Ryan Lochte

Swimming world championships preview; men’s storylines

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1. Ryan Lochte’s busiest program ever. Like Missy Franklin, Lochte is going above and beyond his Olympic slate of six events. He’s planning four individual swims in Barcelona — the 200-meter backstroke, 200 freestyle, 200 individual medley and a new addition, the 100 butterfly — in addition to three relays.

Also like Franklin, that sets Lochte up for a potential three-swim night on one of the finals sessions. It’s something Lochte has never attempted at a major international meet. The now-retired Michael Phelps used to drop events to avoid triples.

“My body needed to recharge (after the Olympics),” Lochte said of his post-London break in a press conference Friday. “Now I’m back in the water, and I’m excited to race.”

The busy night will be Aug. 2, the day before his 29th birthday, if Lochte sticks in every event and advances out of heats. The Aug. 2 night session in Barcelona is scheduled for noon-2:30 Eastern Time.

That night’s second event is the final of the 200 back. Lochte is the defending world champion and ranked No. 3 in the world this year (1:55.16) behind two Japanese. Top-ranked Ryosuke Irie (1:54.72), silver medalist behind Tyler Clary in London, will pose a threat here, especially if Lochte isn’t in peak shape.

Four events later, Lochte would presumably swim in the 100 butterfly semis. Phelps won this event at the last three Olympics and last three world championships, never against Lochte though.

The medal picture is fuzzier this year. German Steffen Deibler (51.19) and co-Olympic silver medalists Russian Evgeny Korotyshkin (51.53) South African Chad le Clos (51.64) own the world’s three fastest times. Lochte is ranked sixth (51.71), and he came in second at trials to Eugene Godsoe (51.66). Expect Lochte to make the final, but his chances of medaling will be very dependent on what kind of form he’s in.

The final event Aug. 2 is the 4×200 free relay, which Lochte has been a part of in winning U.S. gold at every major international meet since 2003. It will be no cakewalk without Phelps this year, especially with France and Russia improving. Even if Lochte anchors, I don’t see him being given an insurmountable lead. He’ll have to work for gold, even after potentially doing two swims in the previous two hours.

“Any other year, my expectations would be definitely medaling and winning every race,” Lochte said. “I want to do that this meet, but it’s been an off-year. I really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Earlier in the meet, Lochte will be a medal favorite in the 200 free (but French Olympic champion Yannick Agnel is favored for gold) and the 200 IM (where Lochte is No. 1 in the world this year).

All eyes will be on Lochte’s footwear on the pool deck. He may break out these:

2. Nathan Adrian is bigger. Is he better? Adrian added 10 pounds of muscle after taking a short break following the London Olympics, where he won the 100-meter freestyle by .01 over Australian James Magnussen.

He’s dropped down to four or five pounds heavier than he was in London, dabbling in different training techniques. He’ll find out how well that works against loaded fields in the 50 free and 100 free.

Adrian is ranked No. 1 in the world this year in the 50 (21.47), just ahead of his budding rival Magnussen (21.52). Magnussen, however, owns the top time in the 100 (47.53), ahead of Adrian in fifth (48.08). Magnussen has said that Adrian should be considered the favorite in the 100. Adrian is also shying away from expecting gold.

“He is the returning world champ,” Adrian said. “And ranked No. 1 in the world right now, right? I’ll give that one to him. No one wants that (to be called the favorite).”

3. What can we expect from Yannick Agnel? It’s been a strange few months for the 6-foot-8 Frenchman. He and his French coach reached what he called “a point of no return.” So, Agnel moved to the U.S. to train with Phelps’ former coach, Bob Bowman, who is the head U.S. men’s coach in Barcelona.

It was announced in May that Agnel would only swim relays for the French, but this week it’s come out that he will indeed enter the 200 free. As head-scratching as it’s been for Agnel, he must be considered the favorite, even over Lochte.

Remember, Agnel won the Olympic title in the 200 free by more than 1.5 seconds over Sun Yang and Park Tae-Hwan, neither of whom will contest it in Barcelona.

source: Getty Images4. Watch out for a new U.S. star. Several Phelps questions were asked at the press conference Friday, but come the first events Sunday, other swimmers will have to start filling headlines.

“For the first time in, I think, several years, we have exciting young guys,” Bowman said.

I’m looking at one in particular, rising University of Arizona junior Kevin Cordes. The 19-year-old swept the 100 and 200 breast at trials and also came in second in the 50. He’s ranked No. 4 in the world in the 100 (59.99) and No. 2 in the 200 (2:08.34), and he’s only getting better at his young age.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cordes end a six-year gold-medal drought for U.S. men in the breaststrokes at a major international meet. On the other hand, he might still be a year or two away.

5. How will the 4×100 free relay turn out? The most anticipated event of every major swim meet has become this relay. We saw Jason Lezak‘s heroics in Beijing and then the French revenge in London.

“I do think this relay will be a big challenge for us,” Bowman said Friday. “There’s a very wide-open race. Any one of four teams, I think, could be in any position on the podium.”

Those four teams are the U.S., the defending world champion Aussies, the Russians and probably the French. This event is undoubtedly most important to Australia, whose yearlong swoon seemed to begin with a fourth-place disaster at the London Olympics.

It’s on the first night of competition, Sunday, and a gold-medal beginning for the Aussies would provide the confidence, especially for Magnussen, to get over the Stilnox controversy that spread over much of the last year.

