From Olympic medalist to Capitol rioter: The fall of Klete Keller – The Washington Post

If his 6-foot-6 frame and familiar face, covered by a beard but not a mask, didnt offer away Kellers identity to those who knew him, one cooling, telltale information certainly did: the Team USA jacket he was wearing, with the U.S. Olympic Team patch on the front left shoulder.How did Keller end up being so radicalized as to join thousands– consisting of, according to media reports, members of white nationalist and extremist groups– in what some have defined as a tried overthrow of the U.S. federal government? A lost soul On the “Today” show the early morning of Aug. 18, 2004, host Katie Couric called him “the Giant Keller”– a pun that made recommendation both to Kellers height and the fact that the night previously, in the finals of the 800-meter freestyle relay, he had held off Australian legend Ian Thorpe in the anchor leg to win gold for Team USA.” Every time we actually desired to win a relay, we put Klete at anchor,” Urbanchek, Kellers coach through much of his competitive career and a coach on all 3 Olympic teams for which Keller completed, stated.” Malchow, who trained with Keller under Urbanchek, called Keller a model colleague, stating: “He was a fun guy. Why?One of Kellers former Olympic teammates, who spoke on the condition of privacy to candidly talk about Kellers obvious descent, drew a line from the “wacky, oafish” swimmer he understood in the 2000s to the aimless, rudderless, 30-something guy who, he hypothesized, became an ideal candidate to fall into a radical, conservative bunny hole of conspiracy theorists and rioters included in insurrection.

If his 6-foot-6 frame and familiar face, covered by a beard but not a mask, didnt distribute Kellers identity to those who understood him, one cooling, obvious detail certainly did: the Team USA coat he was using, with the U.S. Olympic Team spot on the front left shoulder.How did Keller end up being so radicalized as to join thousands– consisting of, according to media reports, members of white nationalist and extremist groups– in what some have identified as a tried overthrow of the U.S. federal government? Rioters smashed doors and windows, raided congressional offices and strongly assaulted U.S. Capitol Police officers, killing among them.And why, after working to turn his life around recently following a bottoming-out in 2014, would Keller risk all of it in such a negligent way?” Thats whats so confounding. I simply cant answer those,” stated Gary Hall Jr., a 10-time Olympic medalist who has known Keller given that childhood and was his Olympic teammate in Sydney in 2000 and in Athens in 2004. “For him to toss whatever away, I do not understand it. Its extremely, very uncomfortable.” Keller, 38, was charged in U.S. District Court on Wednesday with three counts associated to the Jan. 6 uprising at the Capitol, in which fans of President Trump, who lost the 2020 election, smashed their method into the structure and encountered cops in an effort to interfere with the counting of electoral votes.He was collared Thursday in Colorado, where he lives, and made an initial court look there before being released on an individual recognizance bond. He did not react to speak with demands. If founded guilty of all three counts– violent entry, disorderly conduct and obstructing police– Keller might confront 15 1/2 years in prison.Within the tightknit neighborhood of Olympic swimmers, Keller was understood as a magnificent freestyler and a carefree spirit who gained the respect of peers and a procedure of national fame for anchoring the 800-meter freestyle relay in 2004 that beat the Australians and earned Michael Phelps the fifth of his 6 gold medals in Athens. Amongst those fellow swimmers, the news of Kellers participation was surprising but not especially shocking.Not stunning since his buddies knew him to be a strong conservative and gun fanatic– one explained him as “fixated” with weapons– whose posts on social networks in current years had actually revealed him to be a progressively fervent Trump fan. (Kellers social networks accounts have since been erased, and messages to him have actually gone unreturned. There have actually been no indicators Keller was armed Jan. 6.) The majority of those ex-teammates and friends were also acquainted with the challenging trajectory of Kellers post-competition life, which consisted of a divorce and child-custody battle and a brief duration of homelessness, during which Keller was living out of his vehicle and oversleeping a Walmart parking area.” Klete and I no longer have a personal relationship, [as] throughout and considering that his swimming career hes had lots of personal concerns [that] hes chosen not to address,” Cari Sherrill, Kellers ex-wife and the mother of his three kids, said in a text. “That in itself has actually constantly been concerning and continues to be.” Three-time Olympian and two-time medalist Tom Malchow, Kellers roommate in Sydney and Athens and a Team USA captain at the latter, said he had not talked to Keller in about 7 years now regrets not reaching out to him.” I believe we all dream we had actually done a little bit more to help him find his way beyond the Olympics,” Malchow said. “A great deal of individuals battle after their careers end. Youre a hero. You have all these individuals accommodating your needs, looking after you. And when that flight is over, reality, sadly, is simply different.” But a minimum of among the previous teammates, coaches and swimming insiders interviewed for this story, the news was still