These days, Ryan Lochte is flashing a big, dazzling smile – and it’s not just because he has a freshly-minted gold medal around his neck.
The Olympic swimmer recently unveiled his 2012 Summer Olympics “grill,” a retainer filled with red, white and blue diamonds. Lochte has a long history of such dental bling, having worn special grills at such events as the 2007 World Aquatics Championship in Melbourne, the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2009 World Championship in Rome and the 2011 World Championship in Shanghai. This time, however, the grill nearly cost him his victory hardware.
According to USA Today, the 27-year-old was told by an Olympics official that if he wore the flashy flag on his teeth while standing on the podium Saturday night, he would not receive his gold medal. So instead, Lochte put on the grill only after accepting the award, and posed for photographers with both pieces of bling adorning his upper body.
“Lochte told me he tried to wear his grill on the podium,” tweets ESPN reporter Wayne Drehs, breaking the news, “Only to have an Olympics official tell him if he did so he wouldn’t get his gold.”
In the aftermath of the controversy, media and USA Swimming officials are trying to pinpoint the official who gave Lochte the warning, and the reasoning behind it. IOC spokesman Mark Adams told USA Today “I can only speculate that it may have been a uniform issue, that it may not have been part of the uniform.”
Lochte made headlines all over the world on Saturday by winning the men’s 400-meter individual medley on the first full day of competition in London. The University of Florida grad finished with a time of 4 minutes, 5.18 seconds – a full 3.68 seconds better than the rest of the field and far ahead of Michael Phelps’ 4:09:28 that earned the 2008 Olympics legend a disappointing fourth place finish.
The real star over the weekend, however, may have become Lochte’s grill itself. Photos of the smiling Olympian have rocketed all over the Web and he is already receiving criticism and praise for his distinctive dentistry.