Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin 4th in 100 free, win Pan Pacs relay golds

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Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin didn’t win individual medals at the Pan Pacific Championships on Friday, but they were part of U.S. relay victories.

Phelps, in his first international meet since the London Olympics, and Franklin, swimming three days after being helped off the pool deck with back spasms, were both fourth in 100m freestyle finals won by Aussies in rainy Gold Coast, Australia.

They were part of a U.S. 4x200m free relay sweep, though.

“Being able to get back on the podium — it feels amazing,” Phelps said, according to The Associated Press. “It’s a good first day. Good first international meet back. There’s no better way to finish this, lovely, rainy night then being able to step up with your teammates and win a gold medal.”

Phelps clocked 48.51 seconds in the 100m free final, an event he doesn’t usually contest at major international meets. He finished behind Australian national champion Cameron McEvoy (47.82), U.S. Olympic champion Nathan Adrian (48.30) and Australian World champion James Magnussen (48.36).

The men’s 100m free was billed as a marquee race at the four-day meet. Adrian and Magnussen, separated by .01 at the Olympics, were expected to vie for the gold.

“I’m not surprised that [McEvoy] won,” Adrian told reporters in Gold Coast. “I’m a little surprised that I went a little slow. … It’s silly to think that it’s just going to be James and I winning every time. … It’s definitely not a two-man game anymore.”

Phelps came back with Ryan LochteConor Dwyer and Matt McLean to barely win the 4x200m free relay over Japan, by .13. The Japanese lead after each of the first three legs before McLean edged ahead on anchor.

Franklin went 53.87 in the women’s 100m free, won by Australian World champion Cate Campbell in 52.72. Campbell’s winning margin, over her silver medalist sister, was a cushioned .73. American Simone Manuel took bronze.

Franklin joined Katie LedeckyShannon Vreeland and Leah Smith to capture the 4x200m free relay by 1.07 seconds over Australia.

“I think we take a lot of ownership with this event,” Franklin said. “They’re not something we like to lose.”

Ledecky, the 200m and 800m free gold medalist Thursday, erased a 1.2-second deficit on the anchor leg for the comeback win.

“I knew I had to sort of think of it as my individual race and not swim it too fast in the first 100,” Ledecky said.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will have Pan Pacs 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.

Phelps may have missed the 100m free medals, but he earned a spot on the 2015 Worlds team as the second fastest American behind Adrian. Franklin, too, can swim the 100m free at Worlds, with Manuel.

In other events, U.S. Olympians Jessica Hardy and Elizabeth Beisel won the 100m breast and 400m individual medley, respectively.

Japan notched wins in the men’s 100m breast (Yasuhiro Koseki) and men’s 400m IM (Kosuke Hagino).

American Kevin Cordes was the top qualifier into the 100m breast final but was disqualified after he appeared to try to take off his goggles during the final, likely because they filled with water.

Men’s 100m Free
1. Cameron McEvoy (AUS) 47.82
2. Nathan Adrian (USA) 48.30
3. James Magnussen (AUS) 48.36
4. Michael Phelps (USA) 48.51

Women’s 100m Free
1. Cate Campbell (AUS) 52.72
2. Bronte Campbell (AUS) 53.45
3. Simone Manuel (USA) 53.71
4. Missy Franklin (USA) 53.87

Men’s 100m Breast
1. Yasuhiro Koseki (JPN) 59.62
2. Felipe Silva (BRA) 59.82
3. Glenn Snyders (NZL) 1:00.18
DQ. Kevin Cordes (USA)

Women’s 100m Breast
1. Jessica Hardy (USA) 1:06.74
2. Kanako Watanabe (JPN) 1:06.78
3. Breeja Larson (USA) 1:06.99

Men’s 400m IM
1. Kosuke Hagino (JPN) 4:08.31
2. Tyler Clary (USA) 4:09.03
3. Chase Kalisz (USA) 4:09.62

Women’s 400m IM
1. Elizabeth Beisel (USA) 4:31.99
2. Maya DiRado (USA) 4:35.37
3. Keryn McMaster (AUS) 4:38.84

Men’s 4x200m Free Relay
1. USA 7:05.17
2. Japan 7:05.30
3. Australia 7:08.55

Women’s 4x200m Free Relay
1. USA 7:46.40
2. Australia 7:47.47
3. Canada 7:58.03

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Weak Brazilian ties get some athletes into Rio Games

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 19: Miriam Nagl of Germany competes during day two of the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open at The Grange GC on February 19, 2016 in Adelaide, Australia.  (Photo by Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)
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SAO PAULO (AP) — Rugby player Isadora Cerullo never lived in Brazil. Fencer Ghislain Perrier speaks very little Portuguese. Golfer Miriam Nagl played abroad most of her life.

They’ll still be parading under the host nation’s flag at the opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro Games come Aug. 5.

