Five things we learned from USA Swimming nationals

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The first U.S. swimming nationals in the post-Michael Phelps era are in the books. The IUPUI Natatorium housed champion performances from USA Swimming’s two headliners (Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin) and potential breakouts (Kevin Cordes, Maya DiRado among them). As the world championships approach, starting July 28 at Barcelona’s Palau Sant Jordi, let’s look at the lasting storylines from Indianapolis.

USA Swimming world championship roster (PDF) | Full nationals results (PDF)

1. Ryan Lochte sets up for his busiest international meet ever. The 11-time Olympic medalist entered 11 events before Tuesday’s start, but he was never going to swim that kind of marathon schedule over five days. He scratched down to a handful (notably cutting the 400-meter individual medley).

Lochte didn’t set any records but fared well after busy post-Olympic dryland activities. He won the 200 freestyle, 200 backstroke and 200 individual medley and placed second in the 100 butterfly, an event he’s now expected to swim for the first time at a major international meet. He took fourth in the 100 free to qualify for all three relays at worlds.

Lochte will swim seven events in Barcelona if he enters everything he’s qualified for. He has never swum more than six events at an Olympics or world championships. The problem lies on August 2, when he’s slated for a triple in the evening session — the 200 back final, 100 butterfly semis and 4×200 free relay final.

2. Missy Franklin goes five for five. Franklin, 18, was the swimmer of the meet. She won four of her five events and placed second in the outlier, qualifying for worlds in every one. She set a nationals record in the 100 free and U.S. Open and nationals records in the 100 back and 200 back. The future Cal collegian also won the 200 free and was runner-up in the 50 back, which sets up a potential but unlikely eight-medal attempt at worlds.

It’s probably not going to happen because Franklin would have to swim three events on August 1 — the 50 back final, 100 free semis and the 4×200 free relay final. She’ll likely opt out of the 50 back and go with the same seven-event schedule she had at the 2012 Olympics, where she medaled in five of seven races.

3. Natalie Coughlin’s sprint switch a success. The most decorated active Olympian qualified for her sixth world championships by winning the 50 free. She also placed fifth in the 100 free to make that relay team in Barcelona. The results cemented Coughlin’s decision to focus on the sprint freestyles and drop her patented backstroke.

At 30, Coughlin is no longer seeking Lochte- or Franklin-like schedules (she won five medals in 2005 and in 2007), but she’s in position to add to her female record of 18 worlds medals in the 4×100 free relay. The 50 free will be tougher; she’s ranked ninth in the world this year.

4. Katie Ledecky and Connor Jaeger complete distance triples. Ledecky, 16, and Jaeger, 22, swept the 400, 800 and 1,500 free events. As impressive as that is, several have medaled at worlds in all three distance swims — but never an American since the non-Olympic men’s 800 and women’s 1,500 were added to the worlds program in 2001.

Both Ledecky and Jaeger showed improvement over last year’s Olympic trials, where they each qualified for one Olympic event. Ledecky, the 2012 Olympic 800 champ, set a nationals record in winning the 1,500 by 20 seconds. She bettered her 2012 efforts in the 400 free (from third to first) and the 200 free (ninth to second).

Jaeger was second in the 1,500 at the Olympic trials and sixth in London before winning in Indy. He also improved on a sixth-place finish in the trials 400 by touching first this past week. Can Ledecky and Jaeger medal in the 400, 800 and 1,500 at worlds? It’s certainly possible. Ledecky is ranked in the top three in the world in all three. Jaeger is ranked no lower than fifth.

5. Kevin Cordes leads worlds rookies. The year after an Olympics always produces new faces to track for the next three years, and this past week was no different. Stanford’s Maya DiRado (200 fly, 400 IM, 4×200 free relay) and open-water swimmer Becca Mann, 15, were among them.

Rising University of Arizona junior Kevin Cordes made the greatest impression, sweeping the 100 and 200 breaststrokes and placing second in the 50 breast. No U.S. man has won a world breaststroke title since Brendan Hansen in 2007, but Cordes, 19, will more likely than not end that drought. He’s ranked third in the world in the 100 and second in the 200.

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Grigory Rodchenkov, Russian doping whistleblower, still lives in fear

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His head covered in a black balaclava, adjusting dark goggles obscuring his eyes, Grigory Rodchenkov grows anxious if any part of his face can be seen.

