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.

Diana Taurasi opens door for 2020 Olympics

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Diana Taurasi may not be done with the U.S. national team after all.

The four-time Olympic champion “hopes to play through the 2020 Summer Games,” according to ESPN.com.

Taurasi, 34, said playing at Tokyo 2020 “would be incredible” after speaking with U.S. women’s national team director Carol Callan about her Team USA future earlier this month, according to the Arizona Republic. Taurasi recently signed a multiyear extension with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, though the exact contract length wasn’t disclosed.

“It would be probably the biggest accomplishment if I can make it to five Olympics, but that’s so far down the road,” Taurasi said, according to the newspaper. “I’ve always said I’m really worried about these next couple of months with Phoenix then I’ll regroup and talk to USA Basketball again.

“There’s so many great young player that if it’s time to move on and go that direction, that’s great. If they want me to around to help and win another gold medal, I’ll do anything they want me to do.”

New U.S. coach Dawn Staley, an Olympic teammate of Taurasi’s in 2004, said in March that her gut feeling was that Taurasi would return for Tokyo 2020.

Taurasi said in August, right after the Rio final, that she had likely played her last Olympic game, ending her career 32-0 at the Olympics.

“This was probably my last one,” Taurasi said on NBCSN. “I’ll have a talk about it with coach, but, for right now, I’m settled with four, and I feel good about it.”

If Taurasi plays at Tokyo 2020, she can match Teresa Edwards‘ American record of playing in five Olympic basketball tournaments. (So can Sue Bird, who is two years older than Taurasi but hasn’t committed to a 2020 run.)

Taurasi can also take aim at the U.S. Olympic basketball scoring record of 488 points held by Lisa Leslie. Taurasi is in second place with 379 points after Rio. She would need to average 13.7 points per game to surpass Leslie in Tokyo, assuming the U.S. plays its usual eight games. Taurasi averaged a career-high 15.6 in Rio.

Taurasi will be 38 years old in 2020. The oldest U.S. Olympic basketball player of all time was Tamika Catchings, who turned 37 two weeks before the Rio Games. Catchings has retired.

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MORE: Dawn Staley to coach U.S. women at Tokyo 2020

Julia Mancuso pushes past hip injury for final Olympic run

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When Julia Mancuso was 18 years old, a doctor told the ski racer that she needed to make a choice.

Continue competing (Mancuso had already been to an Olympics at age 17) or live a healthy life.

Mancuso was born with hip displaysia, a misalignment of hip bones that causes the joint to deteriorate faster than normal. The doctor told Mancuso she needed reconstructive surgery.

“I left crying and never went back to that doctor,” she said.

Mancuso went to the slopes instead.

In 15 years since that doctor’s visit, she put together one of the greatest Alpine careers in U.S. history — four Olympic medals (most by a U.S. female skier), five world championships medals and 36 World Cup podiums.

The right hip problems persisted. Mancuso did undergo hip surgery after her breakthrough Olympic giant slalom title in 2006.

The pain returned and, by 2015, became unbearable.

She underwent another hip surgery, this one much more complicated. The operation fixed cartilage damage, cleaned up bone spurs and put more anchors in her labrum because of a slight tear with doctors warning that her hip would probably be 90 percent of what it was, according to The Associated Press.

Mancuso spent six months on crutches. When she returns to the World Cup circuit this fall, Mancuso will have gone more than two and a half years between races.

“It’s really hard for me to walk normally,” Mancuso said last month. “A lot of people ask me why I’m doing it [skiing], because I can’t even walk. Why would I ski? The truth is, skiing is way easier. Skiing is fun because it is easy, and my body loves it. My body loves to ski, and my body needs to ski. … It improves my quality of life.”

Because of her hip, Mancuso said PyeongChang will be her fifth and final Olympics, should she make it there. She might not compete beyond next season.

The U.S. women’s speed team is deep — Lindsey Vonn, World Cup podium finishers Laurenne Ross, Jackie Wiles and Stacey Cook, the young Breezy Johnson. Even Mikaela Shiffrin dabbles. A maximum of four women per nation can start an Olympic race.

The super combined, where Mancuso earned silver and bronze medals at the last two Olympics, appears to be her best shot.

Mancuso is nothing if not dedicated, evidenced by Instagram Stories workout diaries. This complements her laid-back lifestyle, spending half her time in Fiji with her husband of five months and much of the other half in Maui.

She already has post-PyeongChang plans, to honeymoon in Tonga and dive with whales.

Before that, Mancuso hopes to have one more surprise Olympic season.

In 2006, she made her first World Cup podium two weeks before the Torino Winter Games, then won the giant slalom in Torino.

In 2010, she took silver in the Vancouver downhill and super combined despite making zero World Cup podiums in the previous two years.

In 2014, Mancuso snagged combined bronze thanks to the fastest downhill run in Sochi. That came during a season where her best World Cup finish was seventh.

Just making the Olympic team would mean history. No U.S. woman has competed in five Winter Games. Mancuso, halfpipe snowboarder Kelly Clark and cross-country skier Kikkan Randall can become the first.

Mancuso could also become the oldest female Olympic Alpine medalist.

“I’m excited to put my biggest and last effort into these next Olympics,” Mancuso said, “and then see what happens.”

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