Santa Clara International Grand Prix - Day Four

Five swimmers at nationals who could be next Olympic stars

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When watching this week’s USA Swimming national championships, take a minute to think about the year 2001.

A boy named Michael Phelps began his record-smashing career in earnest the year after the Sydney Olympics. He set his first world mark in the 200-meter butterfly at the 2001 spring nationals, then did it again to win the world title in Fukuoka, Japan, four months later.

Certainly it’s ambitious to predict a Phelpsian feat at the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis this week, but what happened 12 years ago shows that seeds for the next Olympics can be planted three years early.

That in mind, here are five U.S. swimmers who may not be familiar names yet, but they might just be setting the table for Rio with their performances this week and at the world championships next month.

Chase Kalisz: Fittingly, the list starts with a North Baltimore Aquatic Club product. No doubt if you follow Phelps on Twitter, you’ve seen Kalisz’s handle. Kalisz, 19, began training with Phelps between the Beijing and London Olympics and reached the finals of the 2012 Olympic trials in two of Phelps’ events – taking fifth and sixth, respectively, in the 200 and 400 individual medleys. He’s seeded third in both events in Indianapolis. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him pass gold medalists Tyler Clary or Conor Dwyer (Ryan Lochte might be a stretch) to snatch a world championships spot.

Becca Mann: Could 15 be the magic age for U.S. female swimmers? Seven-time world champion Katie Hoff made her Olympic debut at 15. Missy Franklin was 15 when she swam in her first major international meet. Katie Ledecky won 800 free gold in London at 15 as well. Mann, a novelist, tried to beat them all by flirting with the London Olympic team at age 14 last year, making three trials finals with two fifth-place finishes. She’s already on the worlds roster for open-water swimming and has five more events to try to make the team in the pool. Her best shot may be in the grueling 1,500 free, a non-Olympic event where she’s seeded third.

Maya DiRado: No U.S. woman has medaled in the 200 butterfly at an Olympics since Misty Hyman stunned Sydney in 2000. It’s the longest drought for USA Swimming in any individual event – man or woman. DiRado could be the answer. She’s shaved five seconds off her personal best in the event in 2013, capped by a second-place finish to make her first world championship team Tuesday. The Stanford star is scheduled for several more swims in Indianapolis, including the 400 IM, where she’s seeded fourth.

Jack Conger: Conger, 18, was a high school sensation in the D.C. area and will begin swimming for NCAA powerhouse Texas next season. On the national scene, Conger’s task is tough. Of his four events at nationals, he was seeded highest in the 200 backstroke – third – looking up at the last two Olympic champions Clary and Lochte. There’s also his prep rival, Florida’s Ryan Murphy, to contend with on the road to Rio.

Kevin Cordes: If there’s one opening for a young U.S. man to break through internationally, it’s in the breaststroke. It’s the only discipline Phelps and Lochte haven’t taken up at major meets. It’s also lacking star power with Brendan Hansen and Eric Shanteau not competing this week. Enter the Arizona Wildcat Cordes, 19, a threat in the 50, 100 and 200 breast. How good is he? Cordes won the 200-yard breast at the NCAA Championships in a time two seconds faster than anyone else ever and lowered his American record in the 100 en route to being named NCAA Swimmer of the Year – as a sophomore.

Lance Armstrong’s $100 million trial set for November

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 20:  Lance Armstrong (C) heads out with cyclists on December 20, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. The disgraced Tour de France rider is in New Zealand to film a commercial, and put out a call on social media for local riders to join him on a ride along the Auckland Waterfront.  (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lance Armstrong‘s $100 million legal fight with the federal government has been set for a November trial.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper on Thursday set a Nov. 6 trial start in Washington. Armstrong’s legal team had asked to postpone trial until 2018 because of a potential scheduling conflict.

The government wants Armstrong to pay back the $32 million the U.S. Postal Service paid his team for sponsorship, plus triple damages.

Armstrong’s former teammate Floyd Landis initially filed the whistle-blower case in 2010, accusing him of violating the sponsorship contract by taking performance-enhancing drugs. The government joined the case in 2013 after Armstrong admitted cheating and was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and 2000 Olympic bronze medal.

Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for cheating, could collect up to 25 percent of damages awarded.

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Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin set for busy weekend

Lindsey Vonn, MIkaela Shiffrin
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Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin are slated for one of the busiest race weekends of their careers, streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app starting Friday morning.

Vonn and Shiffrin are each expected to race Friday, Saturday and Sunday in World Cup action in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.

The schedule:

Friday — Super Combined
Super-G run: 4:30 a.m. ET
Slalom run: 8:30 a.m. ET

Saturday — Super-G
4:30 a.m. ET

Sunday — Super Combined
Super-G run: 4:30 a.m. ET
Slalom run: 7:30 a.m. ET

Plenty is at stake in the first races since the world championships.

Vonn, who earned downhill bronze at worlds, hopes to move closer to the career World Cup wins record of 86 held by Swede Ingemar Stenmark. She picked up her 77th victory last month, her only win in eight races since coming back in January from knee and upper arm fractures.

Vonn returned quickly, with little training, and said at worlds she was unable to put her hair in a ponytail due to a lack of grip in her right hand from November broken arm surgery. She duct-taped her right glove to her ski pole for her final two races at worlds.

Vonn last won a super-G on Jan. 24, 2016, and last won a combined event on Jan. 27, 2012.

Shiffrin, who took slalom gold and giant slalom silver at worlds, enters the weekend with a hefty 414-point lead on her closest challenger in the standings for the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing.

It would take a collapse in the final 11 races over the next month for Shiffrin not to become the third U.S. woman to take the crown after Tamara McKinney and Vonn.

It looked as if Shiffrin and defending overall champion Lara Gut would battle for the title, until Gut suffered a torn ACL and meniscus damage in a world championships super combined warm-up two weeks ago, ending her season.

Shiffrin, already a multiple Olympic medal favorite, could be poised for her first World Cup podium in super-G or super combined this weekend. She was a career-best fourth in her most recent super-G at a World Cup stop last month.

The youngest Olympic slalom champion will also benefit from the fact that Friday and Sunday’s combined races feature a super-G and a slalom rather than a downhill and a slalom. Shiffrin is stronger in super-G than downhill.

After Crans-Montana, the World Cup schedule has three more stops — a downhill and super-G at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea, followed by a giant slalom and slalom in Squaw Valley, Calif., and the four-race World Cup Finals in Aspen, Colo.

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