Exposing Russia’s state-sponsorship doping scheme forced Rodchenkov into hiding in the United States five years ago. Revealing his current identity is still too risky for the chemist turned whistleblower, even in a video interview from an undisclosed location.

“It’s my security measures because I have physical threats to be assassinated,” Rodchenkov told The Associated Press. “And I want to live.”

Evidence from Rodchenkov that has already turned Vladimir Putin‘s Russia into international sporting outcasts continues to be used in cases against athletes along with data from his former laboratory in Moscow.

“Putin, he is quite logical. He separates opposition in two ways — enemies … betrayers,” Rodchenkov said. “I am falling in the betrayers’ category and all betrayers should be beheaded, cut, dead. So there is no doubt that he wants me to be dead.”

It has not deterred him from documenting his life story in “The Rodchenkov Affair: How I Brought Down Putin’s Secret Doping Empire,” revisiting how he conspired with his country to corrupt sports and then tries to show contrition by turning star witness.

Rodchenkov was the brains behind the Duchess cocktail of anabolic steroids and cover-up that turned Russia into a medal machine at the home Olympics in Sochi in 2014, topping the standings with 13 gold medals before disqualifications.

Russian spies ensured the Duchess would not be detected in doping tests as FSB agents used a hole in the wall of the Sochi laboratory to swap out the dirty samples with clean urine at night.

“For me, it was the end of doping control,” Rodchenkov said. “If we can do it, why others cannot?”

The doping cover-up extended beyond the Winter Olympics, into the Summer Games, Paralympics, world track and field championships and every major sport.

Some Russians were barred from competing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games and 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games as the International Olympic Committee remains opposed to blanket bans on countries.

So Russian athletes can still compete on the international stage if they can show they are clean, despite a four-year ban from major international sporting events being imposed on the nation last year for a fresh cover-up, including tampering with data gained from Rodchenkov’s former lab in Moscow.

“Sport is a part of Putin’s politics and showing to the West how good Russia is,” Rodchenkov said. “You cannot trust Russia. You cannot trust the certification authorities, and (anti-doping) laboratories cannot be allowed to be restored within the foreseeable future.”

Especially now, according to Rodchenkov, following constitutional changes allowing Putin to run for two more six-year terms, in 2024 and 2030,

“Until 2036,” Rodchenkov said, “no trust.”

But why now trust Rodchenkov as he presents a virtuous image at odds with his deep collusion with the state to cheat?

“When you are laboratory director and you have 50 employees and you are reporting to your high ups at the ministry, I could not even think about morals,” he said, dismissing concerns about any long-term damage to the health of athletes he allowed to be pumped with steroids.

“It’s extremely debatable and still ungrounded,” he said. “We see the generation who is now in the end of their lives of 70s and 80s, which are still … in a good physical condition after steroid programs.”

Go back four decades and Rodchenkov was starting out in a Soviet system learning how to manipulate doping controls.

“I had honestly, I’m sorry, but I had huge feelings of accomplishment,” he said. “Those athletes I helped to (win) were extremely talented and I could not understand, with the coach, how he or she may lose to others. The only explanation was doping. Then using some programs, we won gold medals. Honestly it was like leveling the field.

“Again, ‘morals’ is maybe vocabulary from American life but not from Soviet and Russian. In (the) Soviet (Union) it was the Soviet moral, in Russia there is no morals.”

It helps when the athletes are compliant.

“This is the huge problem of the militarization of Russia sport,” Rodchenkov said. “They follow orders, they are disciplined but they cannot tell the truth because they have given the oath to the Russian state and consider foreigners as potential enemies or even actual enemies. That’s why in Russia there are three ways – lying, cheating and denying.”

Rodchenkov has had to convince the world he has shed those ways and is coming clean. More of the cases he helped to cover-up could soon come to light after the World Anti-Doping Agency shared data – of samples tested up to 2015, and tampering that continued into 2019 – that was retrieved from the Moscow testing lab at the heart of the state-backed doping program.

“The problem is that the people from outside cannot understand what is going on inside sports,” he said. “Only whistleblowers could do that. But in corrupted countries you have to escape and we need to be preserved.”

For Rodchenkov that means living a life constantly in fear of being recognized as happened on a train in the US.

“It was a student,” he recalled. “I told him, `Forget you are meeting me, yes it’s me, don’t tell anyone.’ … I disappeared again.”

