Ryan Lochte

Recovered Ryan Lochte ready for full slate at Nationals

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IRVINE, Calif. — Ryan Lochte makes statements with his swimming and his fashion. When the 11-time Olympic medalist showed up at the U.S. Swimming Championships pool on Tuesday, his white T-shirt did a lot of talking.

“If you have a lane,” it read across his chest.

“You have a shot,” across the back.

That’s been an issue for Lochte since he won four medals, three golds, at the season-climaxing World Championships in Barcelona last summer. Three months later, he tore his left MCL and sprained his ACL after a teenage girl ran to him, he caught her and they both fell on Nov. 2.

Lochte, who switched training bases from Gainesville, Fla., to Charlotte one month before the mishap, has raced sparingly since. He returned too quickly for a meet in February and then found out he retore the knee in April.

The fun-loving newly minted 30-year-old opened his pre-meet press conference with the following straight-faced statement:

“My knee has been hurting a lot lately, and I think I’m going to pull out of Nationals and just call it an end of the year,” he said, pausing only slightly for effect. “No, just joking.”

Lochte has his usual full slate of events lined up for the U.S. Championships beginning Wednesday, a qualifying meet for the the two biggest international meets between now and the Rio 2016 Olympics. Those are the Pan Pacific Championships, Aug. 21-24 in Gold Coast, Australia, and the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia.

He’s entered in six events, including all four that Michael Phelps plans to swim.

Truthfully, Lochte said his knee is 100 percent. He raced at a meet in July for the first time in three months, swimming against Phelps in three finals and getting beaten by Phelps in all three.

That return came as a shock to doctors. Lochte wasn’t expected to get back into the pool until a couple weeks ago, but he’s been swimming for two months.

“They said I should be in like a science book because of the way I recovered so quickly,” Lochte said.

Lochte said in April that he considered retiring during grueling injury rehab and the toughest several-month stretch of his career, which spans three Olympics. It was Phelps’ return from a 20-month break that helped motivate him to come back.

Lochte expanded on the rough times Tuesday.

“My body is not getting any younger, I’m falling apart,” said Lochte, the sixth-oldest swimmer out of nearly 1,000 at this week’s meet. “So there was a lot of doubt of ever being the same swimmer, but you know, everything happens for a reason, and maybe this is a blessing in disguise. Maybe this is what I needed. Maybe this is the rest I needed going into 2016.”

Will Rio de Janeiro be ready for 2016 Olympics?

Russia track and field boss: ’50-60 percent’ chance of Olympics

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Russia’s new track and field federation president said he thinks his nation’s track and field athletes have “between 50 and 60 percent” of a chance of competing in the Rio Olympics, according to Reuters.

The IAAF is expected to rule June 17 whether Russia’s ban from international track and field competition will be lifted before the Rio Olympics.

Russia’s track and field athletes were banned indefinitely in November by the IAAF, after an independent World Anti-Doping Agency report alleged widespread doping issues.

Russia was given criteria to earn reinstatement, and Dmitry Shlyakhtin, elected new Russian track and field chief in January, believes the situation has improved.

“A mouse would not be able to slip past us now!” Shlyakhtin said, according to Reuters.

Russia has recently come under more scrutiny following reports of widespread winter sports doping leading up to the Sochi Olympics and cheating during those Winter Games to avoid positive drug tests.

MORE: Yelena Isinbayeva to sue if barred from Rio Olympics

Yelena Isinbayeva to sue if barred from Rio Olympics

Yelena Isinbayeva
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MOSCOW (AP) — Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva plans to file suit if Russia’s ban from global track and field competition remains in place and she is barred from competing at the games in Rio de Janeiro.

“It’s a direct violation of human rights, discrimination,” Isinbayeva said.

Russia’s athletics federation was suspended by the IAAF in November after a World Anti-Doping Agency commission report detailed systematic, state-sponsored doping. The IAAF is due to rule next month on whether to reinstate Russia ahead of the Rio Olympics in August.

“In the case of a negative ruling for us, I will personally go to an international court regarding human rights,” Isinbayeva said. “And I’m confident that I’ll win.”

Speaking from her home city of Volgograd in a Skype interview arranged by Russian track officials, Isinbayeva held up four forms documenting recent drug tests she had passed — proof enough, she said, that she should be allowed to compete in Rio.

“Of course I’m angry because of this helplessness. All I can do now is train,” she said, adding that young Russian athletes’ careers could be destroyed if they have to wait until 2020 to go to the Olympics. “Four years, it’s a long time. Many of them can be, how can you say, broken.”

Isinbayeva’s comments came as a key adviser to Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said that Russia’s government supports making doping a criminal offense.

Adviser Nataliya Zhelanova told reporters at the ministry that the government hopes to get the law on the statute books for 2017, targeting coaches and officials who encourage or coerce athletes to dope. Fines or prison sentences were possible, she said, though this could change during the legislative process.

“It’s quite a long procedure but now everyone understood that we are in crisis and we have to do quick steps to fix the situation,” Zhelanova said.

In December, the IAAF asked the Russian track federation to consider lobbying for distribution and trafficking of doping substances to be made a criminal offense.

The new head of the Russian track federation maintained Russia was on track to meet IAAF conditions for reinstatement, but admitted to The Associated Press that a notorious training center was still part of the country’s track and field system.

The IAAF last year demanded the federation “immediately suspend all cooperation” with race-walking coach Viktor Chegin‘s state-funded center in the city of Saransk, which has been linked to more than 25 doping cases.

While Chegin was later banned for life, several of his top athletes are still competing and would be Olympic medal contenders if Russia is reinstated.

“I don’t rule out that (athletes are) living and training there,” Russian track and field president Dmitry Shlyakhtin said in an interview with the AP, adding that dozens of coaches who were part of Chegin’s hierarchy remained part of the federation’s system.

“If we shut down the Chegin center as a key point, we can’t stop and we won’t stop 75 coaches who are clean and transparent,” Shlyakhtin said.

Shlyakhtin said those coaches were working with children, but documents from this year’s national championships show top Russian walkers continuing to work with coaches from the main Chegin center. Officially, the athletes now represent local clubs and sports schools in and around the city.

Former Olympic gold medalist Olga Kaniskina, who lost her 2012 Olympic silver medal because of a doping ban, won the Russian 20-kilometer title in February in the fastest time recorded in the world this season. Federation documents list her as being coached by three trainers from the Chegin center and officially representing a children’s sports school, even though she is 31 years old.

“Kaniskina has finished her ban. She’s completely rehabilitated,” Shlyakhtin said. “Western people who are caught doping are not outcasts (either).”

Sergei Kirdyapkin, who lost his Olympic gold medal from 2012 due to a doping ban, is listed as being coached by Chegin center coaches, as is national champion Sergei Bakulin, who was stripped of his 2011 world championship gold. Both recently returned from doping bans.

Ahead of next month’s IAAF vote, Shlyakhtin said he was confident that Russia had made a significant effort to reform.

He said “90 percent” of the conditions for reinstatement had been fulfilled, including extra testing for Russia’s national track team in recent months and a shakeup of senior management.

Shlyakhtin suggested political interference, rather than a lack of reforms, could keep Russia out of the Rio Games, saying that countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, India and “especially China” deserved similar scrutiny on doping. He hinted that international officials turned a blind eye to some violations.

“The brakes are put on a lot of issues and they go away. Let’s all play fair according to one set of rules,” he said.

MORE: Russia’s top swimmer has meldonium ban lifted