Michael Phelps

Two years to Rio Olympics: Swimming storylines

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Michael Phelps, who won six medals in London to become the most decorated Olympian ever, swore he would never swim again. Less than a year later, there were whispers. He faced comeback speculation while attending the 2013 World Championships as a spectator, even from FINA’s president.

Finally, on Oct. 18, the reports started coming: Phelps was training again. He re-entered the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency drug-testing pool, clearing the way for a return to the sport. He raced for the first time in 20 months at a meet in April and has competed every month since, getting closer to that 2012 form.

Phelps is entered in four individual events at this week’s U.S. Championships in Irvine, Calif. He has not committed to competing through the Rio Olympics, and it appears he won’t swim as many events as he did in 2004 (eight), 2008 (eight) or 2012 (seven).

Ryan Lochte entered London 2012 as the world’s best swimmer but won fewer medals than Phelps at the Games. With Phelps’ retirement, Lochte had the mantle to himself again.

He won four medals at the 2013 World Championships, his fewest at a Worlds since 2005, and then suffered major knee injuries when a fan ran into him in early November.

Lochte came back too early, missed more meets and returned in July and was beaten by Phelps in all three of their races. He arguably has more to prove than Phelps going forward, beginning with the U.S. Championships this week.

Two years out: Rio’s readiness | Storylines: Swimming | Track and Field | Gymnastics | More Sports

Missy Franklin‘s rise continued after she won five medals (four gold) as a 17-year-old at London 2012. In 2013, Franklin finished high school and then became the first woman to win six gold medals at a single World Championships.

This year, Franklin won an NCAA title at California and is again among the fastest freestylers and backstrokers in the U.S., despite a late start to the Grand Prix season due to classes.

Katie Ledecky, a rising high school senior, has been the most impressive swimmer this year, two years after winning Olympic 800m free gold at age 15. She was arguably more impressive than Franklin last year, too, winning the female World Swimmer of the Year, USOC Sportswoman of the Year and USA Swimming’s female Athlete of the Year.

A Stanford commit, Ledecky broke two distance freestyle world records in June. She’s lining up to potentially swim four events in Rio, including, perhaps, a 200m free showdown with Franklin. U.S. women’s swimmers haven’t gone one-two at an Olympics or World Championships since 2000.

Around the world, China’s mercurial Sun Yang remains the dominant distance force. James Magnussen, the poster boy for Australia’s 2012 Olympic shortcomings, has rebounded to lead a resurgent contingent. Many eyes in Rio de Janeiro are on Cesar Cielo, the 2008 Olympic and 2013 World champion in the 50m free.

The world’s best female all-around swimmer is Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, the reigning World champion in both individual medleys. The U.S. women beat Australia in all three relays at 2013 Worlds, but the Aussies just broke the 4x100m world record, led by superstar Cate Campbell.

Major swimming events before Rio 2016:

2014 U.S. Championships — Wednesday-Sunday, Irvine, Calif.
2014 Pan Pacific Championships — Aug. 21-24, Gold Coast, Australia
2015 World Championships — July/August, Kazan, Russia
2016 U.S. Olympic Trials — Omaha, Neb.

IIHF president doesn’t expect NHL participation in 2018 Olympics

Sidney Crosby
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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — The head of ice hockey’s international body says there is a strong possibility that NHL players won’t be competing at the next Winter Olympics.

International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel puts the chances at 60 percent that the NHL will decline to go to the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, because of a lack of money to cover player insurance.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Fasel said the IOC has canceled its contribution to player travel and insurance costs for Pyeongchang, leaving the IIHF facing a $10 million shortfall and “begging” for money around the world.

“It’s always difficult to get (to) the Olympics, the Games,” he said. “And now with some problems on our side, 50-50 is very positive. I would be more 60 percent that they are not coming.”

Negotiations and brinkmanship over finances are common in the lead-up to Olympic hockey tournaments. For the 2014 tournament in Sochi, Russia, the NHL’s participation was assured only in July 2013, seven months before the Games.

The IOC’s refusal to cover player insurance adds an additional dimension for 2018.

The NHL did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday, but Commissioner Gary Bettman has made it clear costs are a key factor.

