Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte

Five takeaways from U.S. Swimming Championships

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IRVINE, Calif. — These U.S. Championships offered a glimpse of what could be in 2016 at the halfway point between Olympics. Here are takeaways from the past week to note as swimmers prepare for the Pan Pacific Championships:

1. The U.S. must go faster in Australia.

Katie Ledecky was sensational, Missy Franklin bagged three titles and Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte showed signs of returning to form. We’ll get to all of them specifically later, but it was surprising to see only two world-leading times set in Irvine — Ledecky’s world record in the 400m freestyle and Phelps’ preliminary clocking in the 100m butterfly.

Pan Pacs, which are in Gold Coast, Australia, from Aug. 21-25, are largely a U.S.-Australia showdown. In individual Olympic events, the U.S. is even, 13-13, in fastest times this year versus the Aussies, who had their Nationals in April and sent their best swimmers to the Commonwealth Games in July.

If Pan Pacs end up being that tight for golds, it will be a big swing from the last few major international meets. Australia sank in London, with one gold medal and 10 overall in the pool (the U.S. had 16 golds with 30 total). The Aussies improved slightly at the 2013 World Championships, but the Americans still bagged way more golds (13 to 3) and total medals (29 to 13).

2. What happens when Katie Ledecky gets challenged?

Janet Evans brought up an interesting point when discussing Ledecky on Sunday. Yes, Ledecky has been spectacular this year, breaking world records in the 400m, 800m and 1500m frees.

The 17-year-old can’t go personal bests and record breakers every time she swims, though. And now her times are targets for every other distance swimmer in the world.

At some point, maybe in the distant future, she will come back to Earth and plateau, at least for a period. Likewise, she will eventually lose an important race.

How will she respond to such adversity, Evans asked. Well, Ledecky has gone through a rough international meet before. She was ill at Duel in the Pool in Glasgow, Scotland, in December, finishing sixth in the 400m free and making one podium, second in the 200m free.

She’s seemed to rebound quiet nicely from that.

That’s a bit different from getting flat-out beat while fit and healthy, and at a major international meet, which Duel in the Pool is not.

Video: Ledecky breaks 400m free world record

3. Ryan Lochte has as much to prove as Michael Phelps.

You could make an argument Phelps was having a better meet than Lochte going into Sunday.

Neither had a victory, but at least Phelps had posted that world-leading 100m fly time before getting out-touched by .01 in the final. He also would have been near (perhaps better than) Lochte’s second-place time in the 100m free if not for that flukey missed turn.

Phelps is coming off a 20-month competitive retirement. Lochte, who is one year older than Phelps, is coming off nine months of knee problems, beginning with that overzealous fan encounter in November, then coming back too early in February and finally a re-tear of an MCL in the spring.

Remember, Phelps and Lochte faced off in three finals in a July meet, Lochte’s first in three months. And Phelps was faster in all of them.

Lochte edges Phelps in 200m IM

4. Missy Franklin’s dominance is being tested.

The bubbly rising Cal sophomore became the first woman to win six gold medals at a single World Championships last year. She goes into Pan Pacs ranking no higher than No. 3 in the world in her four primary individual events — 100m and 200m frees and backstrokes.

Franklin said after Nationals that she was still learning how to taper under a new coach, Teri McKeever in Berkeley. We’ll see if she’s timed it right at Pan Pacs, where she could face women who have been faster than her this year in all of her events.

Those are three Aussies in the 100m free, Ledecky and Aussie Emma McKeon in the 200m free, Aussie Emily Seebohm in the 100m back and three Aussies in the 200m back (though one, Meagen Nay, missed Commonwealths due to injury).

5. New (teen) talent has yet to fully break through.

Here are the U.S. swimmers ranked in the top three in the world in individual Olympic events — Franklin, Lochte, Ledecky, Phelps, Nathan Adrian, Tyler ClaryKevin CordesAnthony Ervin, Matt GreversTom Shields and Melanie Margalis.

Of those 11, eight are individual Olympic champions. A ninth, Cordes, won the 100m and 200m breaststrokes at the 2013 U.S. Championships.

That leaves Shields, who swept the 100m and 200m butterflies, and Margalis, who won the 200m IM, as the major international meet rookies.

Both were born in 1991. It appears as if the U.S. might not have a teen sensation splash on the international scene this year. In 2011, it was Franklin. In 2012, it was Ledecky. Last year, Chase Kalisz won a Worlds silver.

*Correction: An earlier version of this article failed to mention Ervin having one of the three fastest times in the world this year in an event.

