Charlie Neibergall/AP/Shutterstock Ryan Lochte
The 12-time Olympic medalist came in 7th in his final event, the 200 IM, at the Team USA swimming trials in Omaha, Nebraska, on Friday. He had entered to compete in six events but scratched from the 400 IM last weekend. During Monday's 200m freestyle preliminaries, he came in 25th place and didn't advance.
"I really wanted to be on that Olympic team. I think this is probably my most important swim meet I've ever had in my entire career, the one that meant the most to me," he said afterwards at a press conference. "Falling short and feeling like I let everyone down was one of the hardest things."
"I can tell you I have no pressure on my back anymore. I was getting pressure from all different directions, mostly on me because I wanted to prove so much to everyone," he added. "But this is not the last you're going to see of me."
As for his future, Lochte said that while he'll only "quit swimming when it stops being fun," another Olympics is likely not in the cards.
"I still want to race but as far as another Olympic trials, I don't know about that. I'll be 40. That's pushing it. But we'll see -- anything can happen," he added. "I can take years off and be stronger than ever, who knows. But right now I'm just going to take this all in and go see my family."
Jeff Roberson/AP/Shutterstock Ryan Lochte
The journey to the trials was a long road for the seasoned athlete. Lochte was suspended from the U.S. national swim team for 10 months following a drunken incident at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in which he damaged a gas station sign and falsely reported he was robbed at gunpoint. Charges against Ryan were ultimately dismissed, but his suspension stood and he lost all of his major sponsors.
He was suspended again in 2018 for violating a restriction on IV use. Later that year, he entered a month-long rehab program for alcohol after a run-in with police at his California hotel room.
Lochte previously told Sports Illustrated about his hopes for reaching this year's Games, where he would have become the oldest-ever men's Olympic swimmer for the United States.
"Everyone around me is putting a lot of pressure on me - more than I've ever had in my entire life," said Lochte, the second-most decorated swimmer in Olympic history.
"I feel it from everyone," the athlete added of the pressure to SI. "Like my family. The people that live in this house. My agent. It's just everyone."
"I feel like, if I don't [make it], I'll become a failure," Lochte admitted.
Lochte previously spoke to PEOPLE about his preparations for the Games, sharing that he's made it to every single swim practice at a quarantine-friendly facility near his family's Gainesville, Florida, home.
"I thought I was ready for 2020, and when they postponed it I started looking at the positive side of having another year under my belt," he said at the time. "I'm going to get stronger, mentally prepare myself even more, I'm just going to be a better athlete. I'm so excited because I have so much determination and I'm just ready to go!"