New York - Ryan Lochte, the world and Olympic champion swimmer whose false story about being robbed at the Rio Olympics brought a 10-month ban, returned to the pool Saturday at the US Open meet.
Two days after his 33rd birthday, Lochte finished seventh in a preliminary heat of the men's 100 backstroke, booking a spot in the final with a time of 55.59 seconds at the Nassau County Aquatics Center in suburban New York.
"I have to start somewhere. This is a starting point, a stepping stone," Lochte told USA Swimming.
Lochte, who intends his comeback to propel him into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, told USA Swimming that he is ready to battle back after a humiliating finish to his Brazil experience last year.
"Whatever happens, I'm going to take it with a grain of salt and keep moving forward," Lochte said in a video posted on the governing body website.
"One of the biggest things I've learned throughout the past year is I'm a fighter. I will always get back up. And I'm back."
Lochte claimed to have been forced out of a taxi and robbed at gunpoint in Rio last August but video showed the American swim star and teammates instead stopped at a gas station bathroom.
After the ban, Lochte competed on Dancing With the Stars and became a father, with son Caiden being born two months ago.
"I want to show him if you keep working at something, you can achieve anything," Lochte said. "That's why I got back into the pool. Every stroke I take, it's for him.
"I want to show my son what his dad does and what he's passionate about and show him to never give up. I do have goals. I still want to accomplish much more in the sport of swimming."
Lochte said he is a changed man from the one whose embarrassing tale led to false robbery claim charges a year ago.
"Before it was just me and my swimming and what do I want to accomplish in the sport. But now I have a whole new purpose, whole new drive in the water. I'm so excited to be back in training," Lochte said.
"I've never had this spark. I've never had this kind of flame inside me. How well I want to do in 2020 -- I've never felt this way. My whole outlook on life has changed.
"I wake up every day with a big smile on my face. The most important thing is to have fun. That's what life and swimming are all about."