Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin

Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin lead Santa Clara GP storylines

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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.

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Yulia Stepanova, doping whistleblower, appeals her Olympic ban

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - JULY 06:  Yuliya Stepanova looks on after finishing last in the Womens 800m heats during day one of the 23rd European Athletics Championships at Olympic Stadium on July 6, 2016 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images for European Athletics )
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Whistleblower Yulia Stepanova‘s hopes of competing in the Summer Olympics are all but over. Her fight to expose doping and corruption is not.

“It’s OK to lose a good fight,” Stepanova’s husband, Vitaly Stepanov, told The Associated Press on Monday.

They have appealed to the International Olympic Committee to reverse its decision, handed down Sunday, that denies Stepanova a chance at competing in the Rio Games, which begin Aug. 5. The decision, the Stepanovs claim, is based on incorrect information, including the IOC’s framing of Stepanova’s decision to become a whistleblower as a too-little-too-late desperation play made after the Russian team had cast her aside.

It’s a conclusion that both the World Anti-Doping Agency and track’s governing body, the IAAF, disagree with; both recommended Stepanova be allowed to compete in Rio.

But Stepanov said he received several signals that the IOC would not go along, beginning with a general lack of interest from the key decision makers. He said that during the push for Olympic eligibility, he spoke with two separate IOC officials for a total of 90 minutes.

“I think what the IOC didn’t do is spend enough time to understand how big the problem is in Russia and how much covering up is happening in Russian sports,” he said.

Stepanova was the 800-meter runner who was entrenched in the Russian doping system but later came forward with details about the cheating. That triggered investigations that led to the banning of the Russian track team from the Olympics. After receiving more information about Russian sports as a whole, the IOC opted against a ban of the entire Russian team.

Part of that decision included a ruling that any Russian with a previous doping ban would not be allowed in Rio. That includes Stepanova, though the legality of that ruling is in question: In 2011, the Court of Arbitration for Sport invalidated the IOC’s Rule 45, which called for Olympic bans for any athlete who’d served more than a six-month doping penalty. CAS said it amounted to double jeopardy.

It was one of several facets from the decision handed down Sunday that indicated the difficulty the IOC had in finding the right balance between, as president Thomas Bach called it, “individual justice and collective responsibility.” There also were political concerns; a Russian official addressed the IOC executive board and told members not to cave into geopolitical pressure.

While Russia largely welcomed the decision, it was roundly criticized by those in the anti-doping world. The move to ban Stepanova was widely viewed as the worst part of the judgment.

“The decision to refuse her entry in to the Games is incomprehensible and will undoubtedly deter whistleblowers in the future from coming forward,” said Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Stepanov said his wife got a bout of the stomach flu on Sunday – making a bad day that much worse.

She was training for the Olympics, knowing that if she made it, she would not compete for a medal, the way she had in the past.

“Her goal is to participate,” Stepanov said. “In my view, she deserved to be an Olympian a lot more than when she was a doped athlete.”

But the odds are against her.

Stepanov said there is no money to fund an appeal to CAS, which would have the last say on her possible ban.

“Sunday was a day to cry a little, to get disappointed,” Stepanov said. “But today’s Monday. We feel we’re trying to fight for the right thing, so we wake up and start fighting again.”

MORE: Russian whistleblower denied bid to compete in Rio Olympics

Gabby Douglas ‘a very strong possibility’ for all-around, Martha Karolyi says

Gabby Douglas
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Gabby Douglas has “a very strong possibility” to get a chance to defend her Olympic all-around title in Rio, U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said Monday.

“Gabby’s preparation is in a very, very good direction, and I foresee that she can be in the all-around, but we’re not taking this decision as of now yet,” Karolyi said.

The U.S. will put no more than three women from its five-woman team in the all-around in qualifying. The top two Americans in qualifying will advance to the all-around final, the most prestigious individual competition in the sport.

“We have a tentative lineup, but that’s absolutely tentative and we would not reveal that lineup at the moment yet, because most likely there will be changes as time goes,” said Karolyi, adding that the lineup won’t be finalized until next week.

Simone Biles is considered a lock to be one of the all-arounders in qualifying. Who joins her is unclear.

Douglas and Aly Raisman were tapped at the 2015 World Championships, with Biles and Douglas topping Raisman in qualifying and then going one-two in the all-around final.

However, both Raisman and first-year senior Laurie Hernandez finished higher than Douglas in the all-around at the P&G Championships and the Olympic Trials in the last month.

Karolyi said that Douglas, who fell off the balance beam on both nights at the Olympic Trials, has improved at a pre-Olympic training camp. Karolyi also said that Douglas would not perform the difficult Amanar vault in Rio, which carries five tenths more in start value than the vault Douglas used at the Olympic Trials.

Biles and Raisman both perform the Amanar. If Biles, Douglas and Raisman do the all-around in qualifying, Douglas will go in with a start-value disadvantage in the chase to grab two available final spots.

In 2012, Douglas, Raisman and Jordyn Wieber all did the all-around in qualifying, with the 2011 World all-around champion Wieber finishing third out of the Americans (and fourth overall), missing the all-around final.

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