Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte has a deep and abiding passion for the sport of swimming, so much so that he wants to share it -- along with other aspects of his active life -- in his E! Entertainment Television reality series "What Would Ryan Lochte Do?" premiering Sunday night at 10.
"Swimming is my passion, it's my love," the 28-year-old Gainesville, Fla., resident explains. "And every four years, you have the Summer Olympic Games, and the most watched [sport] on everyone's television is swimming. . . . So why can't swimming be like the NBA or the NFL? Why can't it be like that? That's what my main focus is, is that I want to bring the love and passion I have for swimming to you guys, into your living room."
The six-episode, 30-minute series follows the winner of 11 Olympic medals -- five of them gold -- through his daily life as he trains, works at his business interests (including designing his own line of athletic shoes), hits the clubs and interacts with his outspoken and close-knit family.
Lochte first came to fame at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, when he set world records with gold-medal runs in the 4 x 200-meter freestyle (with Michael Phelps, Ricky Berens and Peter Vanderkaay) and 200-meter backstroke. Five more medals (including two golds) at the 2012 games in London and two World Swimmer of the Year and American Swimmer of the Year awards -- along with his free-spirited, offbeat personality -- have made "the Lochtenator" the most famous current American swimmer not named Michael Phelps.
"Basically, I'm not your average Olympian," Lochte says. "I know in people's eyes, like when they think of Olympians, they think that they train, they eat and they sleep. That's what they do, and that's what they're like, like every day. But for me, that's not the case. Swimming is a sport that I'm fairly good at -- that's all it is. It doesn't define who I am; it's just a sport that I love to do that's a part of my life. But there's so much more to me than just swimming, like I love skateboarding, playing basketball. I love doing things that I most likely could get hurt in. I like the adventure, I like challenges, and I don't let swimming define who I am."
A Lochte trademark -- literally, it is on file with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office -- is the phrase "Jeah!" (pronounced "JEE-uh"), which adorns some of his designs.
"I think it just happened," Lochte says of the phrase's origin. "Like we were swimming at the World Championships, and someone asked me a question which you would reply with like a 'yeah,' but instead I said, 'Jeah!' I put a J in front of it, and they were like, 'What did you just say?' And I said, 'Jeah!' And they're like, 'Uh, OK.' And they're just like, 'This guy's wacked.' . . . Because I always like being different, and I want to be different, and it just kind of stuck with me after I said that."
On the show, viewers will also meet Lochte's family -- mother Ike, older sisters Kristen and Megan and younger brother Devon -- with whom he is very close.
"They're a little nervous," he says of their initial reaction to the ubiquitous E! cameras trailing them, "like in the beginning, just because they're not used to the cameras being always around. But they knew what I was doing, and they supported it, and they're a bunch of goofballs. They just like to have fun when we're together. We don't care if there are cameras around. We're just going to act like ourselves and just have a good time just being in [one another's] presence."
And he tabs Devon as having breakout star potential. "He lives with me; he's a big part of the show. . . . He just acts like himself, and he's hilarious."
Lochte hopes to keep swimming competitively until at least 2016 and the Summer Olympics at Rio de Janeiro -- and maybe beyond if he's still successful.
If not, his TV resume -- which also includes guest-starring gigs on "30 Rock" and "90210" -- suggests an acting career might be in the offing.
"It's definitely up for grabs," Lochte says. "I mean, I like it, it's different, I've enjoyed it when I've done it. But right now, my focus is swimming and my reality TV show. Right now, those are my two focuses. But when swimming's done, who knows? I might fall into that line of work."
Other athletes who starred in reality shows
BY FRANK LOVECE, Special to Newsday
There's a question: What would Ryan Lochte do if he could learn from other athletes' reality series? Or, since most of these shows got ejected from the field, perhaps the question is, what shouldn't Ryan Lochte do?
'PETE ROSE: HITS & MRS.' (2013) -- The off-field lives of "Charlie Hustle," his Playboy-model fiancee and her two kids would seem to have had something for everybody. But TLC pulled the six-part series in January, after four episodes, and burned off the final two one Sunday morning on sister channel Destination America.
'OCHOCINCO: THE ULTIMATE CATCH' (2010) -- NFL wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, now Chad Johnson again, picked singer Rubi Pazmino in VH1's version of "The Bachelor." Neither his relationship with her nor VH1 lasted -- the network dropped the planned series "Ev and Ocho," scheduled to premiere last September, after his arrest on domestic violence charges stemming from an incident with Evelyn Lozada, whom he'd married in July. Lozada divorced him, too.
'SHAQ VS.' (2009-2010) -- NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal took on other athletes one-on-one in a variety of sports in this two-season ABC series, probably the most successful athlete reality show. And why not? It's Shaq!
'DEION & PILAR: PRIME TIME LOVE' (2008) -- Critics didn't buy what seemed like a staged depiction of NFL great Deion "Prime Time" Sanders as some doofy, stereotypical sitcom dad, whose ex-model wife and five kids were just your average suburban family with no household help in their mansion. It ran for eight episodes on Oxygen before running out of breath.
JESSE PALMER ON 'THE BACHELOR' (2004) -- Just off his short-lived stint as a backup quarterback for the Giants, Palmer starred in season 5 of the ABC series. He and winner Jessica Bowlin fumbled the relationship.