U.S. Olympic swimmers to compete for national titles

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More than 15 members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic swim team are in Austin, Texas this week for the AT&T Winter National Championships.

Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin, who recently competed at the Minneapolis Grand Prix, headline the list of swimmers. Others include Allison Schmitt, Matt Grevers, Nathan Adrian, Jessica Hardy and Ricky Berens.

The Thursday-Saturday meet will be contested in a short-course yards format at the University of Texas, which means the times will differ from those at the Olympics – they’ll be lower than those long-course marks because yards are shorter than meters. Also, short-course times are typically faster because of the benefit of pushing off the walls.

So it’s no stretch to say that we’ll see some low times in Austin this week.

Many of the swimmers are using the meet as preparation for the Short-Course World Championships, to be held in Istanbul, Turkey Dec. 12-16. In Franklin’s case, the Nationals meet is a the prelude to her final high school season after the 17-year-old decided to swim for Regis Jesuit her senior season.

One swimmer we’re anxious to watch this weekend is Garrett Weber-Gale, who lives and trains in Austin. He famously won gold with the 4x100m freestyle relay team at the Beijing Olympics (read: Jason Lezak and the greatest relay swim in history) but at the 2012 Olympic Trials, Weber-Gale fell short of his goal to make the London team in the 50m and 100m freestyles and the 4x100m freestyle relay. The founder of AthleticFoodie.com, Weber-Gale recently said he’s focusing on the Short-Course Worlds for now but left the door open for what he’ll do the next three years leading up to the 2016 Olympics.

Watch prelims and finals live from Austin at USASwimming.com, and be sure to catch NBC’s coverage Sunday from 2-3 p.m. ET.

Alina Zagitova eyes more gold at worlds; women’s preview

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Alina Zagitova hasn’t lost internationally in 18 months, and that doesn’t figure to change this week at the world championships in Milan.

The 15-year-old Russian is favored to become the youngest world gold medalist since Tara Lipinski (duplicating her feat from the Olympics) and make it five straight Olympic or world titles for Russian women, the longest streak for one country since American Carol Heiss won six straight Olympic/world titles from 1956 through 1960.

Zagitova would also become the first Olympic women’s champion to win worlds the following month since Kristi Yamaguchi in 1992. That’s largely because Olympic champions usually skip worlds in Olympic years. Since Yamaguchi, the only one to compete was Yuna Kim, who grabbed silver in 2010.

Zagitova may be young, but she may not have the longevity of Kim to make it to a second Olympics. Russia turns over a new class of elite women’s skaters every year.

Two weeks ago, 13-year-old Alexandra Trusova won the world junior title as the first woman to land two different quadruple jumps in one program. Trusova isn’t old enough to compete at the senior worlds until 2020.

Zagitova’s current rival and training partner, Olympic silver medalist and 2016 and 2017 World champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, withdrew from worlds due to injury.

WORLDS: TV Schedule | Pairs Preview | Nagasu’s Outlook

Which leaves the last two Olympic bronze medalists, Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada and Carolina Kostner of Italy, plus PyeongChang fourth-place finisher Satoko Miyahara of Japan as the top challengers this week.

None finished within seven points of Zagitova at any competition this season, the Russian’s first on the senior international level.

Zagitova set herself apart at the Olympics by putting all of her jumps in the second half of her programs for 10 percent bonuses and landing them all with positive grades of execution.

The U.S. contingent includes national champion Bradie Tennell, two-time Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Mariah Bell (replacement for 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen).

It is the end of a challenging season for U.S. women. In the autumn, none qualified for the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year (after at least one had done so each of the previous seven seasons).

In PyeongChang, no U.S. woman finished in the top six for the first time in Winter Games history. Tennell, who emerged this season after placing ninth at 2017 Nationals, was the top U.S. Olympic finisher in ninth.

Tennell goes into worlds as the top seeded American — seventh — by best international scores this season.

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Olympic golf qualifying, format largely unchanged for 2020

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The Tokyo 2020 Olympic golf tournaments qualifying and format will remain largely the same as they were for the sport’s return to the Games in 2016, according to Golf Channel, citing a memo sent to PGA Tour players.

The format will again be four rounds of stroke play with 60 men and 60 women taken from the world rankings, according to the report.

The qualifying window to determine the rankings will be July 1, 2018 to June 22, 2020 for men and July 8, 2018 to June 29, 2020 for women. That’s a slight change, as for 2016 the dates were the same for men and women.

The 2016 process saw a maximum of two men and two women per country, or up to four if they were ranked in the top 15.

Then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said one month after the Rio Games that he hoped the Olympic golf format would be changed to have more medals awarded.

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