Missy Franklin

Swimming world championships preview: women’s storylines

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1. Eight events for Missy Franklin. The quadruple 2012 Olympic champion is in line to attempt what Michael Phelps never did — swim three events in one semifinals/finals session at a major international meet.

Franklin, 18, qualified for five individual events at nationals in June — the 50, 100 and 200 back and the 100 and 200 free. Via her wins in the two freestyles, she qualified to swim in all three relays in Barcelona as well.

“It’s definitely a lot,” Franklin said at a press conference in Barcelona on Friday. “But those are some of my favorite races.”

No woman has won more than six medals at a single world championships.

Franklin swam five events at 2011 worlds, her breakout meet, and then did seven at the 2012 Olympics. At neither of those competitions did she swim three events in one night.

Here, the schedule on Aug. 1 calls for the 100 free semis, 50 back final and the 4×200 free relay final from noon to 2:10 p.m. ET. FINA’s site has the 100 free semis listed first and the relay listed last in its order of events, with the 50 back separated from the relay by only the men’s 200 back semis.

Could Franklin podium in every event and join Phelps in the eight-for-eight club? Undoubtedly. She’s ranked second in the world this year in both the 100 and 200 free, two events she failed to medal in at London. She leads the world in both the 100 and 200 back, her specialty stroke.

That leaves the 50 back, a non-Olympic event, that could give her problems. Fifty-meter swims are always tough to predict because the eight finalists should finish within one second of each other. Franklin is ranked ninth in the world in the 50 back, but she’s only three tenths of a second out of third. She could very well medal — as she did in 2011, taking bronze — or she may not make the final.

Then there are the three relays. The U.S. should podium in each one, as it did at 2011 worlds and the 2012 Olympics, with Franklin playing key roles on all three.

source: Getty Images2. The return of Ye Shiwen. You may remember Ye from the 2012 Olympics, where she swept the individual medleys at 16 years old. She even swam the final 50 meters of the 400 IM faster than men’s champion Ryan Lochte, completing a world record that prompted heavy scrutiny.

Ye enters these championships with the second-best time in the world this year in both events, but it’s hard not to deem her the favorite given her dominating performances in London.

In the 200 IM, she trails Australian Alicia Coutts, who won silver behind Ye in London. Brit Hannah Miley (fifth in London) has the fastest time in the 400 IM. Americans Caitlin Leverenz (200 IM) and Maya DiRado (400 IM) and Elizabeth Beisel (200, 400 IM) are also medal threats.

Ye’s also a dark horse in the 200 back. She’s the Chinese national champion in the event and ranked ninth in the world this year. How exciting would it be to see Ye and Franklin in close proximity on the final 50 in that final?

3. Natalie Coughlin like we’ve never seen her. Coughlin, 30, is the most decorated female world championships swimmer of all time with 18 medals. After skipping the 2009 worlds during a post-Beijing break, she came back in 2011 to win three medals — gold in the medley relay, silver in the 4×100 free relay and bronze in the 100 back.

Coughlin failed to make the 2012 Olympic team in an individual event, taking third at trials in the 100 back, but still won her 12th career Olympic medal as a preliminary swimmer on the 4×100 free relay team.

She’s taking a different mindset after her third Olympics, choosing to focus on the splash-and-dash 50 free. It’s a wise move given the rising U.S. depth in the 100 back and a shallow pool of talent in the short sprint. She won the 50 free at trials in June and qualified for the 4×100 free relay again.

She should win worlds medal No. 19 on that relay, but a podium placement in the 50 free will be difficult. She’s ranked No. 11 in the world this year in the event, more than a half-second behind favorites Australian Cate Campbell and Olympic champion Ranomi Kromowidjojo.

4. Is Dana Vollmer still lord of the fly? The American was unstoppable in the 100 butterfly in London, breaking the Olympic record in the prelims, going a half-second faster than everyone in the semis and then dipping under the world record in the final, which she won by nearly a second.

A new year has brought new competition. Vollmer won nationals in 57.53, good for No. 3 in the world. The Australian Coutts, who took Olympic bronze, just might be the favorite with her world-leading 57.18. Another American, Claire Donahue, actually led Vollmer off the turn at trials.

No woman has ever won the world title in the 100 fly a year after winning the Olympic title. It looks like Vollmer has her work cut out for her to make that history.

5. Which nation is No. 1? The U.S. women broke away from rivals Australia and China at the last world championships and Olympics following the post-Beijing lull.

Here’s the breakdown:

2008 Beijing: 1. U.S. (15). 2 Australia (14). 3. China (5).
2009 Rome: 1. Australia (11). 2. U.S. (8). 3. China (7).
2011 Shanghai: 1. U.S. (15). 2. China (9). 3. Australia (8).
2012 London: 1. U.S. (14). 2. Australia (7). 3. China (6).