Cerullo, Perrier and Nagl are among several athletes who will be fulfilling their Olympic dream because of Brazil’s shortage of athletes in sports it automatically qualified for as host. Without an Olympic tradition to fall back on, the country was left to rapidly recruit an international band of athletes for events such as field hockey, golf, rowing, wrestling and rugby.

Their ties, in many cases, are weak. Some have lived away for most of their lives but were born in Brazil. Some were born abroad but have Brazilian parents or grandparents. Some had almost no links to the country but were hired by local federations and became naturalized.

“I would have very slim chances of participating in the Olympics if I hadn’t made the switch to play for Brazil,” said Nagl, a Brazilian-born golfer who left the country when she was 8 years old and had always played for Germany. “When this idea came up and I realized that I had a chance to make it to Rio, I started dreaming about being at the Maracana Stadium during the opening ceremony.”

The 35-year-old Nagl, who plays in the Ladies European Tour and is No. 445 in the women’s world rankings, said she hadn’t given much thought about representing her native country until being contacted by golf officials after Rio was awarded the games.

“By making the switch, I gave myself a chance to be in the Olympics, but I also thought about how this could be good for Brazil, about how I could become a good ambassador and help the game develop,” she said.

Brazil had only two foreign athletes in its delegation at the 2012 London Games – American basketball player Larry Taylor and Chinese table-tennis player Gui Lin. Now about 20 “international” athletes will be taking advantage of the many extra spots available for the home nation in Rio.

Rugby is one of the sports in which Brazil lacks tradition but will compete anyway. Hoping to put on a good show in front of the home fans, the local federation launched a worldwide campaign – entitled “Brazilian Rugby Players Wanted” – to attract athletes playing abroad.

A few who responded to the campaign will be in Rio, including American-born Cerullo, who has Brazilian parents but had never visited the country until after contacting Brazilian rugby officials. Two Brazilian brothers who lived in France also made it to the team, as well a Brazilian-born athlete who lived and played in Argentina. England-born Juliano Fiori and France-born Laurent Bourda-Couhet, who has a Brazilian mother, will also play.

Brazil’s fencing team earned eight additional spots as hosts and included three international players for the games. Among them are Perrier, who was born in Brazil but left the country as a baby after being adopted by a French family, and Italian-born Nathalie Moellhausen, who competed for Italy at the 2012 London Games but chose to be with the hosts in Rio to fulfill the wish of her Brazilian grandmother.

“I don’t have many connections to Brazil,” admitted Perrier, who has lived and trained in France most of his life. “I spent vacation in Brazil a few times, but I know only a few people there.”

The fencing team will also have Marta Baeza, who was born in Brazil but had been competing for Spain, and reserve team member Katherine Miller, who was born in the United States.

Another foreigner, Hungary’s Emese Takacs, tried to make the team but she was dropped after her citizenship was contested in court by a Brazilian athlete who had been left out of the squad. Takacs was accused of faking her marriage in Brazil to become naturalized.

“She had the legal documents but we always suspected it was a fraud,” the Brazilian who had lost her spot, Amanda Simeao, told local media. “She was married to a Brazilian but had a boyfriend in Hungary.”

Takacs denied wrongdoing but lost her battles in court.

Another controversial case was water polo goalkeeper Slobodan Soro, a Serbian whose naturalization process was approved just before the games. He and center Josip Vrlic of Croatia were hired to play for Brazil despite not having direct connections to the country. They were among five foreign-born players picked to play for the Brazilian team by Croat coach Ratko Rudic, the gold medalist with Croatia at the London Games.

The others were Spain’s Adria Delgado, who has a Brazilian father; Italian-born Paulo Salemi, son of a Brazilian mother; and Cuban Ives Gonzalez, who is married to a Brazilian. The team also has Brazilian-born Felipe Perrone, who used to play for the Spanish national team before joining the hosts for the Rio Games.

“They have been playing for Brazilian clubs for some time, this is not something that just happened,” said Ricardo Cabral, who is in charge of Brazil’s water polo team. “We created an Olympic project to help the sport develop and make Brazil more competitive. Because of the Olympics in Rio, there is more investment available and we want to take advantage of that to give the sport more visibility.”

MORE: Rio Olympics schedule highlights, daily events to watch

IOC to rule Sunday on Russia’s status for Rio

MONACO - DECEMBER 08:  IOC President Thomas Bach hold a press conference during the 127th IOC Session at the Grimaldi Forum on December 8, 2014 in Monaco, Monaco.  (Photo by Tony Barson/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) — As the clock ticks down to the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, international Olympic leaders are facing a seminal moment.

With the credibility of the fight against doping on the line and the image of the Olympic movement at stake, the IOC will hold a crucial meeting Sunday to consider whether to ban Russia entirely from the Rio Games because of systematic, state-sponsored cheating.

Short of a blanket ban, the International Olympic Committee could leave it to individual sports federations to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to allow Russian athletes in their events.

