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Golden Goggles Preview, part 1

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USA Swimming’s Golden Goggles are Monday night in New York, and we’re expecting everyone from Michael Phelps (hopefully adorned in all 22 medals) to Ryan Lochte (hopefully not wearing a shirt under his jacket) to show for the event that honors the best athletes and performances in American swimming each year. But before that, a few predictions: here’s how NBC swimming writer Jason Devaney, Olympic trials swimmer (turned NBC online producer) Ryan Hurley, and OlympicTalk’s Matthew Kitchen decided to vote for this year’s awards. Click here for Part 2.
**Breakout Performer nominees
Camille Adams, Haley Anderson, Katie Ledecky, Breeja Larson, Scott Weitz

Jason: Katie Ledecky – Most people didn’t know who Katie Ledecky was in 2011. She was considered a contender at the Olympic Trials and she ended up winning the 800m freestyle by six seconds. In London, the 15-year-old beat reigning Olympic champion and world record holder Rebecca Adlington by more than four seconds. And she was a half second shy of the world record! C’mon people, vote for Katie.

Ryan: Katie Ledecky – In 2011 she won U.S. Junior Nationals, in 2012 she won gold at the London Olympic Games.  The fearlessness with which the 15-year-old Olympic rookie swam, against an incredibly talented and experienced 800m field, was truly awe-inspiring.

Kitchen: Katie Ledecky – Everything they said. For my money, no one was more impressive in London than Katie. It was the most exciting swim race of the Games.
**Perseverance nominees
Tyler Clary, Anthony Ervin, Jessica Hardy, Davis Tarwater

Jason: Jessica Hardy – Ultimately I went with Hardy over Clary because she endured a difficult ordeal after test positive for a banned substance in 2008. She wasn’t allowed to compete in Beijing, was suspended for a year, and was branded a cheat. However, it was eventually ruled that Hardy did not knowingly ingest the substance, clenbuterol. Hardy made the London team and won two medals (gold and bronze).

Ryan: Tyler Clary – Clary took a bath this year after his (misinterpreted) comments about Phelps’s work ethic. After countless second and third place finishes behind Phelps and Ryan Lochte, Clary finally earned his gold medal.

Kitchen: Davis Tarwater – I get the struggle Hardy went through to get back in the pool after being banned in Beijing, but Tarwater’s journey arguably defines “perseverance.” After barely missing qualifying for three straight Olympics (with a retirement thrown in for good measure), a scratch by Michael Phelps in the 200m finally got Davis to London. He made the most of it, helping the team win gold in the relay.
**Coach of the Year nominees
Bob Bowman, Todd Schmitz, Teri McKeever, David Salo, Gregg Troy

Jason: Todd Schmitz – Bob Bowman coached Michael Phelps, Teri McKeever led the U.S. women’s team in London to 14 medals, and Gregg Troy’s four swimmers, including Ryan Lochte, won a combined nine medals. But this award has to go to Todd Schmitz, the genius behind 17-year-old Missy Franklin. Schmitz coached her to five medals in her Olympic debut, including four gold. She also broke two world records.

Ryan: Teri McKeever – With the entire U.S. Women’s Team swimming so well across the board in London, McKeever deserves credit for setting a high bar.  She guided a relatively young group to 15 total medals – 8 of which were gold, compared to only 2 in Beijing.

Kitchen: Bob Bowman – You could argue that coaching Phelps is hardly coaching, but from all the reports we heard about him being lazy for three years (and for how much golf he’s played since London) I imagine getting Phelps motivated after Beijing was his hardest task. Bowman got Phelps over the losing hump after the first race, helped him to win six more medals, and coached Allison Schmitt to five medals just for fun.
**Best Relay Performance nominees
Women’s 4x200m free relay, men’s 4x200m free relay, women’s 4x100m medley relay, men’s 4x100m medley relay

Jason: Women’s 4x100m medley – The Women put together an all-star team that included Missy Franklin, 100m/200m backstroke winner; Rebecca Soni, 200m breaststroke champion and 100m breaststroke silver medalist; Dana Vollmer, 100m butterfly winner; and Allison Schmitt, 200m freestyle gold medalist. They joined forces and broke the world record to win the race for the U.S. for the first time since 2000.

Ryan: Women’s 4 x 100 medley – In the toughest category to pick, the women’s medley out-touched the men’s, mainly because  they set a new World Record.  Both teams won gold, and featured four individual medalists in London, but Franklin, Soni, Vollmer and Schmitt have the edge here.

Kitchen: Men’s 4x100m medley – I could not be more impressed by the what the women did in the 4x100m medley, but the men’s medley team included individual gold medalists Matt Grevers and Nathan Adrian, and capped Phelps’s career with one more gold, the 18th of his career. You’re just not going to beat that.

Paul Elvstrom, Olympic sailing legend, dies at 88

ESTORIL, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 5:   Paul Elvstrom of Denmark is inducted during the launch of the ISAF Sailing Hall of Fame  on November 5, 2007 at the Estoril Casino in Estoril, Portugal.  (Photo by John Gichigi/Getty Images)
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Danish sailor Paul Elvstrom, the first Olympian to win individual gold medals at four Games, has died at age 88, according to the Denmark sailing federation.

Elvstrom won firefly gold at London 1948, then gold in a slightly different event, the finn, at Helsinki 1952, Melbourne 1956 and Rome 1960.