Can the Americans keep the momentum they’ve built, or will the post-Olympics worlds again see other nations catch up and perhaps pass them?

I still see the U.S. leading the medal count, but Australia should be closer than in 2011 or 2012. The Aussies — both men and women — put up times to start this year that look like the whole nation is on a mission after a forgettable Olympics. (though Aussie early-year times are strong given the change in seasons)

Australia arguably has the world’s best sprint freestyler (Campbell) and butterflier (Coutts) as well as medal threats in the middle-distance freestyles (Bronte Barratt) and the backstroke (Emily Seebohm). 

In the relays, the Aussies could be called favorites in the 4×100 and 4×200 free. The Campbell sisters (Cate and Bronte) are a one-two punch no other nation can match in the 4×100. Australia is even more dominant in the 4×200 with four of the top 10 swimmers in the world this year.

The U.S. still owns the medley relay, however, given Australia hasn’t found a strong replacement for Leisel Jones in the breaststroke.

FINA approves mixed-gender relays; which nations would win?

Ryan Lochte, with new coach, races in first meet since Olympics

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Ryan Lochte is back in the competition pool.

The 12-time Olympic medalist, suspended from USA Swimming and international meets through June, won a 200-yard individual medley at the U.S. Masters nationals in Riverside, Calif., on Friday. He also finished second in a 100-yard breaststroke.

Full results are here.

“I’m a little overweight,” Lochte said, according to the Orange County Register. “I guess you could say six months of not taking care of my body and just living my life, not worrying about waking up and going to practice or anything like that. My main focus was to just relax, get away from the sport, and now that I’m getting back in I’m like, ‘Ooh, maybe I should have at least worked out a couple of times.'”

Lochte has moved to the Los Angeles area and is now coached by the University of Southern California’s Dave Salo until his fiancée’s baby is born (likely June). After that, they will re-evaluate his plan, Salo said.

Lochte was formerly coached by Gregg Troy from 2002-13 at the University of Florida, where he attended college and matured to become an Olympian in 2004. Lochte won 11 Olympic medals under Troy and became the world’s best swimmer going into the 2012 Olympics.

In 2013, Lochte moved from Gainesville to Charlotte and trained under David Marsh through the Rio Games. Lochte said last summer that he planned to move to California.

Lochte has also said he plans to try for a fifth Olympics in 2020, but his immediate future is about to get very busy — becoming a father, becoming a husband and the end of his ban.

He will swim two meets in August, the U.S. Open in East Meadow, N.Y., and an international meet in Rome, according to the Orange County Register.

“I’m behind, but you know,” Lochte said, according to the newspaper, adding he hasn’t been this happy since 2012. “I took time off. I needed it. My body and mind needed it to recover. It was just a dog fight for so many years I just got overwhelmed with the sport and lost the passion and the love for it. But now I have it. I have new passion, and I’m finding ways that swimming is fun again.”

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Jesse Owens’ Olympic gold medals up for auction

Jesse Owens
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Two of Jesse Owens‘ four 1936 Berlin Olympic gold medals will be auctioned in August, according to Heritage Auctions.

Owens won four gold medals at the Berlin Games, triumphing in the face of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany by taking the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.

Owens gifted one gold medal to entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, according to “Mr. Bojangles: The Biography of Bill Robinson.”

That medal was auctioned for in 2013 for $1,466,574, the highest price ever for a piece of Olympic memorabilia.

Owens used his three other Olympic golds as payment for a Pittsburgh hotel stay in the mid-1950s, according to “Intelligent Collector,” a magazine affiliated with Heritage Auctions, which is housing the August auction with Owens’ medals.

“Jesse didn’t have the financial means to pay for his stay at Mr. Harry Bailey’s hotel,” said Albert DeVito, son of a local handyman who ended up with the two gold medals being auctioned, according to the magazine. “So he gave his medals to Harry as his payment for expenses incurred.”

DeVito’s father was later gifted the three gold medals by the hotel owner Bailey for previously lending him money. DeVito’s father kept two and gave back to Bailey one gold medal whose whereabouts are unknown, according to the magazine.

DeVito thought to sell the remaining two gold medals after seeing the 2013 auction.

“It wasn’t until that first gold medal sold that we even thought, ‘Oh, my goodness. These things are worth something!'” DeVito said, according to the magazine.

It’s unknown which of the gold medals corresponds to which Olympic event, as they are not specified on the medals.

Before Owens’ death in 1980, the sprinter reportedly said he had lost the four gold medals. The German government replaced them, and they now rest at Ohio State, Owens’ alma mater.

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