Nathan Adrian, James Magnussen

Pan Pacific Championships men’s events preview

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The U.S. swimming headlines have largely focused on the big four in recent weeks — Phelps, Lochte, Franklin, Ledecky — but, in Australia, the most anticipated event of the biggest meet of the year is a showdown between two other swimmers.

That’s U.S. Olympic champion Nathan Adrian vs. Australian World champion James Magnussen in the 100m freestyle at the Pan Pacific Championships, the latest head-to-head rivalry between the world’s two pool power nations.

Pan Pacs begin Thursday in Gold Coast, Australia, which is 14 hours ahead of Eastern time. NBC will have coverage Saturday from 3:30-4:30 p.m. ET and Sunday from 1-2:30.

Pan Pacs are not only the biggest meet for U.S. and Australian swimmers this year, but times from Pan Pacs and the U.S. Championships will also determine the U.S. team for the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia.

The men’s and women’s 100m free finals are on Friday night’s finals session, which starts at 5 a.m. Eastern time.

Pan Pacs women’s preview

In 2012, Adrian edged Magnussen for Olympic 100m free gold by .01, a sliver margin that drastically altered the perception of Magnussen, the biggest Australian swimming star going into London.

The Games were considered a failure for Australia’s “Missile,” who also led off the 4x100m freestyle relay team that finished fourth after winning the World title in 2011.

But Magnussen, 6 feet, 6 inches, stood tall again at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, winning the 100m free. American Jimmy Feigen was second, followed by Adrian in third.

Magnussen is the world’s fastest man in the 100m free this year, but his status as favorite is a bit in doubt due to a “pretty dodgy” back.

His biggest threat is one of his teammates, Cameron McEvoy, who is the second-fastest man this year. Adrian is third, his best time .49 of a second slower than Magnussen’s world lead.

Michael Phelps: The most decorated Olympian of all time is swimming his first international meet since the London Olympics.

It should be a busy one for Phelps once he gets going in the 100m free on Friday, followed by the 100m butterfly Saturday and the 200m individual medley Sunday. He could also swim in relays.

Remember, Phelps won zero events at the U.S. Championships two weeks ago, but he clocked the world’s fastest time in the 100m fly this year (in the prelims).

He is not the favorite in the 100m free (Magnussen, Adrian) or the 200m IM (Ryan Lochte, Kosuke Hagino).

But Phelps may just be the man in the 100m fly, where he will be out to flip his finish from Nationals. He lost to Tom Shields by .01 in the final in Irvine, Calif., two weeks ago. Unfortunately, the field is lacking the reigning World champion in the event, Chad le Clos, who is not on South Africa’s roster in Gold Coast.

The key for Phelps — and all U.S. swimmers — will be to see who has the top two times per event over finals races from Nationals and Pan Pacs. The top two make the 2015 Worlds team in each of those Olympic events. The top four (and perhaps fifth and sixth) in the 100m free and 200m free make it to Worlds for relays.

Ryan Lochte: Phelps’ longtime rival is entered in the same three events, plus the 200m free and 200m backstroke. It’s another test for a man who suffered a major knee injury in November, aggravated it in February and again in April.

Lochte said last week that the knee was strong but not “110 percent.”

Like Phelps, Lochte is not expected to challenge Magnussen and Adrian in the 100m free. He’s also not among the world’s fastest in the 200m free this year.

He appears likelier to vie for wins in the 200m back and, even moreso, the 200m IM, the only event he won at Nationals. The young Japanese star Hagino has been more than a second faster than Lochte in the 200 IM this year, though.

Here’s the full schedule of men’s events in Gold Coast:

Thursday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

200m freestyle
100m backstroke
200m butterfly
1500m freestyle

Friday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Thursday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

100m breaststroke
100m freestyle
400m individual medley
4x200m freestyle relay

Saturday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Friday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

100m butterfly
400m freestyle
200m backstroke
4x100m freestyle relay

Sunday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Saturday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

800m freestyle
200m individual medley
50m freestyle
200m breaststroke
4x100m medley relay

Phelps a vocal leader in Australia

Vera Caslavska, gymnastics legend, dies at 74

Vera Caslavska
AP
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PRAGUE (AP) — Věra Čáslavská, the second-most decorated Olympic female gymnast who stood up against the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, has died. She was 74.

