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?

Javier Fernandez rebounds to lead Grand Prix France

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Spain’s Javier Fernandez was back at his best, landing two quadruple jumps to top the Grand Prix France short program on Friday.

Fernandez, who was sixth at his opening Grand Prix two weeks ago with a reported stomach bug, tallied 107.86 points in Grenoble. It’s the second-best score of his career.

The 2015 and 2016 World champion goes into Saturday’s free skate with a 13.94-point lead over Shoma Uno of Japan. Uno fell on his opening quad flip attempt.

Uno went into France as the clear favorite, the only man to break 300 total points this season. He did it at both of his competitions this fall.

Earlier Friday, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond led a group of favorites who topped the short programs for the women, pairs and ice dance. All of the free skates are Saturday.

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV Schedule

Both U.S. men fell Friday, not helping their cases for the three-man Olympic team.

Max Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, fell on his opening jump combination. He failed to build on his personal-best free skate from his last competition, where he landed three quads to claim bronze at Cup of China.

U.S. silver medalist Vincent Zhou crashed on both quadruple jump attempts, two weeks after falling three times between two programs at his Grand Prix debut.

Zhou, 17 and the world junior champion, has the jumps to easily make the three-man U.S. Olympic team. But those big mistakes allow the likes of Jason Brown and Adam Rippon to pass him.

“To say the least, my performance was dismal,” was posted on Zhou’s Instagram. “It was not a representation of how I train or who I am. Smiling and waving while my heart is breaking is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I have been following my Olympic dream for as long as I can remember, fighting, being set back, conquering obstacles, and experiencing the ups and downs of striving to better myself every single day. I am capable of so much more. I am a fighter. I fully believe that I can and will draw on my spirit, inner strength, and faith to my words to perform much better in the future.”

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Internationaux de France
Men’s Short Program
1. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 107.86
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 93.92
3. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 91.51
8. Max Aaron (USA) — 78.64
10. Vincent Zhou (USA) — 66.12

Erin Hamlin nears end of historic U.S. luge career

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Erin Hamlin is looking forward to normalcy. She is getting married next summer in her hometown. She is thinking about career moves. She is trying to figure out the rest of her life.

It is probably her last luge season. It is definitely her last Olympic season.

As such, it would be easy to fall into the trap of saying that winning a gold medal at PyeongChang in February would be the only thing that makes this season a success.

It’s important, sure, but Hamlin is entering her 13th year of World Cup racing with a much broader view and insisting that she’s going to enjoy whatever time she has left on her sled.

“I’m not going to hyperfocus myself on one result or bust,” Hamlin said. “Very likely, it’s going to be my last time in a lot of places, sliding on a lot of tracks. So I think more so, it’s going to be a lot of soaking it all in.”

That process starts Saturday, when the World Cup season opens in Igls, Austria.

Hamlin, who turns 31 on Sunday, is coming off the finest year of her career — she won a gold medal and two silvers at the world championships for the biggest haul ever by an American luger, got two World Cup wins and finished fourth in world rankings.

She might be going out, and there’s a chance she can go out on top.

“We’re working hard to convince her to stay,” longtime U.S. teammate Emily Sweeney said.

Sweeney knows that’s probably futile.

Sliders always tend to cycle out after an Olympics, no matter if it’s bobsled, skeleton or luge, and the Americans will see plenty of veterans take their last rides this winter.

A few U.S. sliders already retired this fall, in part because they weren’t going to have a shot at an Olympic berth.

For her part, Hamlin hasn’t officially said this is the end.

“There’s never really as concrete of a plan as you hope there would be, because you never know what can happen,” Hamlin said. “But at the moment, what I’m excited to do is see what other opportunities are there and what other adventures await.”

Hamlin has been in the world’s top 10 in each of the past 11 seasons — the second-longest current streak of any woman in luge, one year behind German legend Tatjana Huefner.

She won a World Cup each of the past three years, took the world title in sprint last winter and became the first U.S. Olympic singles luge medalist in 2014 with a bronze.

A lesson learned that season: Not expecting much can work wonders. That’s one of the reasons why PyeongChang isn’t taking up all the bandwidth in her brain.

“That’s the nature of winter sports in a Winter Olympic year, there being so much focus on the Games,” Hamlin said. “How I went into the last Olympics taught me a lot. I had no expectation of walking away from the last Olympics with a medal. At this point, goal No. 1 is to make the team and beyond that, I know if I slide as I’m capable of I can be pretty fast and I can do well.”

The schedule this season is hectic.

This weekend’s stop in Austria starts a run of five races in five weekends, with the next two in Germany followed by another in Calgary, Alberta, and then on home ice in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 15-16.

When that Lake Placid World Cup is over, the U.S. Olympic team will be named.

So when Hamlin needs an escape from all that, the wedding is there to bring her back to reality.

It will be at her parents’ home in July. It will, without question, be the social event of the season in Remsen, N.Y., where the one-time high school soccer player has annually left her tiny hometown brimming with pride.

“Pretty exciting,” Hamlin said. “It’s definitely adding a whole new aspect to an Olympic year, planning a wedding, but it’s cool. It gives me a good distraction when I need to think about something other than sliding.”

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