Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin

Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin lead Santa Clara GP storylines

Leave a comment

Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin share a competition pool this week for the first time since the 2012 Olympics, another meeting of the U.S.’ top male and female swimmers that appeared unlikely after the London Games closed.

Phelps retired after his fourth Olympics as the most decorated Olympian of all time. Franklin went back to high school in Colorado.

Events over the last year led to this week’s Santa Clara Grand Prix being their first competition together in nearly 23 months.

Phelps had returned to training in Baltimore by last fall and competition in April. Santa Clara marks his third meet of the season, and it’s shaping up to be his busiest.

Franklin began her freshman year at California last August, after becoming the first woman to win six gold medals at a single World Championships earlier that month (with Phelps in attendance for part of the Barcelona meet).

She focused on NCAA competition, winning the 200-yard freestyle national title. Santa Clara marks her first Grand Prix meet of 2014 now that the spring semester has ended.

Questions float about Phelps’ and Franklin’s plans for the summer’s two biggest meets, the U.S. Championships and Pan Pacific Championships in August. Perhaps they will be answered in Santa Clara, the final Grand Prix meet before Nationals.

Competition begins Thursday, Phelps and Franklin won’t swim until Friday and Universal Sports and UniversalSports.com air coverage Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. Morning preliminaries are at 12 p.m. ET and finals at 8 p.m. ET on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Psych sheets are here.

Here are four swimmers to watch:

Michael Phelps

Phelps is entered in four events in Santa Clara — 100m freestyle (Friday), 200m freestyle (Saturday), 100m butterfly (Friday) and 200m individual medley (Sunday). If he swims them all, Phelps will be busier this weekend than in his first two comeback meets combined.

The last time we saw him, Phelps notched his first win since London in the 100m butterfly in Charlotte on May 16. He also swam the 200m freestyle in Charlotte, but he has not contested the 100m free or 200m IM since unretiring.

How Phelps’ body reacts to, potentially, three straight days of racing should help determine his slate for Nationals, but he is expected to swim at least one more meet between now and then. He’s spent time since Charlotte training at altitude in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Missy Franklin

Franklin’s entries for Santa Clara are just as interesting. They include her normal events — 100m and 200m backstroke and 100m and 200m freestyle — as well as the 100m butterfly and 200m IM. She has never competed in a butterfly or IM at a major international meet.

Franklin tasted new waters in NCAA competition, though, racing up to 1,000 yards at a time. The 100m fly field in Santa Clara does not include the two best Americans of the last two years — Dana Vollmer and Claire Donahue. The 200m IM field is headlined by Caitlin Leverenz, who won bronze in London and took fifth at the 2013 World Championships.

Nathan Adrian

Adrian is entered in both of his sprints, the 50m and 100m free. The competition is strong in both, with two-time Olympian Anthony Ervin and Brazil’s second fastest sprinter, Bruno Fratus, also doubling up.

But it’s the 100m free that could become the highlight event of the entire weekend. Adrian is the Olympic champion. Phelps has set American and meet records in the 100m free in 4x100m free relay leadoff legs. There’s also Phelps’ training mate, France’s Yannick Agnel, who posted the fastest split in the 2012 Olympic 4x100m free relay, when he ran down Ryan Lochte on anchor for gold.

Allison Schmitt

Schmitt is entered in five events, but focus on three — 100m, 200m and 400m freestyles. She could face Franklin in the first two and Dane Lotte Friis in the 400m in another test of her mettle after surprisingly failing to make the 2013 World Championships team. Remember, Schmitt won just as many medals as Franklin at the London Olympics.

Flopping at World Cup impresses U.S. Olympic diving coach

Ryan Lochte ‘wipes away the past’ in Power Bar video

Leave a comment

For the second time in as many months, Ryan Lochte stars in a jocular ad making a veiled reference to his Rio Olympic gas-station incident.

The swimmer wipes away “the past” on a foggy bathroom mirror and throws a blond wig out of a sunroof in a one-minute Power Bar video published Tuesday.

The company’s tag line in the video is “Clean Start.”

“For example, I am going to recommit myself to water sports,” Lochte says in the spot.

The ad follows a December video for Pine Bros. Softish Throat Drops, where Lochte starred in a spot with a closing banner that read, “Pine Bros.: In this Season of Forgiveness.”

Lochte had previously lost sponsorship deals, including with Speedo, after his Rio Olympic gas-station incident for which he was suspended through June by USA Swimming, plus for the world championships in July.

PHOTOS: Lochte set to be a father

U.S. Figure Skating Championships men’s preview

Leave a comment

The stage is set for Nathan Chen in Kansas City this week.

