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.

Zika won’t stop Olympics; only war has done that, historian says

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 07:  A general view of the Christ The Redeemer statue atop the Corcovado on July 7, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
AP
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The world’s best known Olympic historian said Friday it will take something more destructive than the Zika virus to cancel the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“Historically, the only times the Games have been cancelled is in war — World War I and World War II,” David Wallechinsky told the Associated Press. “Other than that, nothing has done it.”

Brazil is the epicenter of the rapidly spreading mosquito-borne Zika virus, which is also generating rumors that South America’s first Games may be called off instead of opening on Aug. 5.

Researchers have linked the virus to a birth defect that can leave newborns with long-lasting health and developmental problems.

Brazil’s Sports Minister George Hilton issued a statement saying that canceling the Games “is not in discussion,” and Rio organizers and the International Olympic Committee have repeatedly shot down the notion it’s even being considered.

Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, said the only similar case was the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China, when three athletes from west Africa were banned from competing over fears they had contracted the Ebola virus and the subsequent possibility of it spreading.

“That’s the only time that disease has ever entered into it,” he said.

The 1916 Olympics were called off during World War I, and four Games — two summer and two winter — were cancelled between 1940 and 1944. Two Summer Olympics were hit by partial boycotts in 1980 and 1984.

Wallechinsky said it was too late to move the games from Rio.

“A lot of money has been put into this; the athletes, the infrastructure,” he said. “It’s pretty late to move the Games so I think they’ll go forward.”

Brazil is spending at least $10 billion to prepare for the Games. Add to that, billions spent on television rights, and maybe just as much on sponsorship, advertising across 28 sport federations, and the more than 200 nations that participate.

“There would be a lot of lawsuits,” Wallechinsky said. “It would be a dream event for lawyers.”

The Zika virus adds to other problems with South America’s first Olympics, including water pollution in Rio’s venues for sailing, rowing, canoeing, triathlon and open-water swimming , and deep cuts of almost 30 percent to keep a $2 billion operating budget in balance.

Only about half of the domestic tickets for the game have been sold, and organizers fear the Zika outbreak could scare off foreign tourists — particularly Americans.

Janice Forsyth, an Olympic historian at Western University in Canada, predicted the Zika threat “is going to blow over.”

“But if it really catches on, then we’ve got a global concern that’s not just about the Olympics,” she said. “But it would have to be really extraordinary for the game to be cancelled. Even with threats of terrorism, the games still don’t get cancelled.”

Forsyth said the virus might even have beneficial impact on Rio’s preparations, distracting from other problems.

“In a sad way, maybe it’s a positive diversion from what is actually going on with the games,” she said. “A twist for games that seem to be constantly struggling.”

VIDEO: Rio Olympic venues timelapse

‘Race’ film clip of 1936 Olympic long jump (video)

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“Race,” a film about 1936 Olympic legend Jesse Owens‘ triumphs in the face of Nazi Germany, hits theaters Feb. 19.

In the above clip, Owens competes in long jump qualifying after receiving a tip from fellow jumper German Luz Long to avoid fouling on his last attempt to advance to the final.

Owens would then beat Long in the final, though the pair forged a friendship.

In other clips, Owens, played by Stephan James, speaks with his Ohio State coach, Larry Snyder, played by Jason Sudeikis. Watch that here.

Also, Owens discusses taking part in the Olympics amid racial prejudice in the U.S. Watch that here.

MORE: James discusses playing Owens in ‘Race’ | VIDEO: ‘Race’ trailer