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.

Joseph Schooling eyes Michael Phelps’ world record at world champs

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Shortly after Joseph Schooling upset Michael Phelps in the Rio Olympic 100m butterfly, the Singapore swimmer made his next goal quite clear.

Take Phelps’ 100m butterfly world record.

Schooling repeated that claim after returning to the University of Texas for his junior season in November and again following March’s NCAA Championships, where he was beaten by Caeleb Dressel in the 100-yard butterfly.

The goal is apparently an imminent one.

Schooling said he believes he can break Phelps’ record at the world championships in Budapest in July, according to Channel News Asia. It would require lowering his personal best by more than a half-second.

“I’m looking forward to that race, and deep down I think if I do what I know I can do, if I execute everything well perfectly, I’d have a really good shot,” Schooling said Thursday, according to the report.

Schooling, 21, hasn’t raced a 100m butterfly since the Olympics, where he clocked 50.39 seconds. That broke Phelps’ Olympic record of 50.58 set at the 2008 Olympics. It’s the fifth-fastest time ever.

All of the top four times, including Phelps’ world record of 49.82, were set in 2009 at the peak of the high-tech swimsuit era.

“My dad told me 50.39 is a world record in a textile suit, but I want the world record on paper,” Schooling reportedly said less than a week after his Olympic title in August. “My next goal is breaking 49.8.”

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MORE: Phelps joins gold medalists in swim race, but no comeback

Aly Raisman calls out airport worker for ‘muscles’ comment

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Three-time Olympic champion Aly Raisman called out a male airport security worker who she says questioned whether she had enough muscles to be a gymnast.

Raisman posted on Twitter on Wednesday that after a female Transportation Security Administration worker said she recognized Raisman by her biceps, a male employee said, “I don’t see any muscles.” Raisman called the encounter “rude & uncomfortable.”

Raisman, who turned 23 Thursday, says she works “very hard to be healthy & fit.” She says that if a man can’t compliment a girl’s muscles, he’s sexist.

Raisman didn’t say where or when the airport exchange took place.

Raisman previously authored a powerful social media post about body image, shouting out “to all the boys from 5th-9th grade who made fun of me for being ‘too strong’” in November.

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