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.

White, Kim lead Olympic snowboard team; gold medalist left off

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The 26-member U.S. Olympic snowboard team was named Tuesday, headlined by Shaun WhiteKelly Clark and Chloe Kim.

White, Clark and Kim — as well as Olympic medalists Jamie Anderson and Lindsey Jacobellis — automatically qualified for the team earlier this season.

The biggest news Tuesday was in the omissions. The following snowboarders failed to make the PyeongChang roster:

Hannah Teter — 2006 Olympic halfpipe champion
Seth Wescott — 2006, 2010 Olympic snowboard cross champion
Nate Holland — Seven-time X Games snowboard cross champion
Alex Deibold — 2014 Olympic snowboard cross bronze medalist

Teter, Wescott, Holland and Deibold all competed in Olympic qualifiers, but none ranked among the top four Americans in their events this season.

MORE: U.S. Olympic roster now more than 200 athletes

The full U.S. Olympic snowboard team:

Halfpipe
Kelly Clark — 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014 Olympian
Arielle Gold — 2014 Olympian
Chloe Kim
Maddie Mastro
Ben Ferguson
Chase Josey
Jake Pates
Shaun White — 2006, 2010, 2014 Olympian

Kim is the gold-medal favorite. White is among the favorites along with Scotty James of Australia and Ayumu Hirano of Japan. The U.S. women could sweep the podium.

Big Air/Slopestyle
Jamie Anderson — 2014
Jessika Jenson — 2014
Hailey Langland
Julia Marino
Chris Corning
Red Gerard
Kyle Mack
Ryan Stassel — 2014

The U.S. women could sweep either the big air or slopestyle podium, too. The U.S. swept the first Olympic slopestyle titles in Sochi with Anderson and the now-retired Sage Kotsenburg. Big air makes its Olympic debut in PyeongChang.

Snowboard Cross
Faye Gulini — 2010, 2014
Lindsey Jacobellis — 2006, 2010, 2014
Rosie Mancari
Meghan Tierney
Nick Baumgartner — 2010, 2014
Jonathan Cheever
Mick Dierdorff
Hagen Kearney

Jacobellis is a five-time world champion and 10-time X Games champion but owns just one Olympic medal, and it’s a silver. She finished second and then won the next two World Cups to start this season to clinch her fourth Olympic berth.

Parallel Giant Slalom
A.J. Muss
Mike Trapp

The U.S. last earned an Alpine snowboarding medal in 2006 and isn’t favored to make the podium in PyeongChang.

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VIDEO: Danny Davis suffers scary crash in Olympic qualifier

Larry Nassar to receive sentence Wednesday

AP
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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A judge said a Michigan sports doctor who assaulted Olympic gymnasts and other female athletes will get his sentence Wednesday, the seventh day of an extraordinary court hearing.

More than 150 women and girls have talked in court about being molested by Larry Nassar or had their statements read by others. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina will hear a few more Wednesday before sentencing Nassar in Lansing, Michigan.

He faces a minimum prison term of 25 to 40 years for assaulting victims with his hands. Nassar worked for Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, which trains the best gymnasts.

An 18-year-old, Emily Morales, said she believes in forgiveness. She looked at Nassar and asked him to apologize. He did. She replied with, “Thank you.”

Also Tuesday, 2010 World Championships silver medalist Mattie Larson described being sexually assaulted by Nassar and gave an unflattering portrayal of the Karolyi training ranch in Texas.

Larson said the ranch was very isolated (full video here).

She called it the “perfect environment” for Nassar and abusive coaches “to thrive.” USA Gymnastics last week said the ranch would no longer serve as the national training center.