Katie Ledecky and Rebecca Adlington

Our top swims of 2012

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After the American swim team won 31 medals (16 gold) at the London Olympics, 2012 could be called the year of the swimmer in the U.S. of A. Among that hardware haul were some extra special swims, courtesy of wide-eyed high school kids, grizzled veterans and everyone in between.

Here’s a list of five memorable swims in 2012, in no particular order.

Ryan Lochte, 400m IM, Olympic Trials
Lochte went on to win this race at the Olympics, but his victory over Michael Phelps at Trials might have been the better performance. The race occurred on the first night of finals at Trials, and it was the first time Lochte and Phelps would race each other at the meet. The CenturyLink Center was alive and had the atmosphere of an old-school heavyweight fight. Flames shot up from the deck as the two rivals – who happen to be good friends – made their way through all four strokes in the four-lap race. It was the most exciting race of the summer – including the Olympics. Lochte touched in 4:07.06, Phelps in 4:07.89. Phelps finished fourth in London.

Missy Franklin, 200m backstroke, Olympics
It wasn’t Franklin’s first medal in London, but it was probably her most memorable (at least individually). Franklin competed in six events at the Games – three individual races and all three relays. The 200m backstroke is her best event, which was obvious in London as she won the race in 2:04.06 seconds, a stunning three quarters of a second faster than the previous world record. The 17-year-old from Colorado became the first American woman to win Olympic gold in the race since 1972.

Nathan Adrian, 100m freestyle, Olympics
All we heard entering the men’s 100m freestyle was the name James Magnussen; he was the Australian sprinter who was supposed to dominate the field and win gold. Magnussen was the fastest swimmer heading into the final but Adrian, who was 23 at the time, spoiled Magnussen’s party in epic fashion. Adrian managed to out-touch the Aussie by .01 of a second – the closest possible margin in swimming. A disappointed Magnussen was left with the silver medal. “So many emotions,” Adrian said. “It was incredible.”

Katie Ledecky, 800m freestyle, Olympics
It’s not very often that 15 year olds make headlines at the Olympics. For a swimmer that age to beat the Olympic champion is even more rare. Ledecky did both, winning the 800m freestyle in London. The Maryland native qualified for the final as the No. 3 seed after clocking a time of 8:23.84. In the final, Ledecky went 8:14.63 and won by four seconds. 2008 Olympic champ Rebecca Adlington, a Brit who had almost the entire arena cheering for her, was almost six seconds slower in third. Ledecky’s performance was the second fastest 800m freestyle swim in history.

Michael Phelps, 4x100m medley relay, Olympics
This list would not be complete with Phelps, who ended his career on the final day of the swimming competition at the Olympics with a gold medal in the medley relay. He swam the third (butterfly) leg behind Matt Grevers and Brendan Hansen, and in front of Nathan Adrian. The squad finished two seconds shy of the world record, but that was not the point. Phelps put the finishing touches on a career that spanned four Olympics and which included 22 Olympic medals, more than anyone else in history. Nineteen of his medals are gold. Those are the types of numbers that will stand for a very long time.

U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

Nathan Chen performs during the men's free skate competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP
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KANSAS CITY — U.S. figure skating has a shot at medals in three of four disciplines at the world championships in Helsinki in two months, which hasn’t happened in 11 years.

Before this year, the U.S. men and U.S. women hadn’t boasted simultaneous medal contenders in a decade. Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek spent the 2010 Olympic cycle in the world elite, while the U.S. women faded. After they stopped competing, Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold moved into the women’s medal field while the U.S. searched for a new leading man.

He’s arrived. Nathan Chen confirmed he is one of the world’s best male skaters by landing a record seven quadruple jumps between two programs at Sprint Center this past week.

The 17-year-old already made the podium in an event that featured the world’s best, earning silver at the Grand Prix Final in December. Chen struggled with his short-program jumps at the Grand Prix Final and attempted one fewer quad overall yet still outscored everybody but Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

Of all of the U.S. medal hopes at worlds, Chen may face the stiffest trio of challengers. Not only is there Hanyu, but also two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, plus Japan’s Shoma Uno, all of whom rank higher than Chen in best total scores in international competition this season.

MORE: Chen believes Olympic gold is possible after U.S. title

Wagner, who shares a coach with Chen, did not have her best nationals. She finished second to surprise winner Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan), who has yet to factor internationally.

But Wagner said before and after the U.S. Championships that her focus was to peak for the world championships. The goal for nationals was to make the world team, which required not winning but finishing in the top three. Mission accomplished.

The concern with Wagner is that she hasn’t produced a world medal-caliber result yet this season. Her best score from the fall ranks her sixth among women going to worlds. But Wagner has shown in the last few seasons that she can pull it together for major events. There’s her 2016 World Championships silver medal, plus her three straight Grand Prix Final medals from 2012-14.

At worlds, Wagner will have to deal with a Russian trio capable of sweeping the podium, three strong Japanese skaters, plus the revelation of this season, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond.

VIDEO: Wagner passed Puffs in emotional press conference moment

The U.S.’ strongest discipline continues to be ice dance. Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates finished second and third at the 2016 World Championships. They went one-two at the U.S. Championships this past week.

But two ice dance medals don’t appear to be in the cards in Helsinki. That’s because Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who earned gold and silver at the last two Olympics, came back this season after a two-year break.

Virtue and Moir broke international scoring records in the fall, sweeping their four starts. The two-time reigning world champions, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, also beat the U.S. couples at the Grand Prix Final.

The Shibutani siblings and Chock and Bates have never finished ahead of Virtue and Moir in competition. Neither has bettered the French since the December 2014 Grand Prix Final, either.

But all it takes is one dance medal, plus Chen and Wagner at their best in Helsinki, and the U.S. could go into the Olympic year in its best place since 2006.

MORE: Gracie Gold comments on split from coach Frank Carroll

Laurie Hernandez discusses life after Rio, new book on TODAY (video)

Laurie Hernandez
TODAY
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Laurie Hernandez‘s book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” is out Tuesday, and the Olympic champion gymnast stopped by TODAY on Monday to discuss its contents and life post-Rio.

An excerpt on Hernandez’s experience in Rio and the story of her floor-exercise wink to judges, is here.

On TODAY, Hernandez discussed another interesting anecdote from the book about tissues.

“Before Olympic Trials, we went out to eat, and I had a little breakdown because practice was really rough, and my routines weren’t coming the way I wanted them to,” she said. “This poor waitress kept bringing me over piles of tissues. … We were leaving, and my sister [Jelysa] told my dad, I’m going to save these tissues. I’m going to give them to her when she makes the team. I’m thinking to myself, you guys are crazy, this is not going to happen.”

Hernandez went on to finish second to Simone Biles at the Olympic Trials and make the five-woman Olympic team as the first U.S. female Olympian born in the 2000s.

The family celebrated the achievement, where Jelysa handed the tissues to Hernandez in a bag.

“Even when you fell, you couldn’t believe in yourself, we were there for you,” Jelysa told her.

“So it was a really defining moment,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez is away from gymnastics while promoting her book and touring with “Dancing with the Stars,” but she is expected to return to the sport at some point.

MORE: Hernandez explains 2017 goals: First date, driver’s license, Law & Order