Since, five Olympians have won individual gold medals at four Games — Al Oerter (discus), Carl Lewis (long jump), Ben Ainslie (sailing), Michael Phelps (swimming) and Kaori Icho (wrestling).

Elvstrom also competed in the 1968, 1972, 1984 and 1988 Olympics, completing a 40-year span of Olympic competition at age 60 in Seoul.

His daughter, Trine, crewed for him in 1984 and 1988, making them the only father-daughter combination to compete together at an Olympics.

He was named Denmark’s greatest male athlete of the 20th century.

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Nathan Chen, once the darling boy of U.S. figure skating, is now a leading man

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In January 2010, a 10-year-old Nathan Chen skated off the ice at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships exhibition gala to a standing ovation.

Chen had rocked his performance to “Peter and the Wolf,” wearing a bright red outfit with blue pants, looking like a Toy Soldier. At 4 feet, 5 inches, he was slightly taller than the rink boards.

Chen had earned a spot in the exhibition with Vancouver Olympians by winning the U.S. novice title six days earlier. The youngest of five siblings had started skating at age 3 in his hometown of Salt Lake City, at a 2002 Olympic practice rink, and also trained ballet and played hockey.

“We’ll be seeing a lot more of this young man, that’s for sure,” 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton said on the NBC broadcast from Spokane, Wash., six years ago.

Sandra Bezic, a longtime Canadian choreographer and commentator, remarked on the show that Chen wouldn’t be age eligible for the Olympics until 2018.

“Remember that name,” Bezic said.

Chen, now 17 years old, has become the name in U.S. men’s figure skating going into this week’s Grand Prix Final in Marseille, France. He qualified into the six-man event as the world’s fifth-best skater in the fall Grand Prix series, best by an American in five years.

“I’m trying to place myself among the top,” Chen said by phone before flying to Marseille. “I’m glad I have the opportunity.”

Chen was confined to a hospital bed for a week 10 months ago and off the ice for months.

On Jan. 24, he aggravated a left hip injury 15 seconds into his U.S. Championships exhibition gala skate — the same event where he melted hearts in Spokane six years earlier — and had to be wheeled away from the Xcel Energy Center rink in St. Paul, Minn.

Chen was taken to the emergency room, underwent X-Rays and was told he needed surgery. He wouldn’t be able to compete again that winter or spring.

“That was kind of devastating,” said Chen, who had an avulsion injury, meaning a piece of bone tore away from the main part of the bone, not uncommon for a growth-spurting teenager. “I was thinking, how am I going to get back on the ice as fast as possible?”

Hours before the exhibition, Chen had won the U.S. bronze medal and qualified for the world championships team. He landed two quadruple jumps in his short program and four in his free skate. Both firsts for an American.

Chen was the youngest man to make the top three at nationals in 43 years. He represented a shot in the arm for U.S. men’s skating in the middle of its longest international medal lull since the 1970s.

“I had distinctive sights on what I wanted to accomplish,” at nationals, Chen said. “I wanted to make the world team.”

Chen had come to St. Paul with a left hip injury but skated two electric, quad-filled programs without pain. Maybe it was the preventative physical therapy. Or adrenalin.

After his free skate, Chen went through drug testing and a change of costume for the exhibition.

Chen had no time to warm-up, was shivering and says now he really wasn’t ready to perform in the gala, but he doesn’t blame anybody for what happened.

“I just felt like it was something I had to do,” Chen said. “I always kind of use my exhibitions as a redemption to an extent, if things didn’t quite go the way I wanted to in competition.”

Chen, who had fallen on a triple Axel in his free skate, aborted his exhibition program after 15 seconds, botching his opening triple toe loop attempt in discomfort from the takeoff.

Chen pressed his left hip, grimaced and hobbled to the boards, which he was tall enough to lean over after growing a foot since 2010.

A wheelchair arrived, Chen eased into it and was pushed out of sight. He wouldn’t be seen in competition again until October.

It was hard to know what to expect out of Chen this fall, but he quickly put the injury behind him.

In his first event back, Chen attempted five quads in his free skate, one more than at nationals. He fell three times over two programs but still won a lower-level event in Finland over three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada.

He made his Grand Prix debut the next month, finishing fourth and second in France and Japan. In Japan, Chen posted the highest total score by an American under the decade-old judging system. He also had an epiphany practicing on the same ice as Yuzuru Hanyu.

“I was like, oh crap, this is the Olympic champion,” Chen said. “This is pretty sick.”

Chen’s season is even more remarkable considering he spent two months away from his California-based coach, Rafael Arutunian. It was Arutunian who helped develop Chen into a jumping phenom.

But Chen needed to improve his artistic skills, spins and footwork. He flew to Michigan and learned from choreographer Marina Zoueva, who guided the last two Olympic ice dancing champions. But he never forgot Arutunian’s training.

“I can hear him in my head,” said Chen, whose ability to land clean quads this season has been a coin flip. “I know what he would say to certain things when I make certain mistakes.”

Chen returned to Arutunian after NHK Trophy, training for two weeks ahead of the Grand Prix Final. He predicted he would have to combat nerves skating in Marseille, beginning Thursday, in the biggest event of his young career.

“I’m not completely satisfied with the way I’m skating lately,” Chen said.

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