2013 USA Swimming Phillips 66 National Championships and World Trials - Day 5

Five things we learned from USA Swimming nationals

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The first U.S. swimming nationals in the post-Michael Phelps era are in the books. The IUPUI Natatorium housed champion performances from USA Swimming’s two headliners (Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin) and potential breakouts (Kevin Cordes, Maya DiRado among them). As the world championships approach, starting July 28 at Barcelona’s Palau Sant Jordi, let’s look at the lasting storylines from Indianapolis.

USA Swimming world championship roster (PDF) | Full nationals results (PDF)

1. Ryan Lochte sets up for his busiest international meet ever. The 11-time Olympic medalist entered 11 events before Tuesday’s start, but he was never going to swim that kind of marathon schedule over five days. He scratched down to a handful (notably cutting the 400-meter individual medley).

Lochte didn’t set any records but fared well after busy post-Olympic dryland activities. He won the 200 freestyle, 200 backstroke and 200 individual medley and placed second in the 100 butterfly, an event he’s now expected to swim for the first time at a major international meet. He took fourth in the 100 free to qualify for all three relays at worlds.

Lochte will swim seven events in Barcelona if he enters everything he’s qualified for. He has never swum more than six events at an Olympics or world championships. The problem lies on August 2, when he’s slated for a triple in the evening session — the 200 back final, 100 butterfly semis and 4×200 free relay final.

2. Missy Franklin goes five for five. Franklin, 18, was the swimmer of the meet. She won four of her five events and placed second in the outlier, qualifying for worlds in every one. She set a nationals record in the 100 free and U.S. Open and nationals records in the 100 back and 200 back. The future Cal collegian also won the 200 free and was runner-up in the 50 back, which sets up a potential but unlikely eight-medal attempt at worlds.

It’s probably not going to happen because Franklin would have to swim three events on August 1 — the 50 back final, 100 free semis and the 4×200 free relay final. She’ll likely opt out of the 50 back and go with the same seven-event schedule she had at the 2012 Olympics, where she medaled in five of seven races.

3. Natalie Coughlin’s sprint switch a success. The most decorated active Olympian qualified for her sixth world championships by winning the 50 free. She also placed fifth in the 100 free to make that relay team in Barcelona. The results cemented Coughlin’s decision to focus on the sprint freestyles and drop her patented backstroke.

At 30, Coughlin is no longer seeking Lochte- or Franklin-like schedules (she won five medals in 2005 and in 2007), but she’s in position to add to her female record of 18 worlds medals in the 4×100 free relay. The 50 free will be tougher; she’s ranked ninth in the world this year.

4. Katie Ledecky and Connor Jaeger complete distance triples. Ledecky, 16, and Jaeger, 22, swept the 400, 800 and 1,500 free events. As impressive as that is, several have medaled at worlds in all three distance swims — but never an American since the non-Olympic men’s 800 and women’s 1,500 were added to the worlds program in 2001.

Both Ledecky and Jaeger showed improvement over last year’s Olympic trials, where they each qualified for one Olympic event. Ledecky, the 2012 Olympic 800 champ, set a nationals record in winning the 1,500 by 20 seconds. She bettered her 2012 efforts in the 400 free (from third to first) and the 200 free (ninth to second).

Jaeger was second in the 1,500 at the Olympic trials and sixth in London before winning in Indy. He also improved on a sixth-place finish in the trials 400 by touching first this past week. Can Ledecky and Jaeger medal in the 400, 800 and 1,500 at worlds? It’s certainly possible. Ledecky is ranked in the top three in the world in all three. Jaeger is ranked no lower than fifth.

5. Kevin Cordes leads worlds rookies. The year after an Olympics always produces new faces to track for the next three years, and this past week was no different. Stanford’s Maya DiRado (200 fly, 400 IM, 4×200 free relay) and open-water swimmer Becca Mann, 15, were among them.

Rising University of Arizona junior Kevin Cordes made the greatest impression, sweeping the 100 and 200 breaststrokes and placing second in the 50 breast. No U.S. man has won a world breaststroke title since Brendan Hansen in 2007, but Cordes, 19, will more likely than not end that drought. He’s ranked third in the world in the 100 and second in the 200.

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Mary Cain ‘back to basics’ after ‘disappointing year’

Mary Cain
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Mary Cain, who in 2013 became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to make a World Championships team and turned pro at age 17 later that fall, is spending her run-up to next year and the 2016 Olympics home in New York rather than returning to Oregon where she went to college and trained last year.

In June, Cain finished eighth in the 1500m at the U.S. Championships, missing the top-four placement necessary to make the World Championships team.

