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

Simone Biles becomes honorary Houston Texans cheerleader

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The NFL’s Houston Texans may not be having the greatest season on the football field, but that hasn’t stopped one famous diehard fan from cheering them on.

On Sunday, Simone Biles took her fandom to the next level by debuting as an honorary Texans cheerleader before the team’s home game against the San Francisco 49ers.

game day feels ❤️ so excited to dance at the Houston Texans Game!

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officially ready for game day now that I got my legendary red boots 🏈

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As an added bonus, she also found time to take a few photos with NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon, a 7-foot center who once starred for the Houston Rockets.

This isn’t the first time that the Olympic gold medalist has teamed up with her hometown Texans. In 2016, Biles had the honor of announcing one of the team’s draft picks, and in 2015, she made this memorable entrance onto the field after a pre-game introduction.

Julia Marino, Jamie Anderson close in on Olympic snowboard team spots after second U.S. qualifier

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Julia Marino is within striking distance of qualifying for her first Olympic team. Sochi gold medalist Jamie Anderson is even closer.

Marino, who won four X Games medals in slopestyle and big air competitions last season, unleashed a frontside 720 and her signature cab double underflip to take second place in big air at the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, the second of five qualifying events for the U.S. snowboard slopestyle and big air team.

Anderson, who received high marks for her cab 900 but lower scores for her frontside 720, finished off the podium in fourth. Because she and Marino were the only Americans to reach the final at Copper though, Anderson still received a valuable haul of Olympic selection points and maintains the lead in the overall rankings.

Although Marino’s cab double underflip received the highest score of the competition, riders in big air are scored on their two best tricks. That enabled Japan’s Reira Iwabuchi to take the win with a pair of solid jumps that included a backside 1080. Silje Norendal of Norway finished on the podium in third behind Iwabuchi and Marino.

In order to be named to the U.S. Olympic slopestyle and big air snowboarding team, riders must have a minimum of one podium finish at the selection events. If more than three riders attain podium finishes, then the tiebreaker will come down each rider’s two best results.

Marino and Anderson have both fulfilled the minimum criteria for automatic selection. Either of them could clinch spots on the Olympic team for both slopestyle and big air by finishing as the top U.S. rider at any of the remaining selection events. The next event will be a slopestyle contest next week in Breckenridge, Colo.

Meanwhile, the men’s big air competition had the potential to shake up the U.S. Olympic rankings, as none of the podium finishers from the first selection event reached the final at Copper.

After a disappointing result in that first qualifier, which was held at Mammoth Mountain last winter, Chris Corning bounced back to finish as the top American in this contest and second place overall. He landed a frontside 1440 and a massive backside triple cork 1440 on his two jumps, putting his own stylish twist on both tricks with melon grabs.

Corning, the 2015/16 World Cup champion in slopestyle, has emerged as perhaps the U.S. team’s top hope for an Olympic medal this year in both men’s slopestyle and big air, events typically dominated by riders from Canada and Norway. Now that he has his first selection event podium under his belt, he can clinch a spot on the Olympic team by finishing as the top American at any of the remaining contests.

Also earning a podium result with a third-place finish was 19-year-old Chandler Hunt, who has suddenly added his name to the U.S. Olympic discussion.

The victory in men’s big air went to Norway’s Mons Roisland, who stomped a switch backside 1620 and a frontside 1440 tail grab on his jumps.

Three more selection events for the slopestyle and big air team still remain, and all three will be slopestyle events. Dew Tour will host a selection event next week in Breckenridge, then there will be a break until Olympic qualifying resumes in January with competitions at Aspen and Mammoth.

U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain Results

Men’s Snowboard Big Air
1. Mons Roisland (NOR), 182.75
2. Chris Corning (USA), 177.25
3. Chandler Hunt (USA), 159.00
4. Ryan Stassel (USA), 154.50
5. Max Parrot (CAN), 121.50

Women’s Snowboard Big Air
1. Reira Iwabuchi (JPN), 169.25
2. Julia Marino (USA), 160.25
3. Silje Norendal (NOR), 156.75
4. Jamie Anderson (USA), 151.50
5. Sina Candrian (SUI), 135.50

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings

Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle/Big Air
1. Red Gerard, 1400*
2. Chris Corning, 1200*
3. Chandler Hunt, 1160*
4. Kyle Mack, 1000*
5. Judd Henkes, 1000

Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle/Big Air
1. Jamie Anderson, 1800*
2. Julia Marino, 1600*
3. Hailey Langland, 1300*
4. Jessika Jenson, 1050
5. Nora Healey, 950

*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.