Ryan Lochte

Ryan Lochte’s new emphasis adds chapter to Michael Phelps rivalry

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Ryan Lochte, a man known for his race-day attire, showed up at the Charlotte Grand Prix last week in a fedora and knee brace.

The 11-time Olympic medalist had pulled out of the meet at his new training location three days in advance after aggravating a left knee injury at the Mesa Grand Prix in April. Lochte tore his left MCL and sprained his ACL when a fan ran into him on Nov. 2 and has been working to get back to 100 percent ever since, with setbacks.

He was held out of last week’s meet as a precautionary measure.

“He’s at a point now where, if he pushes it now, it could cost him going to Nationals [in August],” David Marsh, Lochte’s coach, said last week. “We’re better off playing it safe.”

Lochte, 29, moved from Gainesville, Fla., to Charlotte in October to train under Marsh and with Olympic teammates including good friend Cullen Jones and Tyler Clary. He said he questioned his future in swimming after his November injury but was inspired by longtime friendly rival Michael Phelps‘ return this spring.

Now the question is, will Lochte and Phelps duel again like they have in the previous three Olympics? Phelps and Lochte shared the medal podium in 2004, 2008 and 2012 in the 200m individual medley.

Phelps does not seem keen on picking up the IM, the decathlon of swimming, in his comeback. But Lochte and Phelps share this outlook: they both are favoring shorter distances in this Olympic cycle.

“I have the distance part done, and the endurance; I don’t have the speed,” Lochte said. “The things I want to do in 2016, I’m going to have to start learning how to do more sprint events. I can’t tell you what I want to be swimming in 2016. It’s just going to be a lot of different events and some of the same events.”

One different event would be the 100m butterfly, which Phelps has won at the last three Olympics. Lochte swam it at an Olympics or World Championships for the first time in Barcelona last year, finishing sixth at worlds. He entered it again at the Mesa Grand Prix and beat Phelps by two tenths of a second in Phelps’ first final since the London Games.

Phelps won a Lochte-less 100m fly final in Charlotte. They are the first- and second-ranked Americans in the event for 2014.

That adds a bit more sizzle to the National Championships in Irvine, Calif., in August, and, potentially, the Pan Pacific Championships later that month, when South Africa’s Chad le Clos, who won the 2013 world title in the 100m fly, could join the fray.

“Now that I’m able to compete with [Phelps] and be up there with him in the 100m fly, it’s going to be interesting,” Lochte said. “I’m not going to back down. He won’t back down. We’re going to give you guys a race.”

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Eugenie Bouchard makes Olympic decision: ‘I didn’t want to watch on TV’

Eugenie Bouchard
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Canadian tennis player Eugenie Bouchard weighed the risks of the Zika virus and security and decided to play in the Olympics.

“I didn’t want to be sitting at home watching the Olympics on TV,” she said Sunday, calling it a “hard decision.” “Also knowing I might have two or three Olympics in my career, I felt that the decision to go is the right one.”

Last week, the 22-year-old said she would make a “last-minute” decision on whether to play.

“It’s just unfortunate because it would be my first Games, and to have a problem like this [Zika] kind of dampening the excitement of, potentially, your first Olympic Games, it really sucks, to be honest,” Bouchard said then. “It’s something that I haven’t been thinking about. I’m just going to, like, wake up and make a decision.”

Bouchard reached the semifinals of the 2014 Australian Open and 2014 French Open and the 2014 Wimbledon final. She struggled for much of 2015, then suffered a concussion slipping and falling in a locker room at the U.S. Open.

Bouchard is ranked No. 42 in the world. Several other top tennis players have withdrawn from the Olympics for various reasons, including Zika.

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USA Gymnastics agrees to buy Karolyi Ranch

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The face at the top of U.S. women’s gymnastics will change next month when longtime national team coordinator Martha Karolyi retires following the Summer Olympics.

The address that doubles as the program’s heartbeat will not.

USA Gymnastics has reached an agreement with Karolyi and husband Bela to purchase the training facility the couple owns in Huntsville, Texas. Financial terms were not disclosed, but a closing date of Aug. 24 has been set, just three days after the closing ceremony in Rio de Janeiro and five days before Martha Karolyi’s 74th birthday.

“It has everything we could possibly ask for,” USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny told The Associated Press. “Along with what it represents to our heart and soul, as a physical facility, we couldn’t go out and build it. It’s been custom made what for what we want and need. You add up all the elements and it’s like ‘Dang, what an easy decision.'”

The Karolyis established the rustic estate in Sam Houston National Forest about an hour north of Houston in 1983, eventually expanding it to 2,000 acres. USA Gymnastics is buying 36.2 acres, including three training gyms, housing for up to 300 athletes and coaches as well as a dance studio, dining hall, medical and rehab facilities and recreational areas. The facility will also get a new name: the USA Gymnastics Athlete Development Center at the Karolyi Ranch.

The Karolyis will keep their residence, a hunting lodge Bela Karolyi built and the remaining acreage. USA Gymnastics will have right of first refusal if the Karolyis decide in the future to sell off other parcels of land.

The USA Gymnastics board of directors unanimously approved the sale, pointing to the amenities, the location and the unique aspects of the ranch — which includes a vast array of wildlife from camels to peacocks — that have helped turn the women’s national team into an international powerhouse. The five-woman team Karolyi will lead to Brazil next month is heavily favored to back up the team gold medal it won with ease in London four years ago.

“This place has stood the test of time,” Penny said. “There things we have to make sure we do a little bit differently, we have to fix some things. Nothing that is going to require significant work. It’s sturdy. It’s a sturdy place to be.”

Karolyi announced her decision to step down after the Rio Games last summer. The Karolyis are expected to maintain a presence at the ranch, and USA Gymnastics is considering turning an older portion of the main gym — one lined with pictures, medals and trophies from major competitions dating back to the 1980s — into a museum to honor the Karolyi legacy.

“They are still a part of us,” Penny said. “They will always be a part of USA Gymnastics. They’re still both going to play vital roles for us in the future. Martha will always want to drift into the gym and we’ll always want her to do that.”

Bela Karolyi joked the sale means “freedom for him” to do as he pleases on the ranch while his wife of 54 years travels to visit family in her native Romania. Though the deal has been in the works for a while, the formal exchange of power will mark the end of an era. The Karolyis defected from Romania to the U.S. in 1981 and the ranch played a vital part in the U.S.’s rise from also-ran to dominant force.

When Martha Karolyi was elevated to national team coordinator in 2001, she installed a centralized system that required national team members to make regular visits to the ranch for training and to foster a team environment that can be difficult to cultivate in an individual sport. The U.S. has produced the last three Olympic all-around champions — with reigning three-time world champion Simone Biles expected to make it four straight in Rio — while adding two Olympic team silvers to go with the gold from London.

“Once everybody sees that this system is working and producing world and Olympic champions, they believe in it,” Martha Karolyi said last fall. “We believe they will be hopefully following in a same direction down the road. We want to make sure this is safe for generation after generation.”

While Penny considers Aug. 24 as Karolyi’s official retirement date, there has been no decision yet on her replacement.

“I have yet to have a formal discussion with anyone that has expressed interest,” Penny said. “I’ve met with the coaches and told them our main goal is to get through Rio and not worry about making it a distraction.”

The Karolyis have pledged to donate $250,000 to USA Gymnastics after the sale.

“That’s how solid our relationship is with them,” Penny said. “This has been a very smooth and cooperative effort to get to a good place where everybody is comfortable with what we’re doing.”

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