The 17-year-old is arguably the biggest favorite of any senior discipline at the U.S. Championships, looking to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 1966.

Chen, who boasts six quadruple jumps between his two programs, broke out at the Grand Prix Final in December by taking a silver medal. That propelled him to the top of U.S. men’s skating.

He outscored the reigning Olympic and world champions in the free skate at the Grand Prix Final in the best U.S. men’s international performance since Evan Lysacek won Olympic gold in 2010.

Chen’s chances for gold this week were boosted by the withdrawal of 2016 U.S. champion and training partner Adam Rippon due to a broken foot. And by 2015 U.S. champion Jason Brown‘s recent right leg injury.

Brown is still in the field, though, as is 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron. Chen, Brown and Aaron are vying for two spots on the team for the world championships in two months in Helsinki.

“Those are the very clear top three,” NBC Olympics analyst Johnny Weir said. “It’ll take a disaster or a performance of a lifetime for anybody else to get into that top three.”

Friday
Men’s short program — 8:30 p.m.-midnight ET, Universal HD
Sunday
Men’s free skate — 4-6 p.m., NBC

MORE: U.S. Championships broadcast schedule
PREVIEWS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Nathan Chen
Age: 17
Hometown: Salt Lake City
2016 Grand Prix Final silver medalist
2016 U.S. bronze medalist
Two-time U.S. junior and novice champion

Chen came back strong this season following the first major injury of his career suffered at least year’s nationals exhibition. Hip surgery kept Chen from making his world championships debut in 2016, but he’s now poised to lead the U.S. men into Helsinki, trying to earn three Olympic berths. First, Chen goes for his first senior national title.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: Nathan is the star of the show this year. The type of talent he has doesn’t come along every day. He possibly could be on the Olympic podium next year with the technical skating he’s giving us. Artistically, his component scores, if you look at him from last nationals to this nationals, he’s a different skater. He may not be [Olympic champion Yuzuru] Hanyu yet, but he has all the makings of a great, artistic male skater. I think he’s already giving us enough, to be honest.

Jason Brown
Age: 22
Hometown: Colorado Springs
2015 U.S. champion
Fourth at 2015 World Championships

Don’t forget that Brown was one spot off the podium at the 2015 Worlds. It’s been mostly a nightmare since for the 2014 Olympic sensation. Brown missed the 2016 U.S. Championships with a back strain and revealed last week that he was off the ice for the last two weeks of December with a stress fracture in his right fibula. Brown is the only man in this week’s field who has been within 40 points of Chen’s best total score this season.

Johnny Weir’s Take: Now that Adam Rippon is out, the artistic challenger, if he can land a quad, is Jason Brown. He’s won the national title before. He knows what it takes and what that kind of pressure feels like. That is an advantage he has over Nathan Chen. If he lands the quad and creates that artistic moment, he is very favored in the U.S. by the judging panel. He will need a quad toe loop if he’s going to hold off Nathan Chen.

Max Aaron
Age: 24
Hometown: Colorado Springs
2013 U.S. champion
2015 Skate America champion

Aaron may be the best pure athlete in the field. He has finished in the top four at nationals each of the last four years, but it’ll probably take top two this week to earn a world championships spot. He’ll likely have to beat the injured Brown.

Johnny Weir’s Take: He has great skating skills. He’s a wonderful athlete. But I don’t think his free program especially is strong enough choreographically to challenge either Nathan Chen or Jason Brown.

Grant Hochstein
Age: 26
Hometown: Artesia, Calif.
Fourth at 2016 U.S. Championships
10th at 2016 World Championships

Hochstein was placed on the 2016 World Championships team after Chen withdrew due to that hip injury. He finished a respectable 10th in his worlds debut but dropped to 11th in each of his fall Grand Prix starts. Hochstein ranks seventh this season among men in the U.S. Championships field.

Tim Dolensky
Age: 24
Hometown: Kennesaw, Ga.
Seventh at 2016 U.S. Championships

Dolensky had his best U.S. Championships finish last season and ranks behind only Chen, Brown, Rippon and Aaron among U.S. skaters’ top scores this season.

Vincent Zhou
Age: 16
Hometown: Riverside, Calif.
2013 U.S. junior champion
Fifth at 2016 World Junior Championships

Zhou would be a bigger threat if he hadn’t pulled out of his last event in December with a leg injury. Still, he has the jumping firepower, when he lands them, to contend for the podium when healthy.

MORE: Wagner, Chen share training ice, favorite status at nationals