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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Matthew Centrowitz redeems, Jenny Simpson upset at USATF Outdoors

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Matthew Centrowitz won his fifth U.S. 1500m title, while Jenny Simpson‘s run of four straight ended at the USATF Outdoor Championships in Des Moines on Saturday.

Centrowitz, who in Rio became the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champion in 108 years, emerged from a bunched pack in the final 200 meters to win in 3:43.37.

The 28-year-old returned to the top after being beaten by Olympic teammate Robby Andrews last year. Centrowitz struggled with injuries and illness in 2017, including an emergency-room visit with a viral infection. At 2017 Worlds, a listless Centrowitz was last in his first-round heat and said he was unable to get more than two straight weeks of healthy training all season.

Centrowitz crossed the Drake Stadium finish line Saturday afternoon, a comfortable .26 ahead of Izaic Yorks, and held his hand to his ear to mimic a phone call. He said he was sending a message for somebody, whom he would not name, to call him.

“Satisfaction out there,” Centrowitz told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “A little sense of relief, get back on top.”

Simpson, the Olympic bronze medalist, was beaten by Olympic 5000m runner Shelby Houlihan for the second time this season. The Sioux City native Houlihan surged past Simpson on the final straight, just as she did at the Pre Classic last month.

“I’m totally bummed, but I guess I have a lot of practice at losing as well as winning,” Simpson told media in Des Moines. “It felt a little weird being at U.S. Championships and getting outkicked.”

Houlihan won in 4:05.48, .73 ahead of runner-up Simpson.

“I feel like she’s way ahead of me,” Houlihan said of Simpson. “She’s someone I’ve looked up to since high school.”

An American record fell Saturday. Deanna Price took the women’s hammer record back from Gwen Berry with a 78.12-meter throw, the best in the world this year.

USATF Outdoors conclude Sunday on NBC (4-6 p.m. ET) and NBC Sports Gold (12:30-6 p.m.), highlighted by 200m, 5000m and 110m hurdles finals.

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Results | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

Also Saturday, Shakima Wimbley and Kahmari Montgomery won their first U.S. titles in the 400m.

Wimbley prevailed in 49.52, lowering her personal best by .66, tying the fastest time in the world this year and torching a field lacking the last two world champions, Phyllis Francis and Allyson Felix. Wimbley showed promise at the Pre Classic last month, finishing third behind Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Francis.

Montgomery clocked 44.58 to win, two weeks after finishing seventh at the NCAA Championships for the University of Houston. The men’s field lacked 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt and Michael Norman, the fastest man in the world this year who opted to race the 200m this week.

World-record holder Kendra Harrison repeated as 100m hurdles champion. Harrison clocked 12.46, off of her world record of 12.20. Olympic champion Brianna McNeal, who beat Harrison in Shanghai on May 12, was not in the field.

World gold and silver medalists Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs went one-two in the 3000m steeplechase. Coburn, the Olympic bronze medalist, earned her seventh national title in eight years by clocking 9:17.70. She pulled away from Frerichs on the last lap to win by .99. Nobody else finished within 15 seconds.

“[Frerichs] gave me a run for my money,” Coburn, who has been beaten by a countrywoman once in eight years, said on NBC. “This is going to be a battle that’s worth watching for years to come.”

In the pole vault, Olympic bronze medalist and world champion Sam Kendricks cleared 5.85 meters for his fifth straight U.S. title.

Vashti Cunningham repeated as high jump champion by clearing 1.95 meters. Cunningham, whose father and coach is retired NFL All-Pro quarterback Randall Cunningham, was 13th at the Olympics and 10th at the world championships.

Darrell Hill upset Olympic champion Ryan Crouser in the shot put, winning with a 21.57-meter throw. Hill improved to 3-17 against Crouser. Crouser came to Des Moines with the top 23 throws by an American this year out of his 24 total legal throws, according to Tilastopaja.org. But on Saturday he had five fouls in six throws. His only legal throw was 20.99 meters for second place.

NCAA runner-up Kenny Selmon won the 400m hurdles from lane eight against a field that lacked Olympic champion Kerron Clement. Selmon clocked 48.21 seconds, three tenths ahead of TJ Holmes, who was fifth at 2017 Worlds.

The favorites advanced to Sunday’s semifinals in the 200m and 110m hurdles, including 400m indoor world-record holder Michael Norman and Olympian Ameer Webb in the 200m and world-record holder Aries Merritt, Olympian Devon Allen and NCAA champion Grant Holloway in the hurdles.

MORE: Lyles, Norman, green teens at Olympic Trials, now stars at USATF Champs

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U.S. Open changes seeding policy for pregnancies

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Serena Williams will learn Wednesday if she is seeded at Wimbledon, while a top U.S. Open official is already reportedly saying its seeds will be revised if a return from pregnancy comes into play, though not naming Williams specifically.

The U.S. Open, the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament of the year in September, would “revise the seedings if pregnancy is a factor in the current rankings of a player,” USTA president and chairwoman Katrina Adams said, according to The New York Times.

Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, was not given one of 32 seeds at the French Open in May, her first Grand Slam since coming back from having daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jron Sept. 1.

Her ranking had fallen to No. 453 due to maternity leave. She could enter the major tournament due to the WTA’s protected ranking rule, but it was up to Grand Slam organizers whether to give her a seed.

Williams reached the semifinals of her last eight U.S. Opens, missing the New York event in 2010 and 2017. She has won it six times. Her current ranking is No. 183.

If Williams neither makes a deep Wimbledon run nor plays plenty of summer hard-court matches, it’s likely the U.S. Open will have to decide whether to give her a seed. It sounds like organizers are prepared to.

“It’s the right thing to do for these mothers that are coming back,” Adams said, according to the report, adding that players should not be “penalized” for starting a family.

Williams reached the fourth round of the French Open in her first Grand Slam since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant (but before the world learned). She withdrew before a round of 16 showdown with Maria Sharapova due to a pectoral muscle injury and has not played in a tournament since.

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