“There are real costs to us going, including insurance, including transportation because we’re losing part of our season, we’ve got to get in and out quickly,” Bettman said last month at a meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors in New York. “The players for the last five Olympics in particular have been accommodated in a certain way as far as it relates to their families. Those are issues that would once again have to be resolved. … I’m not sure that there would be a lot of appetite for us on top of that to have to pay for the privilege. We don’t make money going to then Olympics.”

Bettman said he didn’t expect a decision until after the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in September.

While the IOC gives the IIHF around $40 million of revenue each Olympics, Fasel insists that money is earmarked for developing hockey and wants national Olympic committees and hockey federations to plug the gap.

The IOC pulled its extra subsidy because its leaders are “a bit scared that other (sports) federations will come and also ask for some compensation for traveling and insurance,” said Fasel, who is also an IOC member and serves on its rule-making executive board.

“I think my idea is to work closer together with the national Olympic committees, as they have normally to pay transportation and insurance for the athletes when they come to the Games, so I can imagine that some of the NOCs are also ready to spend some money there, so we have to go around and do some begging,” he said.

Fasel said the end of this year is the deadline to reach a deal because of the NHL’s need to draw up a calendar for the Olympic season.

“If you don’t have the best, (the Olympics) will be a different competition for sure,” he said, but warned: “At the end somebody has to pay. That’s the question. On my side I will do everything possible to make it happen.”

Fasel dismissed the suggestion that the World Cup of Hockey could offer some players less incentive to demand to be allowed to play at the Olympics.

“There is nothing like the Olympics,” he said. “I think for an athlete to win the gold medal is so different from winning the Stanley Cup. You can win the Stanley Cup every year.”

In Pyeongchang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022, the Winter Olympics move to Asia and away from the North American and European nations that have historically been the bedrock of hockey.

South Korea, which has built a team mixing import players with locals, plays in the second level of the IIHF’s world championship and hopes not to be a walkover in 2018. China is far less competitive. China will be in the fifth tier for next year and in 2022 could become the first Winter Olympic host not to enter a hockey team — a situation that worries the IIHF, given China’s potential to become a huge market for the sport.

“One thing they do not like is to lose the face, so they cannot do that,” Fasel said. “I hope and I think they will have a Chinese player, Chinese team in Beijing in 2022. We cannot put them on the ice and they will be beaten 15, 20-nothing. We cannot do that.”

Things are looking up for China, with increased government interest and the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League due to open a team there this year, but Fasel said the NHL is key to unlocking potentially vast commercial rewards in China.

“A North American brand in China has a very special taste. We can see that with the NBA,” he said. “I think what we need is to have a Chinese NHL player, like Yao Ming with basketball.”

MORE: 2018 Olympic men’s hockey groups determined

Golf Channel unveils Rio Olympic broadcast schedule

Rio 2016
NBC
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Golf Channel will air more than 130 live hours and nearly 300 total hours of Olympic programming for the sport’s return to the Games in Rio in August.

The first Olympic golf tournaments in 112 years start Aug. 11 (men) and Aug. 17 (women), but Golf Channel coverage will begin Aug. 8 with Golf Central’s “Live From the Olympics.”

Competition coverage will run from the opening tee shot to the final putt and medal ceremonies.

NBC’s Olympic coverage will also include live look-ins, highlights and updates from the golf competition throughout the Games.

The Olympic men’s and women’s golf tournaments are each four-round, stroke-play individual events with 60 golfers in each field determined by world rankings on July 11.

The top 15 in the world rankings will qualify, with no more than four golfers per nation per gender. Then the fields are filled with no more than two golfers per nation past the top 15 until the 60 mark is met.

MORE: USA Golf unveils Olympic uniforms

Golf Channel Live Schedule

Date Event Time (ET)
Monday, Aug. 8 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 9 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 10 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 11 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
MEN ROUND 1 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 12 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
MEN ROUND 2 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 13 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
MEN ROUND 3 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 14 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6 a.m.
MEN FINAL ROUND 6 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 15 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 16 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 17 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
WOMEN ROUND 1 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 18 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
WOMEN ROUND 2 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 19 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6 a.m.
WOMEN ROUND 3 6 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 20 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6 a.m.
WOMEN FINAL ROUND 6 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.