unexpected. Because absolutely nothing, they said, exposed any disposition Keller may go so far regarding travel from his Colorado Springs house to Washington and join countless other Trump fans in violently opposing the certification of an election the president falsely defined as fraudulent.” I simply do not understand what would have triggered this in him,” said long time U.S. Olympic coach Jon Urbanchek, who has remained in touch with Keller following the latters retirement from competitive swimming in 2008, having last corresponded with him in November. Keller, Urbanchek stated, had “a terrific heart.” Many in Kellers circles also understood that he appeared to have turned his life around over the last few years, starting work as a real estate agent in Colorado Springs and launching a website, theolympicagent.com, that touted his athletic accomplishments– “I bring an Olympic effort to the organization,” his website reads– and consisted of images of Keller with his kids. Some understood Keller had also just recently gotten engaged. (The most current brokerage to utilize Keller, Hoff & & Leigh, scrubbed all referrals to him from its site and said in a statement he had actually resigned from his position.)” He was just beginning to pull his life back together,” Hall stated in a telephone interview. “He worked. He got engaged. To see all that implode is just heartbreaking.” Like others spoke with for this story, Hall, who has understood Keller given that they turned up together as kids through the very same Phoenix-area swim club, had a difficult time squaring the Klete he understood during their competition days with the one he saw on those videos.” Klete and I base on opposite sides of the political spectrum,” Hall said. “What any protester carried out in storming the Capitol is a despicable act. I wish to be really clear: I condemn that habits. Having said that, my heart is broken. I feel such a heavy weight knowing that he was included. Because someplace below all that mess, hes a decent person that his colleagues care deeply about.” A lost soul On the “Today” show the morning of Aug. 18, 2004, host Katie Couric called him “the Giant Keller”– a pun that made recommendation both to Kellers height and the fact that the night before, in the finals of the 800-meter freestyle relay, he had held off Australian legend Ian Thorpe in the anchor leg to win gold for Team USA.” I knew Klete would come through,” Phelps informed the media. “His swim was the factor we won that relay. He held back the best 200 [- meter] freestylist in history.” Why was Keller, 22 at the time, selected to face off against the excellent Thorpe, instead of among the rising young stars– Phelps, who swam the very first leg, or Ryan Lochte, who went 2nd?” Every time we really wanted to win a relay, we put Klete at anchor,” Urbanchek, Kellers coach through much of his competitive career and a coach on all 3 Olympic groups for which Keller completed, stated. “He wasnt afraid of straining until it harmed. He wasnt scared to be challenged.” Malchow, who trained with Keller under Urbanchek, called Keller a design colleague, stating: “He was a fun guy. He constantly had your back. He d be the first one there to choose you up after a bad race.” Longtime University of Southern California and Olympic team coach Dave Salo, who trained Keller at Trojan Swim Club for the latters last Olympics in 2008, remembered him as a carefree type who would often “roam into practice a little late,” unconcerned with drawing “the wrath of his coach and teammates.” He said Keller, who had actually dropped out of USC in 2001 to turn expert and focus on swimming, completed his degree in public policy and real estate development after the Beijing Olympics.” I would run into him occasionally,” Salo said. “He was extremely focused on completing that degree. He felt it was unfinished organization.” But Keller struggled acutely to adjust to life after swimming, informing NBCSports.com in 2014 that he need to have retired after the 2004 Olympics. Instead, he trained for another four-year “quad” culminating in Beijing 2008, where he won another gold in the 800-meter freestyle relay– his second gold, to go with one silver and two bronzes.” I need tove put a lot more time into thinking about … what I was doing after swimming. I just got one-track mind with swimming,” Keller said then. “You get done, and youre like, Oh, God, what do you do now? If I could return, I most likely would not have actually done another Olympics. I wouldve retired after Athens and most likely went back to school.” By January 2014, Keller was divorced, jobless and, quickly, homeless, according to an interview he gave to USA Swimmings site in 2018. At one point, he said, he went four years without being enabled to see his kids, regardless of living simply 10 minutes from them. In the story, which has been gotten rid of from USA Swimmings website, Keller took responsibility for how his life bottomed out.” Within a matter of a couple of years, I went from Olympic gold medalist to spouse, property owner, person with a series of sales tasks– life insurance coverage, software, medical gadgets, financial items– and dad of 3, and I had an actually challenging time accepting who I was without swimming in my life,” he said. “I actually had a hard time with things. I didnt enjoy my work, which unhappiness and lack of identity started sneaking into my marriage.” Keller also described his bout of homelessness, throughout which he lived out of a Ford Fusion.” [A] t 6-foot-6, it was challenging to make space to sleep,” he remembered. He slept