MORE: Russia track and field faces expulsion if it misses deadline

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Noah Lyles, more world champs race in Monaco; TV, live stream schedule

Noah Lyles
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Noah Lyles headlines a bevy of world champions slated for the first full-on Diamond League meet of the abbreviated track and field season, live on NBC Sports on Friday.

Monaco hosts the strongest fields of any meet since the world championships 10 months ago. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold air coverage on Friday at 2 p.m. ET.

Reigning world champions include Lyles (200m), Grant Holloway (110m hurdles), Donavan Brazier (800m) and Sam Kendricks (pole vault), and those are just the Americans.

Swede Mondo Duplantis, who twice raised the pole vault world record in February, takes on Kendricks in Monaco. Distance stars Sifan Hassan, Hellen Obiri, Beatrice Chepkoech, Timothy Cheruiyot and Joshua Cheptegei dot the fields, too.

The Diamond League season was due to start in April, but the coronavirus pandemic halted large-gathering track meets until now. Repurposed versions of Diamond League meets in Oslo and Zurich were held the last two months with fewer events and athletes and some entrants racing from different countries.

After Monaco, more Diamond League meets are scheduled for Stockholm (Aug. 23), Lausanne (Sept. 2), Brussels (Sept. 4), Naples (Sept. 17), Doha (Sept. 25) and China (Oct. 17).

Here are the Monaco entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

1:40 p.m. ET — Men’s Pole Vault
2:03 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
2:05 — Women’s High Jump
2:12 — Men’s 800m
2:17 — Women’s Triple Jump
2:19 — Women’s 5000m
2:42 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
2:50 — Women’s 100m
2:57 — Men’s 1500m
3:07 — Women’s 400m
3:13 — Men’s 5000m
3:32 — Men’s 200m
3:39 — Women’s 100m
3:47 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase

Here are five events to watch (statistics via Tilastopaja.org):

Men’s Pole Vault — 1:40 p.m.
The top field event of the meet includes the reigning Olympic champion (Brazil’s Thiago Braz), reigning world champion (Kendricks) and the world-record holder (Duplantis, who must be the favorite here). Kendricks and Duplantis already went head-to-head this spring, competing virtually from respective home pole-vault setups. Kendricks took their first six head-to-heads, back when Duplantis was a teenager, but the Louisiana-born Swede won all four of their indoor duels in February. Duplantis is the clear Tokyo Olympic favorite until proven otherwise.

Men’s 800m — 2:12 p.m.
The top four from the 2019 World Championships are entered. Brazier, 23, caught fire the last year. He broke the American record to win the world title. He broke his own American indoor record in February. Then, last month, Brazier took 1.33 seconds off his 1500m personal best. Nobody in the Monaco field has beaten Brazier since the start of 2018.

Women’s 5000m — 2:19 p.m.
Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan in world champion at 1500m and 10,000m, but she’s lost four of five meetings with two-time world champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya at 5000m. Hassan appears to be gearing up to race the 5000m in Tokyo, though, saying last month her eye was on a 1500m-5000m Olympic double had the Games been held this year. The 1500m preliminary heats and the 5000m final are separated by about 12 hours at the Olympics next year. Also in this field: three-time Olympian and former American record holder Shannon Rowbury, set for her first Diamond League race in nearly three years and since the birth of daughter Sienna.

Men’s 1500m — 2:57 p.m.
Last we saw Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot in a 1500m, he led wire-to-wire en route to a 2.12-second victory in the world championships final. Only one man has beaten Cheruiyot in three years, countryman Elijah Manangoi, who is provisionally suspended due to whereabouts failures. The Monaco field does include Norwegian Jakob Ingebrigtsen (second-fastest man of 2019), Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha (indoor mile world-record holder), Pole Marcin Lewandowski (world bronze medalist) and Craig Engels (2019 U.S. champion who was 10th at worlds).

Men’s 200m — 3:32 p.m.
Lyles and younger brother Josephus Lyles go head-to-head for the first time since January 2017. Noah has lost just one outdoor 200m since placing fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials coming out of high school. Josephus, primarily a 400m sprinter in his developmnt, last month took a half-second off a five-year-old 200m personal best. His new best time — 20.24 seconds — would have placed third at the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships behind Noah (19.78) and Christian Coleman (20.02).

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