Lochte, Franklin return to the pool in Minneapolis

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After an extended, post-London break, some of the top American swimmers return to competition this weekend at the Minneapolis Grand Prix. Here are a few things to know heading into the three-day meet, which will be contested in a short-course yards format.

Ryan Lochte has his work cut out for him. The 11-time Olympic medalist is signed up for 11 events, and if he makes it to the finals in each one that equals 33 swims. Obviously he’ll drop a race here and there but that’s a daunting schedule.

Speaking of Lochte, this is his first meet of the Ryan Lochte era. With the retirement of Michael Phelps, Lochte is the dominant male swimmer on the U.S. team – and in the world. Lochte, 28, said he wants to compete at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He’ll be 32 at those Games – older than most dominant athletes in the sport.

While we’re on the subject of eras, Missy Franklin’s resumes in Minnesota. The 17-year-old won five medals (four gold) at her Olympic debut in London. She won the 2010-11 Grand Prix series title and was third in the 2011-12 competition. Franklin’s journey to Rio starts this weekend.

Another swimmer that could benefit from Phelps’ retirement is Conor Dwyer. The 23-year-old trains with Lochte at the University of Florida. They work out together with strength coach Matt DeLancey using tractor-sized tires, boat chains and beer kegs. Dwyer even appears in a workout video Lochte recently released. The point is that the more time Dwyer spends with Lochte, the faster he’ll get. Dwyer won a gold medal with the 4x200m freestyle relay team in London. At the Olympic Trials, he finished behind Phelps, Lochte and Ricky Berens in the 200m freestyle and behind Phelps and Lochte in the 200m IM.

You might remember the name Becca Mann from the Olympic Trials. She was the 14-year-old who finished sixth in the 400m freestyle, fifth in the 800m freestyle and fifth in the 400m IM. This weekend, Mann is slated to tackle six events: 200m freestyle, 200m butterfly, 200m IM, 400m IM, 500m freestyle and the 1650m freestyle. Will we see a breakout performance from this young phenom?

Watch the prelims and finals live on USASwimming.org all weekend starting Friday at 10 a.m. ET.

Katie Ledecky wins by 28 seconds on 21st birthday to close NCAAs

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Katie Ledecky capped her second NCAA Championships with a win by 28 seconds in the 1,650-yard freestyle on her 21st birthday Saturday.

Last year, Ledecky lapped all but one swimmer through 1,000 yards of the 1650 final and won by 21.19 seconds.

Earlier this week, Ledecky anchored Stanford to an 800 freestyle relay title and won the 500 free by a record margin of more than eight seconds.

Then on Friday, teammate Ella Eastin beat Ledecky by 3.69 seconds in the 400 individual medley, an event that Ledecky never swims on the major international level. Eastin broke Ledecky’s NCAA record by 1.93 seconds.

Ledecky hasn’t discussed with Stanford whether she will return for her junior season or turn pro, according to the school.

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Mikaela Shiffrin wins final slalom for best career season (video)

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Mikaela Shiffrin won her 12th World Cup race this season and seventh slalom, both personal bests, at the World Cup Finals in Are, Sweden, on Saturday.

Shiffrin, who clinched her second World Cup overall title and fifth slalom season title before the last races of the campaign this weekend, prevailed by 1.58 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener. PyeongChang gold medalist Frida Hansdotter of Sweden was third.

“The slalom has always been really close to my heart,” said Shiffrin, who won the last two slaloms this season after a shocking fourth-place finish in PyeongChang. “To finish with a run like that was super special.”

Full results are here.

Shiffrin matched Lindsey Vonn‘s American record for World Cup wins in one season — 12 — with one more race Sunday. Only Swiss Vreni Schneider has more women’s World Cup wins in a single campaign with 14.

Shiffrin, who turned 23 on Tuesday, also moved into solo fifth place on the women’s World Cup wins list with 43, including 23 victories in the last two seasons.

If Shiffrin keeps it up, she can move into the top three next season, though Lindsey Vonn‘s record 82 is a ways off.

“I’m not thinking about that so much,” Shiffrin said. “It’s way too soon to set that as my goal.”

Shiffrin is also three World Cup slalom wins shy of the record 35 held by retired Austrian Marlies Schild, whom Shiffrin supplanted as the world’s top slalom skier in 2013.

The World Cup Finals conclude Sunday with the women’s giant slalom. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air live coverage of the second run at 7:30 a.m. ET.

“After today I’m really looking forward to going to the start one more time this season and hammering down,” Shiffrin said.

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