05/23/2013 05:27 EDT | Updated 07/23/2013 05:12 EDT

American swimming star getting used to life in the pool again after long break

VANCOUVER - Ryan Lochte did many things after dominating at the 2012 London Olympics — except swim.

The U.S. swimming star, who won five gold medals in London, was featured in his own reality show called "What Would Ryan Lochte Do?" He also appeared on talk shows and made TV cameo appearances.

"It's been a whirlwind," Lochte said in an interview before a training session Thursday at UBC in advance of this weekend's 50th annual Mel Zajac Jr. International meet.

"I've been doing a lot of unique stuff outside of the pool that has been really good for me — I mean for my image, for my brand," he said. "So it's been a fun opportunity to just get out there and get outside my normal environment of just the swimming pool."

Lochte, a 28-year-old Rochester, N.Y., native who now lives in Florida, is getting used to life in the pool again following a seven-month break that allowed him to recharge his body and mind. The reality show was a good experience because he was able to be himself, although it has fared poorly in ratings.

In a UBC pool full of young Canadian swimming hopefuls, most of whom have not been to the world championships or Olympics, Lochte stood out like a shark among guppies. Canadian coach Tom Johnson said Lochte has set the standard for swimmers around the world.

Despite his pursuits outside the pool, Lochte says he still takes swimming seriously and did not want to take a full season off.

"No, just because my biggest goal is the 2016 Olympics," he said. "I know I had to get back in the water sooner than later, just so I could make that team and do what I want to do at those Games.

"I had to get back in. I couldn't take that long of a break."

The Zajac International serves as a warmup for this summer's world championships in Barcelona. American swimmers have yet to go through their qualifications, but Lochte intends to be there.

He came to Vancouver at the urging of his coach Gregg Troy, who wanted some one-one-one time with him.

"We wanted to do some racing so he could really critique my swimming, my techniques, pace stroke and see where I'm at with my season with my training," said Lochte.

He suggested there is still considerable room for improvement.

"My training this year hasn't been all that spectacular, so we'll see how this season goes," he said. "And, I mean, I'm going to take what I can get."

If all goes according to plan, Lochte will take home more medals from Rio in 2016. In addition to his five gold medals, he has earned three silver and three bronze while competing in three Olympics.

He also holds the world record in the 200-metre individual medley. But he is keeping most of his goals to himself.

"I will be swimming at the 2016 Olympics," Lochte said of the lone goal he is willing to share publicly. "I'll be swimming up until then. If I make the team, I make the team. If not, then that's it.

"That's all I'm going to tell you (media) guys."