Missy Franklin

Swimmers Franklin, Lochte return to the pool in Austin

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Missy Franklin is back.

The 17-year-old swimmer, who won four gold medals and one bronze at the London Olympics last summer, recently made waves when she returned to high school meets. Now she’ll make her 2013 debut at the national level at this weekend’s Austin Grand Prix.

Franklin will be joined by 11-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte and a host of other Olympians, including Chloe Sutton, Kate Ziegler, Nathan Adrian, Matt Grevers, Ricky Berens, Tyler Clary and Conor Dwyer. The meet will be contested at the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swim Center at the University of Texas.

Action starts Friday morning with prelims; finals will be Friday-Sunday night.

Here are three things to watch at the meet:

Low numbers
Typically at these Grand Prix meets, swimmers have to navigate a chaotic scene in the pool during warm-ups. There are so many swimmers that it’s a wonder collisions don’t occur. (Actually they do – Michael Phelps broke his goggles after colliding with Australian Cate Campbell at the 2009 World Championships.) We won’t see those kinds of problems in Austin this weekend, however. It’s a much smaller field at this meet, with some events like the women’s 200m breaststroke boasting just seven swimmers. Others like the men’s 200m freestyle has 38 entries.

We checked with USA Swimming, who told us the reason is that the time standards were lowered for Austin and for the next Grand Prix meet in Orlando. For the three meets after that, the times are a bit more lax – so we should see bigger fields then.

Men’s 100m freestyle
With nine Olympians in the field (including the top seven seeds), this will probably be the most exciting race of the meet. There’s Nathan Adrian, who won the gold medal in London by .01 of a second. Lochte’s there too, as is Jimmy Feigen, Garrett Weber-Gale, Grevers, Berens, Anthony Irvin, Dwyer and Charlie Houchin. That group owns a combined 31 Olympic medals.

Missy’s medals
How many races will Missy Franklin win? She’s entered in six events – 100m/200m/400m freestyle, 100m/200m backstroke and the 200m IM. The backstroke is her best stroke so figure she’ll win those two races. She’s strong in the 100m and 200m freestyle – let’s go with one gold and one silver. The 400m freestyle is a toss up. Franklin’s not known as an IMer but she’s not competing against a real strong field, so let’s assume she’ll at least win a medal (silver, for the sake of this blog post). That’s five medals – three gold and two silver. Agree?

Watch the action Saturday and Sunday night on Universal Sports TV.

Karen Chen breaks U.S. Champs scoring record; Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold trail

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KANSAS CITY — A skater broke the U.S. Championships women’s short program scoring record Thursday night, but it wasn’t Ashley Wagner or Gracie Gold.

Karen Chen, a 17-year-old former junior star who struggled the last two years, tallied 72.82 points at the Sprint Center to lead going into Saturday’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Mirai Nagasu, a 2010 Olympian, is second, .87 of a point behind.

That leaves Wagner and Gold, who combined to win the last five U.S. titles, in third and fifth, respectively.

This is concerning for Wagner (1.88 behind Chen) and Gold (7.97 behind) given U.S. Figure Skating can send three women to worlds in two months. That selection will be made this weekend, primarily — but not totally — based off U.S. Championships results.

Tessa Hong is in fourth place, but at 14 years old is too young for senior worlds.

Full results are here.

Though Wagner and Gold are usually higher placed, the biggest surprise was Chen.

“My body’s still trembling right now,” she said, two hours after her performance.

Chen skated a clean program Thursday, rare for her in the last couple of seasons. Chen burst onto the scene as a 15-year-old two years ago, finishing third at nationals behind Wagner and Gold.

She was too young to be selected for the 2015 Worlds team. Little has been heard from Chen since.

She dropped to eighth at the 2016 U.S. Championships and came into Kansas City as the seventh-ranked U.S. woman this season. Struggling to find comfortable boots — a common skater problem — has plagued her. She went through 14 pairs in a four-month stretch.

“Everyone has doubts, and I certainly do as well,” said Chen, who choreographed her short program. “But I just kept pushing and telling myself that I’m gaining more experience, I’m learning about everything in the process and I’m just going to keep getting better.”

Wagner bounced back from her last outing — her worst Grand Prix finish in 25 career starts — with a decent program. She needed to save a double Axel near the end of her short. The 2016 World silver medalist was the pre-event favorite.

“People do not understand how difficult of a position I am in,” said Wagner, a 25-year-old bidding to become the oldest U.S. women’s champion in 90 years. “It might seem like I’m on top of the world, or second from being top of the world, but this is a very tough position to be in. It’s mentally been weighing on my shoulders all season. To be able to come out and show people I am a fighter, I’m really proud of that.”

Gold needed to show a fighting spirit given her well-publicized disaster of a fall season. And she did. Her only miss in the short program was doubling a planned triple flip.

“I can feel a huge improvement as a skater. I think everyone can see it,” Gold said. “I have made comebacks before. This doesn’t feel like a major comeback in some ways, because I felt pretty solid. … A long program is worth a lot of points, and I can certainly deliver some good long programs. I kind of feel like I’m due for a good one.”

If Gold doesn’t improve in the free skate, she could be left off the worlds team for the first time in her senior career. However, Gold believes her strong credentials in recent seasons merit consideration.

“We’ve seen different controversies where people aren’t on the [nationals] podium, and they’re still selected for events,” Gold said. “Michelle Kwan has not gone to nationals and been selected for an Olympic team [in 2006]. I believe that I deserve to be on the world team, but I’m not on the selection committee. Of course, every athlete feels like they should be on the world team.”

Earlier Thursday, the pairs short program produced surprise leaders.

The U.S. Championships continue Friday with the short dance and men’s short program. A full broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating boss wants Russia out of PyeongChang

Women’s Short Program
1. Karen Chen — 72.82
2. Mirai Nagasu — 71.95
3. Ashley Wagner — 70.94
4. Tessa Hong — 65.02
5. Gracie Gold — 64.85

 

Gwen Jorgensen pregnant, to sit out 2017 triathlon season

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 20: USA's Gwen Jorgensen followed by Switzerland's Nicola Spirig Hug (L) compete in the running portion of the women's triathlon at Fort Copacabana during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 20, 2016.(Photo by Jeff Pachoud-Pool/Getty Images)
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Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen is pregnant and will not compete this year.

“Just kind of take this year a little bit easier,” Jorgensen said in a video posted on Facebook on Thursday.

The baby is due Aug. 3, according to Jorgensen’s social media.

Jorgensen, 30, became the first U.S. Olympic triathlon champion in Rio after going in as the heavy favorite. She has said for months that she planned to take time off to have a baby before returning to defend her Olympic title at Tokyo 2020.

Swiss Nicola Spirig, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 2016 silver medalist, is reportedly expecting a child in May.

In Jorgensen and Spirig’s absences, the top triathletes going into the season are defending world champion Flora Duffy of Bermuda, U.S. Olympians Katie Zaferes and Sarah True and Britons Vicky Holland and Helen Jenkins.

Jorgensen’s last competition was the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, when she finished 14th in her first running race longer than 10 miles.

The World Triathlon Series kicks off in Abu Dhabi the first weekend of March.

MORE: Triathlon federation boss wants Olympic races shortened