The Czech Olympic Committee on Wednesday said Čáslavská died in Prague late Tuesday. Čáslavská had cancer of the pancreas and underwent surgery on May 15 last year, the committee previously said. She later had chemotherapy treatment.

Čáslavská won 11 Olympic medals, including seven golds, combined in the 1960, 1964 and 1968 Olympics.

She was mentioned many times going into and during the Rio Olympics as the last woman to win back-to-back Olympic all-around titles, which Gabby Douglas was attempting to duplicate.

Only former Soviet star Larisa Latynina earned more Olympic medals among female gymnasts than Čáslavská, who doubles as the most decorated Czech Olympian of all time.

Born on May 3, 1942 in Prague, Čáslavská claimed her first Olympic medal — a silver — at the 1960 Rome Games.

Her golden era began four years later.

She won three Olympic golds in Tokyo in 1964 — in the vault, the individual all-round and the balance beam — to establish herself as a major force in her sport.

Four years later, Čáslavská became an outspoken supporter of Alexander Dubček‘s liberal reforms meant to lead toward democratization of communist Czechoslovakia, an era known as the Prague Spring. She signed the Two Thousand Words manifesto published in June 1968 that called for deeper pro-democratic changes. That document angered the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, who ordered the Warsaw Pact’s troops to invade Czechoslovakia to crush the reforms in August.

Facing a possible persecution, Čáslavská went into hiding and was allowed only just before the Mexico Olympics to join the national gymnastics team.

She triumphed in four disciplines, winning the Olympic gold in the vault, the individual all-round, the floor exercises and the uneven bars. With another two silver medals at the 1968 Games, she became the top medalist and was later named the world’s female athlete of the year.

For many, she will be remembered for her silent protest against the Soviet invasion. Standing on the top of the medal stands alongside Soviet gymnast Larisa Petrik, with whom she shared the gold in the floor exercise, Čáslavská turned her head down and to the right when the Soviet national anthem was played.

Combined with her gymnastic performances, the gesture made her the star of the Games.

At home, Čáslavská faced persecution from the post-invasion hard-line Communist regime. It wasn’t until 1974 that she was allowed to work as coach in her country and later, in 1979-81, in Mexico.

After the 1989 anti-communist Velvet Revolution led by Vaclav Havel ended more than 40 years of communism, Čáslavská became Havel’s adviser and was elected the president of the Czechoslovak and later of the Czech Olympic Committee. In 1995-2001, she was a member of the International Olympic Committee.

She received the U.N.’s Pierre de Coubertin Prize for promoting fair play in 1989 and was also awarded the Olympic Order.

In a personal setback, her marriage with Josef Odložil, an athlete whom she married during the Mexico Games, ended in the 1980s. Her son, Martin, was found guilty of assault that led to his father’s death in 1993 and was sentenced to four years in prison. Although he was soon pardoned by Havel, Čáslavská had to undergo treatment for depression and withdrew temporarily from the public life.

MORE: Simone Biles’ longtime coach takes new job

Amy Purdy, Winter Paralympic medalist, to perform at Rio Paralympic Opening Ceremony

Amy Purdy
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Amy Purdy made her name as a snowboardcross bronze medalist at the Sochi Paralympics and runner-up on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2014.

In September, she’ll combine both.

Purdy will perform as a dancer in the Rio Paralympic Opening Ceremony on Sept. 7, in addition to being an NBC reporter during the Games.

She was told her performance will be four to five minutes. On “Dancing with the Stars,” her performances were about 90 seconds, she said. She traveled to Rio for a week of rehearsals in July.

Purdy, 36, survived bacterial meningitis in 1999 but lost both her legs and later needed a kidney from her father at age 20.

“I’m most excited about the concept of this dance,” Purdy said. “Just the idea of man versus machine. A lot of times we feel really limited because of our prosthetics. But this dance, hopefully, will kind of shatter those borders a little bit and allow me to move my body in a way I haven’t done before.”

Purdy is an innovator. She built her own snowboard and is seen as instrumental in getting her sport into the Paralympic program beginning in 2014.

A model, she’s been in a Madonna music video, a Super Bowl commercial, ESPN the Magazine’s Body Issue and competed on “The Amazing Race” in 2012.

MORE: Rio Paralympic broadcast schedule