“After a disappointing year, I knew that I needed a change,” Cain said in a blog post Tuesday. “For me, that meant returning home to New York (and its bagels) or where it all started. With 2016 being such an important year, it’s a blessing to be able to, as my mom says, ‘Go back to basics.'”

Cain, who was a freshman at the University of Portland last year, is still coached by three-time New York City Marathon champion Alberto Salazar with the aid of New Zealand 2004 Olympic 10,000m runner John Henwood, according to the blog.

“We’re trying to get [running] back to fun with her,” Henwood said, according to Runner’s World.

Cain moved from Bronxville, N.Y., to Portland after graduating high school last year, completing a decorated prep career filled with records and state and national titles. She trained with Salazar’s group, which includes Olympic 10,000m gold and silver medalists Mo Farah and Galen Rupp.

Cain won the World Junior Championships 3000m in 2014 and became the youngest woman to make a senior World Championships 1500m final in 2013, when she finished 10th.

“I always said the key to running well was keeping the sport fun,” Cain said in the blog post. “With the help of this great NY running community, I am happy to say that I have found that love again! I’m looking forward to a rewarding Indoor and Outdoor season.

“Thanks to everyone who has supported me through the ups and downs! I hope to make 2016 a year to remember!”

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Brazil’s best tennis player: ‘tough to dream’ of Rio Olympic medal

Thomaz Bellucci
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Thomaz Bellucci admits playing at a home Olympics brings at least some pressure.

“To well represent Brazil,” the Sao Paulo native clarified at the U.S. Open in New York last month. “It’s tough to dream about having a medal.”

The 27-year-old Bellucci is the only Brazilian tennis player, man or woman, ranked in the world top 50. He sits at No. 31, having this season reached his first ATP final since 2012 and winning it at the Geneva Open in Switzerland in May.

Brazil’s Olympic Committee set a target of 27 to 30 medals in Rio, after earning 17 at London 2012. The added glory likely won’t come from tennis, a sport in which a Brazilian has never stood on an Olympic podium.

“For the Olympics, I don’t feel too many pressure,” Bellucci said, “because even if I play in Brazil, I know there are many players more favored than me because [Roger] Federer‘s going to play, [Novak] Djokovic, all these guys have so much more pressure than me because they have more chance to have a medal.”

Olympic tennis gained greater significance on the busy tour calendars among top players with recent Games.

On the men’s side, every medalist from 2008 and 2012 had already reached at least one Grand Slam final in his career. That group of six included Federer (2012 silver), Djokovic (2008 bronze), Rafael Nadal (2008 gold) and Andy Murray (2012 gold).

But if Bellucci and the Brazilians look back, they can find unexpected, inspiring runs. In 1996, Brazil’s Fernando Meligeni came to the Atlanta Games ranked No. 95 in the world, having never made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam.

The charismatic Meligeni, a lefty who sometimes played wearing his cap backwards, reached the final four in Stone Mountain, twice playing for a medal, and hitting a tweener on the penultimate point of his semifinal against Spain’s Sergi Bruguera.

He lost both medal-round matches, including the bronze match to Indian Leander Paes, who won the U.S. Open mixed doubles last month with another 1996 Olympic singles tennis player, Swiss Martina Hingis. Hingis is attempting to return to the Olympics next year for the first time since 1996.

In 2004, Chile’s Nicolas Massu won singles and doubles gold in Athens having never reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam in singles.

Bellucci debuted at the Olympics in 2008 and hasn’t won a single Games match. He rose from a No. 85 overall ranking in Beijing to No. 42 going into the London 2012 Olympics, where he forced then-Wimbledon semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to three sets. Bellucci and partner Andre Sa were the only doubles pair to take a set off Americans Bob and Mike Bryan at London 2012.

“Beijing I was very surprised, because I was very young and had no idea,” Bellucci said. “In London, I had a very tough draw against Tsonga. Let’s see if I can have more luck in Brazil to have a better draw.”

Not even the great Gustavo Kuerten could sniff an Olympic medal. The three-time French Open champion — the only Brazilian man to win a Grand Slam — couldn’t do better than the quarterfinals in 2000 and 2004.

The analysis of Bellucci in the scope of Kuerten, who is of a similar tall, thin build, has silenced in recent years.

“They used to say that when I was young, when I was starting to play well,” said Bellucci, whose four ATP titles came on Kuerten’s favorite surface, clay, while the Rio Olympic tournament will be on hard courts. “They want to compare me and Guga [Kuerten], but anyway they are not comparing anymore because Guga is so much bigger than me.”

As much as Bellucci tries to keep expectations low, he urges that his sport is one of the most popular in Brazil.

“I think soccer, for sure, is No. 1 and then volleyball is second and then tennis, I think,” he said. “I think we have more people playing tennis than volleyball because I think all the ages can play tennis.”

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