Swimmers Franklin, Lochte return to the pool in Austin

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Missy Franklin is back.

The 17-year-old swimmer, who won four gold medals and one bronze at the London Olympics last summer, recently made waves when she returned to high school meets. Now she’ll make her 2013 debut at the national level at this weekend’s Austin Grand Prix.

Franklin will be joined by 11-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte and a host of other Olympians, including Chloe Sutton, Kate Ziegler, Nathan Adrian, Matt Grevers, Ricky Berens, Tyler Clary and Conor Dwyer. The meet will be contested at the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swim Center at the University of Texas.

Action starts Friday morning with prelims; finals will be Friday-Sunday night.

Here are three things to watch at the meet:

Low numbers
Typically at these Grand Prix meets, swimmers have to navigate a chaotic scene in the pool during warm-ups. There are so many swimmers that it’s a wonder collisions don’t occur. (Actually they do – Michael Phelps broke his goggles after colliding with Australian Cate Campbell at the 2009 World Championships.) We won’t see those kinds of problems in Austin this weekend, however. It’s a much smaller field at this meet, with some events like the women’s 200m breaststroke boasting just seven swimmers. Others like the men’s 200m freestyle has 38 entries.

We checked with USA Swimming, who told us the reason is that the time standards were lowered for Austin and for the next Grand Prix meet in Orlando. For the three meets after that, the times are a bit more lax – so we should see bigger fields then.

Men’s 100m freestyle
With nine Olympians in the field (including the top seven seeds), this will probably be the most exciting race of the meet. There’s Nathan Adrian, who won the gold medal in London by .01 of a second. Lochte’s there too, as is Jimmy Feigen, Garrett Weber-Gale, Grevers, Berens, Anthony Irvin, Dwyer and Charlie Houchin. That group owns a combined 31 Olympic medals.

Missy’s medals
How many races will Missy Franklin win? She’s entered in six events – 100m/200m/400m freestyle, 100m/200m backstroke and the 200m IM. The backstroke is her best stroke so figure she’ll win those two races. She’s strong in the 100m and 200m freestyle – let’s go with one gold and one silver. The 400m freestyle is a toss up. Franklin’s not known as an IMer but she’s not competing against a real strong field, so let’s assume she’ll at least win a medal (silver, for the sake of this blog post). That’s five medals – three gold and two silver. Agree?

Watch the action Saturday and Sunday night on Universal Sports TV.

Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”