The final year of Lochte's career would pose the dual challenges of trying to help the Gators keep up with Auburn and the other elite programs in the country while trying to break the school record of four individual NCAA Championships.
He did both… and then some.
Toiling In Relative Anonymity
One of the tough tings about being a great swimmer is that you often are relatively unknown even in your own back yard. Ask most UF student to name the most dominant male athlete on campus this year and I doubt one in ten would name Ryan Lochte. Swimmers train at the most difficult hours for unbelievable lengths of time, and outside the swimming community hardly anyone notices.
For Ryan Lochte, his attention has come on the national and international level, forcing people to pay a little bit more attention. He is a three-time SEC swimmer of the year and twice won that award at NCAA's.
It really got serious with Lochte in the summer of 2004. The lanky sophomore from Daytona Beach followed up his win of the 200 individual medley at the NCAA Championships by taking silver in that event at the Summer Olympic Games in Athens. He also brought home a gold medal in the 800 freestyle relay.
Big Time Junior Year
With the focus of the swim world on the Olympics every four years you often see Olympians choose not to return to collegiate competition or, if they do their performances often suffer. But that was not the case with Locthe. He followed up his gold and silver performances in Athens with a strong year for the Gators, including three NCAA Titles. Lochte repeated as NCAA champ in the 200 IM while also taking the 200 backstroke and swimming on the Gators' victorious 800 free relay.
2006 Even Better
So let's get back to that good news/bad news thing. Well, it was almost all good news during the final year of Ryan Lochte's Gator career. When the season began, he needed one individual NCAA Title to match Gator Assistant Coach Anthony Nesty's record of four. And he needed two NCAA Titles or any kind to surpass the standard of five, also held by Nesty.
Well, rather than subject anything to chance, Ryan Lochte went to the NCAA Championships in Atlanta and won three individual titles. He took the 200 IM for the third year in a row and the 200 back for the second straight year. He added a victory in the 400 IM to wrap up his second NCAA Male Swimmer of the Year award.
The University of Florida has had a tradition of great swimmers going back decades. 15 different Gators have been the SEC Male Swimmer of the Year. Lochte is just one of three of those to also win the NCAA honor (Greg Burgess '93, Martin Zubero '91) and the only one to do it twice.
To come to a school with a great tradition in your sports is a great challenge and opportunity. To leave that school four years later as the unquestioned greatest ever at that school is an amazing accomplishment. For that, Ryan Lochte's three individual NCAA Titles is our #8 story of the year.