The doping crisis represents one of the Olympic movement’s biggest challenges since the boycott era of the 1980s, and how it plays out may well define Thomas Bach‘s IOC presidency.

The IOC’s ruling 15-member executive board will meet via teleconference to weigh the unprecedented step of excluding Russia as a whole from the games. Bach and others have spoken of a need to balance “individual justice” versus “collective punishment.”

Time is of the essence, with the games set to open in Rio on Aug. 5.

Russia’s track and field athletes have already been banned by the IAAF, the sport’s governing body, following allegations of state-directed doping – a decision that was upheld Thursday by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Calls for a complete ban on Russia have intensified since Monday when Richard McLaren, a Canadian lawyer commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, issued a report accusing Russia’s sports ministry of overseeing a vast doping program of its Olympic athletes.

McLaren’s investigation, based heavily on evidence from former Moscow doping lab director Grigory Rodchenkov, affirmed allegations of brazen manipulation of Russian urine samples at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, but also found that state-backed doping had involved 28 summer and winter sports from 2011 to 2015.

Bach said the findings showed a “shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sports and on the Olympic Games” and declared the IOC “will not hesitate to take the toughest sanctions available against any individual or organization implicated.”

Russia also faces a possible ban from the Paralympic Games. Citing evidence in McLaren’s report of doping among Russian Paralympic athletes, the International Paralympic Committee said Friday it will decide next month whether to exclude the country from the Sept. 7-18 event in Rio.

The decision for the IOC is loaded with geopolitical ramifications.

Never has a country been kicked out the Olympics for doping violations. And Vladimir Putin‘s Russia is a sports powerhouse, a huge country seeking to reaffirm its status on the world stage, and a major player in the Olympic movement. Many international Olympic officials and federation leaders have close ties to Russia, which has portrayed the exclusion of its track athletes and calls for a complete ban as part of a political, Western-led campaign.

Putin, citing the U.S. and Soviet-led boycotts of the 1980 and 1984 Games, said the Olympic movement “could once again find itself on the brink of a division.”

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev wrote an open letter to Bach on Friday to plead against a blanket ban.

“I am worried and deeply upset by the possibility that in the case of a ban on Russian athletes competing in the Olympics, the innocent will be punished along with the guilty,” Gorbachev wrote. “For me the principle of collective punishment is unacceptable.”

Bach and other Olympic officials have repeatedly cited the difference between collective and individual punishment.

“It is obvious,” Bach said last week, “that you cannot punish a badminton player for infringement of rules or manipulation by an official or a lab director in the Winter Games.”

For many in the anti-doping community, however, the choice is simple: The extent of state-backed doping in Russia has tainted the country’s entire sports system and the only way to ensure a level playing field is to bar the whole team, even if some innocent athletes will lose out.

Former WADA president Dick Pound, a senior IOC member from Canada, accused Bach of dithering and failing to live up to his “zero tolerance” line on doping.

“You can’t have zero tolerance, but say, of course it’s Russia,” Pound told The Associated Press. “You have to go down trying to defend your policies, rather than shuffle the responsibility off in all other sorts of directions.”

Pound said the IOC will face a backlash if it decides against a full ban.

“I think it will go down very badly,” he said. “I think there will be an athletes’ revolt, a public revolt, maybe even the sponsors. You’ve got to take control of it, and show your leadership. The hesitation makes it looks worse and worse.”

WADA and many national anti-doping agencies and athletes’ groups have led the calls for a total Russian ban from Rio.

A coalition of 14 national anti-doping agencies sent a letter to Bach saying the IOC’s initial response did not meet his pledge of the “toughest sanctions available.” The group called on the IOC to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee and set up a task force that could allow certain Russians to compete under a neutral flag if proven to be clean.

“The scale, coordination and leadership of a doping system like this is arguably the most heinous crime possible against the Olympic movement,” Britain’s Adam Pengilly, a two-time Olympian in skeleton who serves as an athlete member of the IOC, told the BBC. “So, somewhat reluctantly, I am led to one conclusion: exclusion from Rio.”

Richard Ings, former head of Australia’s anti-doping agency, told the AP: “Any Russian Olympic sport athlete who had not been subject to independent testing in recent months should not be in Rio. It’s not about whether you were doping or not. That can’t be proved either way. What this must be about is, ‘Were you subject to compliant independent testing?'”

But the summer federations may not have all the information they need from the McLaren report to act. Some sports, such as gymnastics, were not cited in the report and feel there is no justification to ban Russians. And the federations all have different rules.

“This is our predicament,” said Andrew Ryan, director of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, which represents the 28 sports in the games. “We accept there is a collective responsibility and some IFs can address that, but the vast majority don’t have that within their rules. For the IOC, it is more simple.”

MORE: Mikhail Gorbachev writes to IOC president opposing Russia Olympic ban