Ryan Lochte

Swimming world championships preview; men’s storylines

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1. Ryan Lochte’s busiest program ever. Like Missy Franklin, Lochte is going above and beyond his Olympic slate of six events. He’s planning four individual swims in Barcelona — the 200-meter backstroke, 200 freestyle, 200 individual medley and a new addition, the 100 butterfly — in addition to three relays.

Also like Franklin, that sets Lochte up for a potential three-swim night on one of the finals sessions. It’s something Lochte has never attempted at a major international meet. The now-retired Michael Phelps used to drop events to avoid triples.

“My body needed to recharge (after the Olympics),” Lochte said of his post-London break in a press conference Friday. “Now I’m back in the water, and I’m excited to race.”

The busy night will be Aug. 2, the day before his 29th birthday, if Lochte sticks in every event and advances out of heats. The Aug. 2 night session in Barcelona is scheduled for noon-2:30 Eastern Time.

That night’s second event is the final of the 200 back. Lochte is the defending world champion and ranked No. 3 in the world this year (1:55.16) behind two Japanese. Top-ranked Ryosuke Irie (1:54.72), silver medalist behind Tyler Clary in London, will pose a threat here, especially if Lochte isn’t in peak shape.

Four events later, Lochte would presumably swim in the 100 butterfly semis. Phelps won this event at the last three Olympics and last three world championships, never against Lochte though.

The medal picture is fuzzier this year. German Steffen Deibler (51.19) and co-Olympic silver medalists Russian Evgeny Korotyshkin (51.53) South African Chad le Clos (51.64) own the world’s three fastest times. Lochte is ranked sixth (51.71), and he came in second at trials to Eugene Godsoe (51.66). Expect Lochte to make the final, but his chances of medaling will be very dependent on what kind of form he’s in.

The final event Aug. 2 is the 4×200 free relay, which Lochte has been a part of in winning U.S. gold at every major international meet since 2003. It will be no cakewalk without Phelps this year, especially with France and Russia improving. Even if Lochte anchors, I don’t see him being given an insurmountable lead. He’ll have to work for gold, even after potentially doing two swims in the previous two hours.

“Any other year, my expectations would be definitely medaling and winning every race,” Lochte said. “I want to do that this meet, but it’s been an off-year. I really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Earlier in the meet, Lochte will be a medal favorite in the 200 free (but French Olympic champion Yannick Agnel is favored for gold) and the 200 IM (where Lochte is No. 1 in the world this year).

All eyes will be on Lochte’s footwear on the pool deck. He may break out these:

I think @gucci knew I needed a pair of shoes for #BCN2013 swim meet. Thanks!

A post shared by Ryanlochte (@ryanlochte) on

2. Nathan Adrian is bigger. Is he better? Adrian added 10 pounds of muscle after taking a short break following the London Olympics, where he won the 100-meter freestyle by .01 over Australian James Magnussen.

He’s dropped down to four or five pounds heavier than he was in London, dabbling in different training techniques. He’ll find out how well that works against loaded fields in the 50 free and 100 free.

Adrian is ranked No. 1 in the world this year in the 50 (21.47), just ahead of his budding rival Magnussen (21.52). Magnussen, however, owns the top time in the 100 (47.53), ahead of Adrian in fifth (48.08). Magnussen has said that Adrian should be considered the favorite in the 100. Adrian is also shying away from expecting gold.

“He is the returning world champ,” Adrian said. “And ranked No. 1 in the world right now, right? I’ll give that one to him. No one wants that (to be called the favorite).”

3. What can we expect from Yannick Agnel? It’s been a strange few months for the 6-foot-8 Frenchman. He and his French coach reached what he called “a point of no return.” So, Agnel moved to the U.S. to train with Phelps’ former coach, Bob Bowman, who is the head U.S. men’s coach in Barcelona.

It was announced in May that Agnel would only swim relays for the French, but this week it’s come out that he will indeed enter the 200 free. As head-scratching as it’s been for Agnel, he must be considered the favorite, even over Lochte.

Remember, Agnel won the Olympic title in the 200 free by more than 1.5 seconds over Sun Yang and Park Tae-Hwan, neither of whom will contest it in Barcelona.

source: Getty Images4. Watch out for a new U.S. star. Several Phelps questions were asked at the press conference Friday, but come the first events Sunday, other swimmers will have to start filling headlines.