in the car park of Walmarts and rest stops, using a health club subscription he had managed to hang on to take showers.” In swimming, you have to be self-centered to a large degree to be successful. But when you are an other half and dad, you have to be more generous– and I wasnt,” he stated then. “As I look back now, I wasnt an extremely good hubby. Now, I feel like Ive come through the darkness and found the light that I constantly wanted and required to be delighted. Im getting there.” Olympic swimmers, even across various generations, typically speak of their ranks as a fraternity and refer to each other as siblings and siblings. But many lost touch with Keller throughout this dark period. The 2018 story on USA Swimmings website functioned as a reassuring bit of news: It looked as if Keller had turned his life around.That sense of comfort was shattered in the aftermath of Jan. 6. Seeing Keller in those videos drove the reality house with his previous teammates: He wasnt better. Their optimism was changed by scary and those haunting questions: How? Why?One of Kellers former Olympic colleagues, who spoke on the condition of privacy to candidly go over Kellers apparent descent, drew the line from the “wacky, oafish” swimmer he knew in the 2000s to the aimless, rudderless, 30-something guy who, he speculated, became a best candidate to fall under a radical, conservative rabbit hole of conspiracy theorists and rioters involved in insurrection.” He was a lost soul, long prior to the Trump thing,” stated Rowdy Gaines, a three-time gold medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics who, as NBCs lead commentator since 1996, serves as the unofficial voice and face of the sport to its many fans. “He hit some difficult times where he went through some things in life that most likely would not be real helpful for anyone. In some cases when you get lost, you end up being a fan rather of a leader.” An imposing figureMel Stewart began getting the text just a couple of days after the attack on the Capitol. A video shot by a reporter from conservative media outlet Townhall revealed a figure who looked a lot like Klete Keller, overlooking the other individuals in the video as they rose into the Rotunda.Stewart, a two-time Olympian and three-time medalist, is likewise the publisher of SwimSwam, a leading swimming site and magazine that he co-founded in 2012. The texts he received in the days after Jan. 6 started with a drip and, as word navigated the Olympic swimming neighborhood, eventually became a flood.” It was just a huge mushroom cloud going out,” Stewart said of the video. “At a specific point, I had to begin telling people: Yes, Ive seen it. Stop sending it to me. “SwimSwam broke the news of Kellers apparent involvement in the attack Monday, blasting the news well beyond the insular world of elite, Olympic-level swimming. The reactions, sometimes affected by political perspective, varied from anger to issue to indifference. Some required that USA Swimming or the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee strip Keller of his medals, a power neither body has. Others took discomforts to explain Keller is never ever revealed initiating any violence towards Capitol Police, a minimum of in the parts of the videos made public. At one point, he is seen standing calmly in the Rotunda holding a bottle of water.” He stands out as a 6-foot-6 man in a USA coat,” Salo said. “But he wasnt taking a lectern. He didnt seem threatening. I do not know that there ought to be too much criticism of someone who was voicing their opinion. … I dont think he belonged to the group that was attempting to do anything but protest. I believe he was probably captured up in the crowd rising towards the Capitol.” Malchow stated the former teammates he has actually interacted with given that the video came to light were mainly like-minded in condemning the act: “Obviously, he has a right to stand and support Trump,” Malchow stated. “But we also have to abide by the guideline of law.” Those in the Olympic swimming community, no matter their political bent, appeared joined over one element of Kellers participation: the idea that he tainted all of them by choosing to use that jacket.” The reactions I was getting were, Oh, my God. I cant believe hes wearing the Olympic garb,” stated Stewart. “There was some anger.”” Its a horrible reflection on the sport and the Olympic group,” Hall stated. “Great care is taken to get rid of any political agenda from Team USA. For him to drag that in by wearing the sacred colors was particularly unpleasant.”” It embarrasses the motion when you do that,” Gaines stated. “Its humiliating to the sport, and its awkward to my other siblings and sis.” Neither USA Swimming nor the USOPC has addressed concerns regarding Keller, but USA Swimming sent out a message to members Wednesday.” [W] hile we respect personal individuals and groups rights to quietly oppose, we highly condemned the illegal actions taken by those at the Capitol recently,” it read. “It is extremely easy and very clear. Mr. Kellers actions in no method represent the values or mission of USA Swimming.” Gaines, who called Kellers greatest race from the NBC broadcast booth on that August day in Athens more than 16 years previously, saw something else in Kellers choice of outerwear Jan. 6: a call for assistance.” Im not a psychologist, however maybe he was trying to draw attention to himself,” Gaines said. “Maybe its one of those things where you wish to get captured, so you can finally get some assistance.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *