Why does Vernon Davis love curling? ‘It just grows on you’

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SOCHI, Russia – Sunday provided a unique Olympic experience – watching curling with Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis.

Davis arrived for his second Winter Games as USA Curling’s honorary captain on Friday and has been taking in the U.S. men’s team games at the Ice Cube Curling Center.

He arrived about 20 minutes after bagpipers opened play Sunday night. Davis took a seat about 20 yards from the round-robin play action on an elevated press row. He stood out, of course, wearing a black San Francisco 49ers Foundation jacket, an official Olympic credential and several Olympic pins, including a Guatemalan one. He barely took his eyes off the ice.

“It’s like watching my kids play, watching my son play,” Davis said. “I’m not playing, but I have a relationship with these guys. I want them to win.”

The open-minded Davis learned about curling from a 49ers beat writer before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, gave it a try and took to it.

Within weeks, USA Curling found out and extended the honorary captain offer.

“I’m open to try new things and different things,” Davis said. “I find it fascinating.”

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Davis’ role the past four years has been to promote awareness for a sport that’s gained a cult following at the last four Winter Games, but still has plenty of room to grow in the U.S. (Hawaii became the 45th state to host a curling event in October.)

On Sunday, he played analyst for two reporters as U.S. skip John Shuster and his team faced Sweden. Davis was a natural.

He talked peels, guards and shoe covers for about 45 minutes. He peered across the ice and gestured just like the curlers about positioning.

A telestrator would have come in handy.

“You have to know when to use finesse and when to use strength,” Davis said. “It’s a thinking game. You have to be strategic and come with a good plan to execute to be able to dominate your opponent.”

His passion for curling was evident as he predicted how shots would be played.

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“At first it took me a while to figure out the reason for the sport,” Davis said. “I’m like, ‘Is this really an Olympic sport?’ I needed some answers. I had a lot of questions, technical stuff.

“Once you find out what’s going on in this game, it just grows on you.”

He curls for fun in San Jose, joining “random people” for games. Davis has his own USA Curling jacket with “V. Davis” on the back. The V will keep people from confusing him for U.S. speed skater Shani Davis as they did at the 2010 Olympics.

“The only thing I don’t have is my own stone,” Davis said. “They said they’re going to send me one. They sent me two brooms.”

He sees plenty of parallels between his primary trade and his new hobby.

“[In football] you have to really use your mind, set your opponent up in a way that you can gain leverage and beat him and beat him easily,” Davis said. “That’s the way it is with curling, coming up with a plan, setting up your defense, curling your stone, knowing when to use strength and when not to.”

Davis said his 49ers teammates questioned how serious his commitment was. They asked: “Why curling?”

“There’s no NFL player that promotes curling but me, which is pretty cool,” said Davis, who thinks he can persuade Frank Gore to join him on the ice. “It shows that I’m different and am willing to open up and do something different.”

The Olympics and the Super Bowl, where Davis played last season, are very similar, he said.

“They’re both enormous, everyone’s there, everyone wants to be involved, whether it’s sponsorship or just coming to support,” said Davis, who watched 1996 Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes and 1992 Olympic bobsledder Herschel Walker growing up. “Tons of people there, entertainers, you name it. From a marketing standpoint, it’s huge.”

Davis’ early tour of Sochi included a visit to USA House, a photo in front of the Olympic cauldron and a mob scene when he ate a cafeteria and was swarmed by about 30 people. He also scored a ticket to the U.S.-Russia hockey game Saturday.

“I get a chance to go to [San Jose] Sharks games,” Davis said. “It’s nothing like what I saw yesterday.”

A highlight was talking shop with Shuster on Saturday, learning about how the curlers game plan. Again, it equates to football.

“At the snap of every ball, before I take off the line of scrimmage, I need to really think, I need to really focus,” Davis said. “Their focus is the same focus that I need to have before I release off the line of scrimmage.”

How committed is Davis to raising curling’s awareness?

He wants to go to a third Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018, and wouldn’t rule out becoming competitive in the sport once his football career ends.

“The Winter Olympics, when everyone hears curling, they’re thinking … oh, Vernon does that,” he said. “It makes people want to look at it. They want to get involved. They want to see what’s going on. They want to learn more about it. They’re on the Internet, Googling curling, trying to find out about it. Which is a pretty good thing.”

Caeleb Dressel, Chase Kalisz open post-Phelps era with world titles

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In a 20-minute span, the future of U.S. men’s swimming may have arrived in Budapest on Thursday.

Chase Kalisz, 23, and Caeleb Dressel, 20, each bagged his first major individual gold medal at the world championships. They headlined a three-gold day for Team USA, which was anchored by Katie Ledecky bouncing back from her first major defeat to lead the 4x200m free relay to gold.

Kalisz ensured the 200m individual medley crown stayed with the U.S., fulfilling years of promise and succeeding longtime training partner Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in the event.

Dressel, the youngest U.S. man to win an individual Olympic or world title since 2005, broke his American record in the 100m freestyle to prevail by a distant seven tenths of a second in 47.17. Nathan Adrian, the 2012 Olympic champion, made it the first one-two U.S. men’s finish in a global 100m free since the Seoul 1988 Games.

Kalisz won the 200m IM in 1:55.56, by .45 over Japan’s Kosuke Hagino and .72 over China’s Wang Shun, who took silver and bronze in Rio behind Phelps. Kalisz overtook Hagino on the third leg, breaststroke, with the fastest split in the field, and held on in the last 50 meters of freestyle.

Phelps and Lochte had combined to win every Olympic and world title in the 200m IM from 2003 through 2016. That’s four Olympics — all won by Phelps — and seven worlds — the first three titles taken by Phelps, the last four by Lochte.

“Those two are my idols,” Kalisz said. “No one’s ever going to replace those guys. Those guys are going to be what, hopefully, my kids are probably going to be talking about those two”

Phelps retired after the Rio Olympics. Lochte isn’t in Budapest due to his suspension following his Rio gas-station incident, but plans to make a run for Tokyo 2020 at age 35.

For now, U.S. men’s swimming is led by Kalisz, Dressel and Ryan Murphy, the 22-year-old who swept the backstrokes in Rio.

Kalisz and Dressel are only the third and fourth U.S. men other than Phelps or Lochte to win individual world titles since 2009 (Aaron PeirsolMatt Grevers).

“We’re still in a rebuilding phase,” said Kalisz, previously a world team member in 2013, 2015. “This has been probably the best world championships I’ve been to as far as the team being close.”

Kalisz, who took 400m IM silver at his first Olympics in Rio, may just be getting started.

He can go for double IM gold in the 400m, his trademark event, in Budapest on Sunday.

“When I had the opportunity to step into the 200m IM, it was an honor,” Kalisz said on NBCSN. “I like [the 200m IM] a lot more than the 400m IM. It doesn’t hurt as bad. If you were to tell me four months ago that would be my first world title [in the 200m IM rather than the 400m IM], I probably would have laughed in your face.”

Dressel nearly quit swimming three years ago as the No. 1 recruit in the nation. Then, under perhaps more pressure than any swimmer in Rio, swam a personal-best time in his very first Olympic splash leading off the 4x100m free relay team to gold.

Dressel has only improved after his junior year at the University of Florida. He qualified to swim in up to nine events in Budapest and is now up to three golds with a few more events left. He led off the 4x100m free relay on Sunday with an American record in the 100m free, then went even lower in Thursday’s final.

“Before the race, I was like, hey man, this is going to be the first of many, many finals that you’re going to be in,” said Adrian, who took bronze in Rio, where Dressel was sixth. “He’s going to be incredible in the years to come.”

In other events Thursday, Spain’s Mireia Belmonte followed her Olympic 200m butterfly gold with her first world title. She won by .13 over German Franziska Hentke, with Hungarian superstar Katinka Hosszu earning bronze.

Americans Simone Manuel and Mallory Comerford qualified second- and third-fastest into Friday’s 100m freestyle final. Swede Sarah Sjöström, who shattered the world record leading off the 4x100m free relay Sunday, leads the eight-woman final.

Lilly King and Yulia Efimova set up another breaststroke showdown, this time in the 200m distance. Efimova will be heavily favored, while King was the last qualifier into Friday’s final in a tougher distance for the 100m gold medalist and world-record holder.

Murphy was the No. 2 qualifier into Friday’s 200m back final, behind China’s Xu Jiayu, who beat Murphy in the 100m back earlier this week.

Americans Kevin Cordes and Nic Fink qualified for Friday’s 200m breast final, but the favorites are Olympic bronze medalist Anton Chupkov of Russia and world-record holder Ippei Watanabe of Japan.

Etiene Medeiros became the first Brazilian woman to win an Olympic or world swim title in the pool in the 50m backstroke. She prevailed by .01 over China’s Fu Yuanhui in the non-Olympic event.

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WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Schedule/Results

Men’s 100m Freestyle Results
Gold: Caeleb Dressel (USA) — 47.17
Silver: Nathan Adrian (USA) — 47.87
Bronze: Mehdy Metella (FRA) — 47.89
4. Cameron McEvoy (AUS) — 47.91
5. Duncan Scott (GBR) — 48.11
5. Marcelo Chierighini (BRA) — 48.11
7. Jack Cartwright (AUS) — 48.24
8. Sergii Shevtsov (UKR) — 48.26

Men’s 200m Individual Medley Results
Gold: Chase Kalisz (USA) — 1:55.56
Silver: Kosuke Hagino (JPN) — 1:56.01
Bronze: Wang Shun (CHN) — 1:56.28
4. Max Litchfield (GBR) — 1:56.86
5. Daiya Seto (JPN) — 1:56.97
6. Qin Haiyang (CHN) — 1:57.06
7. Philip Heintz (GER) — 1:57.43
8. Jeremy Desplanches (SUI) — 1:57.50

Katie Ledecky bounces back, anchors U.S. relay to gold (video)

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Katie Ledecky rebounded from her first major defeat with a more typical result Thursday, gold while anchoring the U.S. 4x200m freestyle relay.

Leah SmithMallory ComerfordMelanie Margalis and Ledecky combined to win the world title in Budapest by 1.57 seconds over China. Australia earned bronze.

Ledecky dove in with a .13 lead over China and fell behind by .13 after 50 meters but opened up a body-length lead going into the last 50 meters.

Ledecky bagged her 13th career world gold (extending her female record) and fourth of this week. Her bid to match Missy Franklin‘s female record of six golds at a single worlds ended with a shocking silver in the individual 200m freestyle on Wednesday.

“I really just got rid of the negative energy,” Ledecky said on NBCSN. “I knew I had a big race for Team USA tonight. That made it easy to get focused.”

Ledecky had the fastest split time of the 32 swimmers by 1.44 seconds. She outsplit Australian Emma McKeon by 2.24 seconds after McKeon tied Ledecky for silver in the 200m free. Ledecky was .28 slower than her split in Rio, which is strong. In her other events this week, Ledecky was between one and two seconds slower than in Rio.

“I wanted to put up a better swim than last night, I don’t know if it was from frustration or just swimming for my team,” Ledecky told media in Budapest. “Knowing that I had this swim today, there’s no better event or swim to come off of last night than this one. It just felt really good warming up. It just felt a lot better than yesterday and just knew that I could lay it all out there.”

Ledecky has one event left at worlds, the 800m freestyle, with preliminary heats Friday and the final Saturday. The 800m free is Ledecky’s signature event, in which she owns the 13 fastest times in history.

Ledecky won her first Olympic title in the 800m free as a 15-year-old in London and went on to world titles in 2013 and 2015 and repeat gold in Rio last year.

Women’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay Results
Gold: U.S. — 7:43.39

Silver: China — 7:44.96
Bronze: Australia — 7:48.51
4. Russia — 7:48.59
5. Japan — 7:50.43
6. Hungary — 7:51.33
7. Netherlands — 7:54.29
8. Canada — 7:55.57

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WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Schedule/Results