“For the first time in, I think, several years, we have exciting young guys,” Bowman said.

I’m looking at one in particular, rising University of Arizona junior Kevin Cordes. The 19-year-old swept the 100 and 200 breast at trials and also came in second in the 50. He’s ranked No. 4 in the world in the 100 (59.99) and No. 2 in the 200 (2:08.34), and he’s only getting better at his young age.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cordes end a six-year gold-medal drought for U.S. men in the breaststrokes at a major international meet. On the other hand, he might still be a year or two away.

5. How will the 4×100 free relay turn out? The most anticipated event of every major swim meet has become this relay. We saw Jason Lezak‘s heroics in Beijing and then the French revenge in London.

“I do think this relay will be a big challenge for us,” Bowman said Friday. “There’s a very wide-open race. Any one of four teams, I think, could be in any position on the podium.”

Those four teams are the U.S., the defending world champion Aussies, the Russians and probably the French. This event is undoubtedly most important to Australia, whose yearlong swoon seemed to begin with a fourth-place disaster at the London Olympics.

It’s on the first night of competition, Sunday, and a gold-medal beginning for the Aussies would provide the confidence, especially for Magnussen, to get over the Stilnox controversy that spread over much of the last year.

On paper, Russia looks daunting, with four of the top eight 100 free swimmers in the world this year. But the times have not been spectacular all around, which makes predictions a bit tougher. Australia has three of the top 10. The U.S. has two — Adrian and Jimmy Feigen.

I’ll take Australia, and a motivated Magnussen to fire off a spectacular leg, for gold, the Russians for silver and the U.S. for bronze. But if previous years are any indication, predictions in this event are sure to go wrong.

FINA approves mixed relays; which nations would win?

Tony Azevedo retires after 5 Olympics in water polo

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  Tony Azevedo of the USA in action during the USA vs Italy Waterpolo group match at Julio de Lamare Aquatics Centre on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
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Tony Azevedo is ending one of the greatest water polo careers in U.S. history, retiring after a record five Olympics at age 35.

Azevedo, the first American to play in five Olympic water polo tournaments, said it was a tough decision but a necessary one to spend time with his family — wife Sara and two kids, according to the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram.

“The traveling and everything for them would be too much,” said Azevedo, who has a 3-year-old boy and a girl born after the Rio Olympics. “It’s time.”

Azevedo was a teenage prodigy dubbed the “Kobe Bryant of water polo.” A ball boy at the 1996 Olympics, Azevedo made a list of about 13 goals as a “slow, fat, chubby kid” who wanted to start on his high school team.

He reached all of those goals except for one — a gold medal. Azevedo made his Olympic debut out of high school in 2000 and then helped lead the U.S. to silver at Beijing 2008, his lone Olympic or world championships medal in 13 combined appearances. He led the U.S. in goals at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

“If anyone asks, am I going to miss the swimming? No. Am I going to miss the games? No. Are you going to miss the Olympics? No,” Azevedo said. “I’m going to miss those days of grinding with your teammates.”

Azevedo was one of the top U.S. stories of the Rio Olympics, since he was born in the Brazilian city and lived there for 23 days before moving to Southern California. Azevedo, whose father was a Brazilian national team member, played for a Sao Paulo club team for much of the past Olympic cycle.

The U.S. went 2-3 in Rio, failing to advance out of group play.

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MORE: PyeongChang 2018 daily schedule highlights

Five takeaways from World Alpine Skiing Championships

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Five thoughts after an unpredictable world alpine skiing championships, looking ahead to the Olympics … 

1. Expect Mikaela Shiffrin to be busier in PyeongChang

Shiffrin chose not to enter the super-G or super combined in the first week at worlds, in order to maximize her medal potential in the giant slalom and slalom in the final weekend. It paid off with silver and gold medals.

It seems unlikely that Shiffrin adopts the same, two-race slate in PyeongChang. The 2018 Olympic schedule has the giant slalom and slalom in the first week, followed by the speed events of super-G, downhill and super combined.

Consider also Shiffrin’s mindset going into St. Moritz.

“Right now, I’m going with [only giant slalom and slalom] because I just don’t think that I have quite enough experience in speed [events] to be able to count on winning a medal in those events yet,” she said. “But by the time we go to South Korea next year, maybe I could. I might be in a position where I can at least be in contention for medals in giant slalom, slalom, combined, super-G and maybe even downhill, only because nobody’s ever skied on that track before.”