On paper, Russia looks daunting, with four of the top eight 100 free swimmers in the world this year. But the times have not been spectacular all around, which makes predictions a bit tougher. Australia has three of the top 10. The U.S. has two — Adrian and Jimmy Feigen.

I’ll take Australia, and a motivated Magnussen to fire off a spectacular leg, for gold, the Russians for silver and the U.S. for bronze. But if previous years are any indication, predictions in this event are sure to go wrong.

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Dominik Paris, world champion skier, suffers season-ending injury

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Italian Dominik Paris, the reigning world champion in the super-G, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a training crash Tuesday ahead of this weekend’s speed races in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Paris crashed in super-G training not far from the hallowed World Cup venue, slipping into a curve and damaging his right knee. He also suffered a fibula microfracture, according to the Italian federation.

“My season ends here,” he said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “Unfortunately while I was sliding, the inside ski caught too much and the ligament broke. There is not much to add. In the next few days we will evaluate, together with the medical staff, how to proceed.”

Paris won his third Hahnenkamm downhill title last year and was one of the favorites for Saturday’s downhill, the most prestigious annual race in the sport. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage for “Snow Pass” subscribers at 5:30 a.m. ET.

Paris, 30, won a pair of downhills in Bormio in December among five total podiums this season.

In his absence, Swiss Beat Feuz and German Thomas Dressen lead the podium contenders.

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It’s Nathan Chen’s time at nationals for a feat 32 years in the making

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Nathan Chen can join Brian Boitano in U.S. figure skating history this week, a decade after holding Boitano in the palm of his hands with a program set to music from “Kung Fu Panda.”

Chen seeks a fourth straight national title in Greensboro, N.C. He would be the seventh man to do so since World War II. Five of the previous six won Olympic titles — Dick Button, Hayes Jenkins, David Jenkins, Scott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano from 1985-88.

Boitano remembered the first time he met Chen. He and Kristi Yamaguchi were compelled to leave their seats to find the teeny, tiny wunderkind who performed that program to the 2008 DreamWorks film.

“He was taking off his skates, and he probably came up to our waist,” Boitano said. “We knew when we saw him back then that he was going to be something special. He was really quiet. He’s still very quiet.”

In an interview last week, Chen focused on the present — coming back from a two-week cold or flu bug — rather than the perspective.

“I don’t like to typically think about that,” Chen said when asked about his streak. “It’s just different [from year to year]. It’s not really necessarily easier or harder.”

It is also different from previous eras. The last five men to win four in a row did it all in one Olympic cycle, then stepped away from competition after the Winter Games. That was back when turning professional meant the end of an Olympic career.

“It was kind of the norm back then,” Hamilton said. “After that it was kind of back and forth a lot [until Chen]. The business of skating changed so skaters could stay in a lot more, a lot longer. With all the money they brought in, they were able to prevent skaters from turning professional. So that brought in a different approach to nationals.”

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Both Hamilton and six-time (non-consecutive) U.S. champion Todd Eldredge could think of just one name to compare Chen’s dominance in the history of U.S. men’s skating: Button, who won the first seven national titles after World War II, plus two Olympic golds.

Button earned national and world titles as a Harvard student. Chen is on a two-season win streak while majoring in statistics and data science at Yale. Button was the first skater to land a double Axel and a triple jump of any kind. Chen was the first to land six quads in one free skate.

Eldredge coaches skaters at the same rink where Chen trains when Chen visits his Southern California-based coach Rafael Arutunian. He is awed by watching Chen working out. Though Eldredge owns more national titles, he never felt the massive favorite status that accompanies Chen.

Eldredge competed in the post-Hamilton/Boitano era, when national champions began competing over multiple Olympic cycles. Eldredge ebbed and flowed from his first national title in 1990, when compulsory figures were still around, to 2002, when he defeated Timothy Goebel, then known as the Quad King.

“Physically, the demands of the sport take their toll on your body,” Eldredge said. “It’s hard to maintain that same level for that length of period of time.

“[In] 12 years [since Chen’s first national title], when he’s 29 years old, is he going to be able to continue to sustain that?”

All of the recent top U.S. men competed in multiple Olympic cycles. The last multiple national champion was Jeremy Abbott, who earned two titles each in two different Olympic cycles. Abbott finished his career in a third Olympic cycle, placing fifth at the 2015 U.S. Championships. Abbott didn’t remember that Chen made his senior nationals debut that year, finishing eighth at age 15.

“For me, winning the third and the fourth [titles] were harder because I started thinking about winning,” Abbott said. “After the second one, I was heading into a new quad and I was two-time U.S. champion. Then my focus was, oh, I’m expected to win. So that was a harder mental game rather than just focusing on making an Olympic team. The expectation now that I’ve done this twice in a row, I’m expected to win again and again and again.”

Abbott and Chen came up in the era of the points-based judging system instituted in 2004.

“Now with the way the scoring system is very different [from the old 6.0], cumulative points, if you have a bad day as a national champion, that’s it. You can’t get the points,” Eldredge said. “[In previous eras], if a certain skater was, I’ll say politically supposed to be the champion, you got a higher score, and rightfully so in most cases.”

Chen has the benefit of going into competitions knowing the kind of advantage he has in base value points from his jumping arsenal. He won last year’s national title by 58 points. This international season, he is 80 points clear of the next-highest-ranked U.S. man, Jason Brown.

“I don’t think that the try-to-push technique is necessarily my goal here,” at nationals, Chen said. “Hopefully just to maintain my body, maintain my health and try to prepare myself for the second half of the season.”

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As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.