the photo, taken at a party at the University of South Carolina, was authentic. He publicly apologised, saying his behaviour was "inappropriate".
In September 2014, Phelps was arrested again, on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol and speeding. USA Swimming suspended him from all competitions for six months, and stated he would not be chosen to represent the US at the 2015 World Aquatics Championships in Kazan, Russia.
Phelps had already retired once at this point. After the London 2012 Games, where he won four golds and two silvers, he announced: "I'm done. I'm finished. I'm retired. I'm done. No more.”
However, history records that he returned for a final Games in Rio where he topped off his Olympic collection with five golds and a silver. As yet, he has no plans to return for the Tokyo Games.
Phelps is an example of how to return triumphantly to your sport after suspension – and as such, a comparative rarity.
The enigmatic and sublimely talented French footballer Eric Cantona was another big sporting figure who successfully managed a return to his field of operation after suspension, in his case for launching a flying “kung-fu” kick at a rival fan goading him after he had been sent off for Manchester United in a game at Crystal Palace in January 1995.
No serious damage was done to the fan, but the same could not be said for the volatile Frenchman’s reputation. He already had a history of sometimes violent bust-ups with team-mates and officials. But after this high profile incident, it all kicked-off.
While some foaming observers appeared to want to suspend Cantona literally from the nearest lamppost, he was eventually banned for football for eight months, meaning for the rest of that season, and fined £20,000. He also faced charges of criminal assault, but successfully appealed against a two-week prison sentence, instead carrying out 120 hours of community service coaching children at Manchester United’s training ground.
At a packed press conference called in the wake of this incident, Cantona announced with clarity of diction, if not intent: “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you." He then walked out.
Despite the permanent loss of his place in the French team, Cantona was persuaded by Manchester United’s manager Alex Ferguson not to move on and in season 1995-1996, in which he became active from October onwards, he was a key part of the team’s winning the Premier League and FA Cup double, scoring the only game of the FA Cup final four minutes from time against rivals Liverpool.
United retained their league title with him as captain in 1997, at which point he retired, aged 31, and embarked upon a successful film career.
The feat was also successfully, in part, managed in boxing by Mike Tyson after an enforced absence of a very different order following the three-year jail sentence he received in 1992 for rape.
Tyson returned to boxing in 1995 and had regained the WBA and WBC versions of the world heavyweight title within a year, thus joining Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali, Tim Witherspoon, Evander Holyfield and George Foreman as the only men in boxing history to have regained the heavyweight title.
But by the end of 1996, he had lost both titles and in 1997 came the infamous re-match with Evander Holyfield for the WBA title in which Tyson was disqualified for biting off a piece of the champion’s ear. For Tyson, it was the start of a long slide down to further defeats and bankruptcy.
For most sportsmen and women seeking to come back in from the cold, the discouraging comment “they never come back” turns out to be the appropriate one.
US sprinter and long jumper Marion Jones’ “drive for five” Olympic titles at the 2000 Sydney Olympics was only partially successful as she won three golds and two bronzes. But eight years later, all five medals had been taken away from her after she had been caught up in the BALCO drugs scandal and forced to testify to years of steroid abuse.
In 2007, Jones admitted to lying about her steroid past to federal agents under oath. She also admitted being party to a check fraud scam overseen by her track coach, Steve Riddick. Jones retired as an athlete in October 2007. In March 2008, she began a six-month prison sentence.
Heavily in debt on her release, she attempted to reprise her promising college basketball career by signing with the Tulsa Shock of the WNBA. After 47 games, Jones averaged 2.6 points--per-game and 1.3 rebounds-per-game. She was dropped.
Perhaps the most famously busted sportsman ever was Ben Johnson, the Canadian sprinter who went from hero to zero at the 1988 Seoul Olympics in Seoul as his 100m victory in a world record of 9.79sec was expunged, along with his previous world records in 1987, following a positive doping test.
The headline in the Toronto Star on September 25, 1988: “Benfastic”. Headline in the Toronto Sun a day later: “Why Ben?”
The answer, once the Dubin Inquiry had wrung the initial truth out of Johnson and his unrepentant coach Charlie Francis, was that Ben was told and also believed, that everyone else was doing it so all he was doing was levelling the playing field.
It’s a line of reasoning that has become quite popular over the years. But it meant that, when Ben had served his ban, the likelihood was that it might happen all over again. Which it did.
In 1991, after his suspension ended, he attempted a comeback at the Hamilton Indoor Games and was greeted by the largest crowd to ever attend an indoor Canadian track-and-field event. More than 17,000 people saw him finish second in the 50m in 5.77sec. So far, so good.
He failed to qualify for the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo, but reached the following year’s Olympics in Barcelona, finishing last in his 100m semi-final.
In 1993, he won the 50m on January 7 in Grenoble, France, in 5.65, just 0.04 shy of the world record. However, he was found guilty of doping just after the race – this time for excess testosterone – and was subsequently banned for life by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
In April 1999, a Canadian adjudicator ruled that there were procedural errors in Johnson's lifetime ban and allowed him to appeal. The decision meant Johnson could technically run competitively in Canada, but nobody would compete against him. They would be considered "contaminated" by the IAAF and could also face sanctions.
On June 12, 1999, Johnson entered a track meet in Kitchener, Ontario, and was forced to run alone, against the clock. He posted a 100m time of 11.00.
In late 1999, Johnson failed a drug test for the third time by testing positive for hydrochlorothazide, a banned diuretic that can be used to mask the presence of other drugs. Johnson had arranged the test himself as part of his efforts to be reinstated.
One Olympic gold, rather than the five Jones coveted, would have done nicely for another US sportswoman as she approached the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games. But, despite having won the US Figure Skating title on the eve of the Games, plus becoming the first US female skater to land a triple axel jump in competition, Tonya Harding had no chance.
She knew, and the world would soon find out, that her ex-boyfriend Jeff Gillooly had hired an assailant Shane Stant to attack her main US rival Nancy Kerrigan after a January 6 practice session at the US Figure Skating Championships which Harding went on to win. Stant was supposed to break Kerrigan’s leg, but only severely bruised it after striking her above the knee with a baton.
As news leaked out ahead of a court case, both Kerrigan and Harding were in Norway for the Winter Olympics. Kerrigan claimed individual silver. Harding, who had to break off her routine in the free skate at one point to re-lace her skating boot, could manage no better than eighth. She was clearly distracted.
Harding eventually escaped a custodial sentence after pleading guilty to conspiring to hinder the prosecution of the attackers. She was given three years’ probation and fined $160,000. She was also banned for life by the US Figure Skating Association.
Harding and her ex-husband sold an explicit "wedding video" showing them having sex to Penthouse magazine for an advance of $200,000 each plus royalties.
Between 2002 and 2004, she took up boxing, winning four of her seven bouts before giving up.
On June 22, 1994, in Portland, Oregon, Harding appeared on an AAA professional wrestling show.
In 1995, in Portland, Oregon, Harding and her band, the Golden Blades, were booed off the stage. It was to be their only performance.
In 1996, she co-starred in a low-budget action film, Breakaway (1996).
Later that year, she used mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to help revive an 81-year-old woman, Alice Olson, who collapsed at a bar in Portland while playing video poker.
Perhaps Ryan Lochte is right and everything does happen for a reason.