The women get their first look at the 2018 Olympic venue with World Cup races in two weeks, a downhill and super-G. Shiffrin said before worlds that she planned to travel to South Korea for training but to leave before the races start. She wanted to prioritize the following week’s World Cup giant slalom and slalom in Squaw Valley, Calif.

What’s for sure is we can learn plenty about Shiffrin’s Olympic potential in speed events this weekend. She’s set to race at the World Cup stop in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, which is made up of two combineds and a super-G.

If Shiffrin enters all three events, it will bring her career World Cup start total in downhill, super-G and combined up to 10 races. Her best finish in her first seven starts was fourth in a super-G last month.

“I have a lot of goals there,” Shiffrin said of speed events after bagging her third straight slalom world title Saturday. “Hopefully, some day, I’d like to win in super-G and downhill, but I think it’ll take some time before I can do that consistently. It’s definitely a long road from here. I still feel like I just started.”

2. Lindsey Vonn must heal

Vonn made it clear at worlds that she wasn’t 100 percent recovered from breaking her right upper arm in a Nov. 10 training crash. Her right hand movement was so limited that she couldn’t put her hair in a ponytail, let alone comfortably grip a ski pole at 75 miles per hour.

After skiing out of the opening super-G, troubled by that hand, she duct-taped her glove to her ski pole, placed fifth in the super combined and third in the downhill. She said the bronze medal felt like gold given her latest injury comeback.

Vonn became the oldest woman to earn a world championships medal. In PyeongChang, she can become the oldest woman to earn an Olympic Alpine medal.

Vonn’s biggest hurdle is her own health. A smooth finish to the season, regardless of wins, and a normal offseason is key.

“I want to be in a position at the Olympics where I’m at my top form not just struggling to kind of make it back into the mix,” Vonn said, according to The Associated Press. “It’s a different ballgame when I’m prepared.”

3. U.S. lacks young stars

Worlds went about to form for the entire U.S. team. Shiffrin and Vonn were the only medalists. No man placed in the top 10 for the first time since 1997.

Injuries and, especially, aging are the concerns.

Four-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso, out since November 2015 hip surgery, was on the team but didn’t enter any events. The top U.S. men on the World Cup in recent seasons, Ted Ligety and Steven Nyman, went out with season-ending injuries in January. Bode Miller, who has trained but not raced this season, was in the NBC Sports commentary booth.

All of them are 32 years and older. Maybe some summon one last Olympic medal surge next year, but what about after that?

Shiffrin is the only American younger than age 28 who owns a World Cup victory. U.S. men earned Youth Olympic and junior worlds gold medals last year, but they look destined for 2022.

4. Marcel Hirscher approaches Austrian legends

Hirscher was the best skier in St. Moritz, despite reportedly spending days in bed before his first race. He earned two golds and missed a third by .01 in the super combined.

Only Tony Sailer owns more individual world titles among Austrian men. Hirscher is en route to his sixth straight World Cup overall title this season, which no man from any country has accomplished.

He’s at 43 World Cup wins, 11 shy of the Austrian men’s mark held by Hermann Maier. At 27 years old, Hirscher ought to eclipse it.

But Hirscher’s résumé has a gaping hole — no Olympic gold medal. He was upset in the Sochi Olympic slalom by countryman Mario Matt. And there’s no certainty Hirscher will be a favorite in PyeongChang.

For years, he was the world’s second-best giant slalom skier behind the now-injured Ligety, who could reclaim the throne next season, though that is a tall order.

In slalom, young Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen has been neck and neck with Hirscher but had a poor worlds.

The super combined is the most unpredictable event, but even there Frenchman Alexis Pinturault has won six of the 11 World Cup races since 2013.

5. Surprises in St. Moritz

Most races provided surprise medalists.

In all five men’s events, either the gold or silver medalist had not won a World Cup race in at least two years (or, in three cases, never made a World Cup podium). Women’s medalists in downhill, super-G, giant slalom and the super combined had never won a World Cup race.

New names were going to emerge regardless, considering the list of recent stars not racing (retired Tina Maze, Ligety, Miller, Aksel Lund Svindal) and those who did compete but were slowed or forced out by injury (Vonn, Anna Veith, Gut).

More surprises could be in store in PyeongChang given, as Shiffrin said, it’s a new track for everybody.

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