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.

The secret messages Lindsey Vonn wrote on her Olympic race suit

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SCHEDULE UPDATE: Vonn will will return for the final women’s downhill training run on Monday at 9 p.m. ET. LIVE STREAM

Look closely at Lindsey Vonn.

When NBC cameras zoom in on the two-time Olympic medalist, viewers will notice that she wrote a couple of messages on her uniform in permanent marker.

On the thumb of her right glove, Vonn has the word “believe” in Greek. It mirrors a tattoo she has on the inside of a finger.

“Signifying my last Olympics [in 2018] and just need to believe in myself,” Vonn said to NBC’s Nick Zaccardi.

On her helmet, Vonn has the initials “D.K.” and a heart. It is meant to honor her late grandfather, Don Kildow.

Kildow, who served in the Korean War from 1952-54, died on Nov. 1. Watch to learn more about Vonn’s special relationship with her grandparents:

Hard falls at Olympics, but no hard rules about concussions

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — At the bottom of the Olympic aerials landing hill, where crashes are common and the term “slap back” is part of the everyday lingo, skiers spend almost as much time figuring out how to protect their heads as they do working on all those flips and spins.

“We learn how to fall,” U.S. jumper Jon Lillis said.

Elsewhere around the action-sports venue, that’s not so much the case.

Concussion dangers lurk everywhere — from the iced-over deck of the halfpipe, to the steeply pitched landings on the slopestyle course, to the careening twists and turns of the snowboard cross track, to the aerials course, where “slap back” is the term for when a skier’s head slaps backward against the snow. But at the Olympics, there are no hard-and-fast rules regarding who diagnoses head injuries, and no hard-and-fast protocol that athletes must clear to be allowed back on the slopes after a concussion.

“A bit concerning,” says neurologist Kevin Weber of the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. “Because you worry that athletes in other sports that may not be as popular as football are getting, I wouldn’t say ignored, but the concussions they’re getting are under-scrutinized.”

Read the full story at NBCOlympics.com