TOKYO — If redemption is the most American of stories, then Gunnar Bentz — five years later — gets his chance here at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
It was nearly five years ago that Bentz and three other U.S. swimmers were involved in what came to be widely known as Lochtegate, the infamous episode at the gas station at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
None of the other three are on the Tokyo team.
Starting with, of course, Ryan Lochte. His last and best chance at the U.S. Trials in Omaha last month came in the 200-meter individual medley. Lochte, still the world record-holder in the event, finished seventh, well back. Earlier this month, charges filed in a Rio court alleging that Lochte filed a false police report were dismissed, the swimmer’s lawyer told USA Today, apparently bringing an end — finally — to the legal drama in Brazil.
Also in Omaha, Jack Conger finished 11th in the men’s 200-meter butterfly. He did not make the finals.
Jimmy Feigen did not swim at the 2021 Trials. Feigen is now a plaintiff’s lawyer in Austin, Texas, focusing his practice on personal injury, auto accident, truck accident and aggressive animal attack cases.”
Bentz surely can do without any Lochte-related publicity.
But it’s worth asking, now, how much of the entire episode should have dropped on who, and in particular — why — on Gunnar Bentz.
Bentz clearly has sought since 2016 to take a low profile. Like Feigen and Conger, he drew a four-month suspension from competition. Lochte got 10 months.
In August of 2016, Lochte was 32. Bentz was 20, Conger was 21 — college kids. Adults? Legally, sure. But, still — early 20-somethings riding with a 32-year-old superstar of their sport. Feigen was 26.
Lochte, remember, was — is — one of the all-time U.S. swim stars, with 12 medals, six gold. Feigen had earned his second medal, a gold, in the 4×100 free relay; he had a silver in the same event from the London 2012 Games; in both relays, he, too, swam in the prelims.
In Rio, Bentz and Conger earned a first gold. Each swam a leg in the prelims of the 4×200 freestyle relay.
At the gas station that night, who was the leader of that pack? The purported grown-up? Who let who down? Those have always been the unspoken — but obvious — questions.
Bentz, moreover, had been upfront in accepting responsibility. He quickly issued a statement that said, in part, “I want to offer a sincere apology to the United States Olympic Committee, USA Swimming, the extraordinary women and men of Team USA and the University of Georgia,” where he had gone to school.
This go-around, for Tokyo, Bentz qualified in the 200 butterfly, long Michael Phelps’ main event, finishing second behind Zach Harting.
The stats say neither is likely to medal — Harting is 12th, Bentz 18th in the world rankings — but it’s the Olympics, meaning anything can happen. Ask Phelps, for instance, about Singapore’s Joseph Schooling and the 100 fly in Rio, Schooling winning a surprise gold.
“So,” as Bentz told Swimming World magazine a week ago from the U.S. team’s training camp in Hawaii, “now I get to do this and extend my career by about a month and get to spend time with some amazing people in amazing places. So I couldn’t be happier.”