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.”

One U.S. Olympic swimmer makes World’s 50 Most Marketable list

Laurie Hernandez explains wink, nervous Olympic moments in book excerpt

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09:  Lauren Hernandez of the United States prepares ro compete on the balance beam during the Artistic Gymnastics Women's Team Final on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Arena on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Two of Laurie Hernandez‘s most memorable moments in Rio were mouthing “I got this” before her team final balance beam routine and winking at judges before her floor exercise.

The former became the title of her book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” due out Tuesday. The latter she also details in the book’s pages.

Hernandez, the first U.S. female Olympian born in the 2000s, is the third member of the Final Five to pen a book.

Hernandez took team gold and balance beam silver in Rio, becoming the youngest individual U.S. Olympic gymnastics medalist since 1992 (Shannon Miller).

She then became the youngest winner of “Dancing with the Stars,” which she also reviews in the book.

Here’s an excerpt from “I Got This,” where Hernandez looks at her Rio Olympic experience:

“The amazing thing about the Olympics is that you feel so many different emotions in the span of a few days, and they are all intense. So it was nice to have at least one totally playful moment. For me that moment happened during my floor routine in the team finals, just before we won. I spontaneously winked at one of the judges and everyone there, and at home, seemed to love that. But honestly I don’t know what came over me. Right before I went on, I was so nervous I looked at the team and said, “Guys, I’m so scared. It’s the last event, what if I mess up?” Any time you are competing as a team you have those worries—I know I had certainly felt the same way at international meets. Thankfully, the girls assured me that wasn’t going to happen. They said, “No, no, no, you’re fine. Don’t worry about it. We’re a few points ahead, so just go out there and enjoy yourself.”

I made my way toward the warm-up area. I was feeling pretty good by then, so I stood to the side and took a deep breath. I wanted to soak in everything around me, because it was definitely a major moment. I scanned the cheering crowd and all I saw was a sea of green. Brazil’s colors are yellow, blue, and green, and the entire arena was decked out in green. The mats were green, the logos were green, everything around me was green, and for a split second, I found it kind of intimidating because in the United States, all our equipment is blue. Even a seemingly small difference like that can be jarring.

Then all of a sudden I heard this beep. It was coming from the little TV screen in the warm-up area that lists your name, your country, and the event you’re about to compete in. My screen read Lauren Hernandez, USA, Floor Exercise. After I heard the beep, the screen switched to GO, which meant I had to go salute the judges and begin.

When I stood up on the floor, I could see one of the out-of-bounds judges in my line of vision. That is the judge who checks to make sure your foot never crosses over the white line. Well, I looked straight at her and suddenly felt this surge of confidence to wink. After I did that, I went on to do an amazing routine. When it was done, I was so proud of myself! Later, a woman came up to me while I was watching Simone and Aly compete in their all-around finals and she said, “Wow, I just want you to know that when you winked at the judge, it really worked.” I didn’t know how to respond, so I just said, “Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.” That’s when she told me she was the out-of-bounds judge! All I could say was “Oh my goodness.”

When I think back on the Olympics, there were only two times I was anxious for myself or for one of my teammates. In my beam routine, I always find the triple series (or what is called a flight series) a little nerve-racking. That’s when I have to perform three moves in a row backward: I do a back handspring, followed by a layout step-out, followed by another layout step-out. I had a good feeling before I was going to compete that I would hit it, but it’s something I’m always slightly worried about in the back of my mind. The other thing that had me holding my breath was Aly’s first tumble, because she does so much in that pass. I don’t think she’s ever worried about it, because in her head she’s doing everything she needs to do to execute it beautifully. But as you watch, there’s a lot going on, so you fear something might go wrong. She basically does a round off, a backward one-and-a-half twist, and then she steps out of that to connect to another round-off, a back handspring, and then she does this spring called a double Arabian and basically goes up in the air to do a half turn and double front flip connected to a front layout, which is a front flip with a straight leg where her whole body is open. It’s incredible! It’s so insane. It wows me every single time.”

MORE: Hernandez discusses her 2017 plans

Laurie Hernandez

How to watch U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Thursday

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U.S. Figure Skating Championships coverage begins Thursday, live on NBCSN and streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app, starting at 5:30 p.m. ET.

The pairs and women’s short programs are scheduled in Kansas City.

The NBC Sports All-Access page will provide live scoring and more all week.

Pairs short program
5:30-7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
STREAM LINK | SKATE ORDER | PREVIEW

Women’s short program
9:30 p.m.-midnight ET, NBCSN
STREAM LINK | SKATE ORDER | PREVIEW

In pairs, defending champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea take on a field including two-time Skate America silver medalists Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier as well as 2014 Olympians Marissa Castelli and Nathan Bartholomay, each skating with different partners since Sochi.

The women are headlined by three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner, seeking to become the oldest U.S. women’s champion in 90 years at age 25.

She could be challenged by defending champion Gracie Gold, 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Skate America silver medalist Mariah Bell.

The pairs and women’s free skates will be Saturday, on NBC and streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. A full broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: Gracie Gold forgives herself, eight months after worlds failure