Ryan Lochte, Shayla Worley and the Cost of Olympic Dreams

This morning in the Orlando Sentinel, Andrea Adelson writes, “There is a spending freeze in the Lochte and Worley households.”

She goes on, in a column entitled “Families deal with reality of Olympic dream,” to describe how the families of swimmer Ryan Lochte and gymnast Shayla Worley might have to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to follow their progeny to Beijing in August.

But some things felt wrong. So I did a little research.

I thought Lochte, a fairly familiar name to me, as he is a former scholarship athlete and graduate of the University of Florida and did win Olympic gold in Athens, might have some money floating around, just maybe, considering he’s perhaps the second-best American male swimmer, behind phenom Michael Phelps.

And he does.

In a New York Times article from 2007, Karen Crouse mentioned Lochte’s hefty Speedo endorsement:

After signing a 10-year, seven-figure endorsement contract with Speedo last year, Lochte entrusted his money to a financial adviser who handles his investments and closely monitors his spending. It is probably a good idea given Lochte’s enthusiasm for online shopping.

Now, I’m a writer, not a mathematician, but even I know that a seven-figure deal over ten years probably pays no less than $100,000 a year.

And as a UF student myself, I know Lochte’s athletic scholarship probably covers at least tuition, room, and board, sums that total, for an in-state student like Lochte, over $50,000 over four years.

And Lochte currently lives in Gainesville, both a great place to live cheaply and a town where thousands of college students can figure out ways to survive on Ramen and Pop-Tarts.

And while I don’t know the exact terms of his contract, if, as Adelson writes in the Sentinel, Speedo is “paying the airfare for (Lochte’s father) and his wife, and it will provide them one hotel room,” I would guess Speedo or USA Swimming, which is providing two event tickets to the Lochte clan, probably helps the swimmer himself with airfare and/or other monies toward his training.

To his credit, father Steve Lochte hasn’t laid out any money on the trip yet, with Ryan yet to secure a place on the team. And Steve seems committed to whatever is necessary, financially, to have his family watch his son swim for glory and country, remarking, “If it’s going into debt for the next 10 years, then that’s what I have to do.”

But shouldn’t there be enough money in Ryan Lochte’s coffer for him to bring his family with him?

Then, consider Shayla Worley, who’s posted a YouTube video at The Gymblog, asking for help in bringing her family to China, that drew some rather negative comments.

Adelson notes that Worley’s mother has already dropped about $27,000 on nonrefundable travel packages, while Shayla won’t know for sure if she’s on the roster until July, but she also writes that the Worleys have a “nice house” in Baldwin Park.

Perhaps it’s just me, living in a twenty-year-old home on Florida’s east coast, but go, search for homes in Baldwin Park between 1,500 and 1,999 square feet, and tell me if “nice” is the right descriptor. I could only find one that was less than $300,000, and, at that, only a shade lower at $286,900. (Search “Magnolia.”)

The Worleys are also working on a banquet ($50 a head or $90 a couple) and a golf tournament ($75 to “attend,” Adelson writes) with mom Debbie saying, “We just hope people will help the local, hometown girl.”

Steve Lochte isn’t looking for help. “It’s really my problem,” he said. “I would feel awkward doing that.”

So, on one side, you have a talented, well-remunerated swimmer whose family is paying their costs, even if it requires debt, and on the other, a young gymnast, with no endorsements to her name and little chance of any in the future, whose family, living in a “nice house” in an upscale neighborhood, is turning to the community to help foot the travel bills.

Adelson’s right when she writes, “It is a shame the families have to carry this burden.” And she hits the right nerve for the anti-corporate masses when she writes, “Olympic sponsors like McDonald’s or Visa should do more to help.”

But she was aware of Ryan Lochte’s shoe collection in December 2007. And she has to know that a Baldwin Park family whose matriarch has written a letter to fans claiming her daughter “has a 99% chance of making the USA Olympic Gymnastics team this year” won’t come off as a sympathetic cause for Orlando readers.

Through either shoddy reporting or cherry-picking details, Adelson managed to turn the stories of two potential Olympians and the struggles of their families to support them into, for me, a mysterious question of why a swimmer with a million-dollar endorsement deal can’t spring for his family’s trip to Beijing to watch him, and a public forum for a family to plead for donations.

Weren’t the Olympics supposed to have feel-good stories?

Or at least well-reported ones?

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6 Comments

Filed under Columns, Olympics

6 responses to “Ryan Lochte, Shayla Worley and the Cost of Olympic Dreams

  1. thearenaonline

    Wealth and liquidity are two VERY different things.

    You don’t know whether Lochte’s contract is backloaded, or whether his money is tied up in illiquid investments like annuities and CDs. Similarly, you don’t know how much equity the Worleys have in their “nice house” or whether they are eligible to borrow against its value. I know plenty of people who are house-rich and cash-poor. Careful who you accuse of shoddiness and cherry-picking there.

  2. I’m sure there’s another side to this story, a more sobering financial side, and that’s what I’m interested in; that’s the story I would have liked to see told. Instead, a lukewarm profile piece/column that shies away from the big questions and doesn’t do quite enough due diligence, I think.

    I don’t have the same kind of access to these athletes that Andrea Adelson does, and it would seem to me that our different takes are reflective of that.

  3. rbrandall

    Good work on this blog, pretty in-depth, with what you could work with. I agree with you on the inconsistencies with this story. Sure, with the housing markets and all, thearenaonline has a point, but still it just seems like something doesn’t add up. Do you know by any chance if the US Olympic teams do anything to help fund trips for families?

  4. Pingback: Skate and Annoy » Archive » American Hero or Skater Traitor?

  5. Lelah

    Yeah, I expect an Olympic athlete to live on Ramen and Pop-Tarts. Please.

  6. I’m not expecting Lochte to starve, certainly. But it doesn’t cost that much even to partake in the nutrition program UF has for its athletes, and I’d imagine UF would be fairly kind to an Olympic champion golden boy if he asked nicely.

    The Lochte family did make it to Beijing, I believe, so this one did end well.

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