U.S. roster for Pan Pacs

Nina Roth’s team wins Olympic Curling Trials despite violation (video)

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Nina Roth harbored hopes of curling in the Olympics ever since the sport returned to the Winter Games in 1998, when she was a Girl Scout.

It took nearly 20 years, but she’s now on her way.

Roth, a 29-year-old nurse from Wisconsin, led a four-woman team to win the U.S. Olympic Trials finals against Jamie Sinclair‘s rink in Omaha on Saturday.

Roth, the skip, plus vice skip Tabitha Peterson, second Aileen Geving and lead Becca Hamilton make up the U.S. Olympic women’s curling team. They’re all Olympic rookies. A fifth curler, an alternate, is expected to be added later.

Roth and Sinclair traded overtime wins Thursday and Friday, forcing a winner-goes-to-PyeongChang decider Saturday to end the three-game series.

In the ninth of 10 ends, Roth committed a hog-line violation that cost her the lead, failing to let go of her last stone before it passed a line that entered it into play.

But Roth scored two in the last end to win 7-6, thanks to Sinclair missing on her last throw.

One day when Roth was 10, and her mom was her Girl Scout troop leader, the troop tried curling at the local club in McFarland, Wis.

“I loved it and signed up for junior league immediately,” said Roth, whose dad was a recreational curler.

Roth showed early promise, winning two junior national titles. After watching the 2006 Olympic Trials in her hometown as a high schooler, she competed in the 2010 Olympic Trials when she was 20 (very young for a curler).

She has a tattoo of a curling stone and an American flag on her right foot.

Roth’s team is new and relatively young compared to the most recent U.S. Olympic women’s teams. They’re all between 27 and 30 years old.

USA Curling’s high performance program matched them together in June 2016.

Since, Roth and Hamilton regularly drove four hours northwest from Southern Wisconsin to Blaine, Minn., to meet Geving and Peterson for practices. They passed the time on Interstate 94 by singing along to early 2000s punk rock.

“Our favorite song, this is embarrassing, Weird Al [Yankovic‘s] ‘Albuquerque,'” Roth told NBC Olympic research in September of the 11-minute, 22-second epic. “Becca knows all the words already.”

Roth’s team lost to Sinclair at last season’s nationals but earned the worlds berth over Sinclair via better season-long results.

Roth’s team would finish fifth out of 12 teams at worlds. Not bad considering the last three U.S. Olympic women’s teams combined to go 5-22 at the Games.

Peterson, a 28-year-old pharmacist, is going to PyeongChang after being on the runner-up team at the 2014 Olympic Trials.

Geving, 30, made her first Olympic team at her fourth Trials.

Hamilton, 27, will be hoping older brother Matt will join her in PyeongChang. Matt is on John Shuster‘s team that plays a winner-goes-to-PyeongChang game Saturday night in Omaha (NBCSN, 7:30 ET).

The Hamiltons can also qualify for the Olympics in mixed doubles, a new event at the Winter Games. So can Roth with Kroy Nernberger. Those trials are in December in Blaine.

The U.S. has earned one Olympic curling medal, a 2006 men’s bronze. The best U.S. women’s finish was fourth in 2002. Curling was part of the first Winter Olympics in 1924 and every Olympics since 1998.

Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and Great Britain are the world powers in curling.

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MORE: It’s all about family as curling Hamiltons vie for Olympics

Papadakis, Cizeron break ice dance world record (video)

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The Olympic ice dance favorite is very much up for debate.

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir may be undefeated in their comeback, but French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron have now broken the world record total score twice in three weeks.

Papadakis and Cizeron, the 2015 and 2016 World champions, tallied 201.98 points to win Grand Prix France on Saturday.

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV Schedule

Two weeks ago, they became the first couple to break 200 points under an eight-year-old system (though scores have inflated overall during this stretch).

Now, Papadakis and Cizeron head into December’s Grand Prix Final for their first head-to-head with Virtue and Moir since last spring’s world championships.

Virtue and Moir, the 2010 Olympic gold medalists and 2014 Olympic silver medalists, took the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons off before returning to competition last season.

The Canadians went undefeated in 2016-17, including relegating Papadakis and Cizeron to silver in all three of their head-to-heads. The French haven’t lost to anybody else in nearly three years.

They will be joined at the Grand Prix Final by two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the U.S.

They’re likely to be joined at the six-couple Grand Prix Final by more Americans — three-time world medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue.

At this point, it looks like those three U.S. couples will battle for bronze in PyeongChang.

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MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

Internationaux de France
Ice Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 201.98 WR
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 181.85
3. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 177.24
7. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit (USA) — 154.14