Usain Bolt

Laureus World Sports Awards — who will win?

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It’s unlikely Usain Bolt and LeBron James will go head to head in athletic competition any time soon (or ever), but they’re up for the same honor at the Laureus World Sports Awards on Wednesday.

The annual Laureus Awards honor athletes from 2013 “who best demonstrate supreme athletic performance and achievement — such as consecutive or multiple world, continental, international or national and major championship titles or the establishment of world records or best performances.”

Here’s a look at each award that will be announced in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday beginning at 9 a.m. ET:

Sportsman of the Year Nominees
Usain Bolt — Won 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay at 2013 World Championships; IAAF Male Athlete of the Year
Mo Farah — Won 5000m, 10,000m at 2013 World Championships, broke European 1500m record
LeBron James — Won NBA Championship with Miami Heat; NBA MVP, NBA Finals MVP
Rafael Nadal — Won French Open, U.S. Open; ATP year-end No. 1
Cristiano Ronaldo — Scored 69 goals for Real Madrid/Portugal in 2013; FIFA Player of the Year
Sebastian Vettel — Won 13 Grand Prix races, including nine straight; Formula One world champion

Bolt has won this award three of the past five years — after his Olympic triumphs in 2008 and 2012 and his 2009 World Championships record-breaking performances. Bolt was magnificent in 2013, but not unbeatable and didn’t break any of his records.

That would seem to open the door for another nominee to take the crown this year. A major U.S. team sport player has never won the award, which has been given out yearly since 2000. Could James be the first?

Nadal earned Sportsman of the Year honors after winning three Grand Slams in 2010. He missed the Australian Open due to injury and lost in the first round of Wimbledon, which could hurt his chances.

Ronaldo beat out Lionel Messi for FIFA’s top honor in 2013, but Real Madrid didn’t win La Liga and bowed out in the Champions League semifinals. It was also a non-World Cup or European Championships year, and no soccer player has ever won the award.

The German Vettel looks to join countryman Michael Schumacher as the only drivers to take the award. Vettel’s 2013 was one of the greatest years, if not the greatest, in F1 history. He matched Schumacher’s records for most wins in one season and broke (or tied, depending on what statistics you believe) the record for consecutive wins.

Sportswoman of the Year nominees
Nadine Angerer — Goalie and captain for Germany’s European Championships winning team; FIFA Player of the Year
Missy Franklin — First woman to win six gold medals at a single World Swimming Championships
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce — Won 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay at World Championships; IAAF Female Athlete of the Year
Yelena Isinbayeva — Won pole vault at World Track and Field Championships
Tina Maze — Alpine skiing World Cup overall champion with the most points (2,414) by a man or woman in a single season
Serena Williams — Won French Open, U.S. Open; WTA year-end No. 1

Angerer, like James and Ronaldo, will try to become the first team sport athlete to win. She excelled in a non-Olympic, non-Women’s World Cup year.

Franklin did something unprecedented at the biggest swim meet of 2013, but it was fellow American Katie Ledecky who was named FINA Athlete of the Year. No female swimmer has won the Laureus Sportswoman of the Year.

Fraser-Pryce’s worlds sweep, arguably more impressive than Bolt’s, was a first for a woman. She’s looking to become the third straight track and field athlete to win Sportswoman of the Year, following Vivian Cheruiyot and Jessica Ennis.

It’s tough for an athlete like Isinbayeva to state her case on a list like this. The Russian can only win one title at any meet she enters as a pole vaulter. She won the biggest competition in 2013 in Moscow and already took home this award after her 2008 Olympic season.

Maze had arguably the greatest World Cup season in skiing history and added a World Championship in the super-G. Lindsey Vonn and Janica Kostelic previously won this award

Williams earned Sportswoman of the Year after winning the last three majors of 2002 as part of her Serena Slam and again after winning two majors in 2009. In 2002, she went 56-5 with eight titles. In 2009, she went 50-12 with three titles. In 2013, she went 78-4 with 11 titles after going 58-4 in 2012.

Here are nominees for the other four awards:

Team of the Year
New Zealand Rugby Union — Went undefeated in 2013
Bayern Munich — First club to complete the Champions League, Bundesliga, German Cup treble
Brazil Men’s Soccer — Confederations Cup champions
Bob and Mike Bryan — Won Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon doubles titles
Miami Heat — NBA champions with franchise-record 66 regular-season wins
Red Bull F1 —  Formula One Constructors’ World Championship winner, led by drivers Vettel and Mark Webber

Comeback of the Year
Yelena Isinbayeva — Won pole vault world title after taking bronze at 2012 Olympics
Rafael Nadal — Reclaimed the No. 1 ranking after missing seven months with a knee injury
Oracle Team USA — Rallied from 8-1 down to win the America’s Cup 9-8
Tony Parker — Returned from eye injury to help the Spurs to the 2013 NBA Finals, France to a European title
Ronaldinho — Helped Atletico Mineiro to the Copa Libertadores title at age 33
Tiger Woods — Regained world No. 1 ranking; PGA Tour Player of the Year

Breakthrough of the Year
Afghanistan Cricket Team — Reached first Cricket World Cup
Marc Marquez — Youngest MotoGP world champion
Raphael Holzdeppe — Pole vault world champion at 23
Nairo Quintana — Young Riders and King of the Mountains winner at 2013 Tour de France; second overall
Justin Rose — Won first major championship at U.S. Open
Adam Scott — Won first major championship at the Masters

Action Sportsperson of the Year
Jamie Bestwick — BMX Vert champion at Barcelona X Games
Bob Burnquist — Skateboarding Big Air champion at Munich X Games
Mick Fanning — Beat Kelly Slater for surfing world title
John John Florence — Received a perfect 10 for an Alley Oop at the Oakley Pro surfing event in Bali
Maya Gabeira — Lost consciousness and nearly drowned attempting to surf the biggest wave ever by a woman
Shaun White — 2013 Winter X Games halfpipe champion

Sportsperson of the Year with a disability
Marie Bochet — Swept the standing downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom, super combined at World Alpine Skiing Championships
Marcel Hug — Wheelchair racer won five golds, one silver at IPC World Track and Field Championships
Tatyana McFadden — First athlete to win six gold medals at a single IPC World Track and Field Championships and to complete a major marathon Grand Slam in one year
Sophie Pascoe — Five gold medals in five events with four world records at the IPC World Swimming Championships
Sarah Louise Rung — Four gold medals at IPC World Swimming Championships
Olga Sviderska — Seven gold medals at IPC World Swimming Championships

IOC opposes bid to trademark Olympic four-ring glitch logo

‘In Deep with Ryan Lochte’: Watch clips from Peacock film

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“In Deep with Ryan Lochte” is an hourlong journey of how a rambunctious Florida kid became the second-best swimmer of his generation (perhaps history). Of how he became an Olympic embarrassment. Of how he’s trying to regain respect by becoming the oldest male swimmer in U.S. Olympic history, this time as a father.

“After the Olympics, I read a headline, the worst person in the world,” Lochte says at the start of the film, now available for Peacock Premium subscribers. “Everyone’s been, well, where the hell’s Ryan Lochte?”

Lochte is back living and training in Gainesville, Fla., where coach Gregg Troy molded him into the world’s best swimmer what seems like a lifetime ago. Lochte attended the University of Florida in the mid-2000s and, by the end of the decade, supplanted Michael Phelps as the king of the sport before moving to different coaches.

“A lot of people ask me if Michael Phelps wasn’t swimming in the same era, you would be the Michael Phelps,” Lochte said. “That could be true.”

Phelps retired with an Olympic record 28 medals. Lochte owns 12, tied for the second-most for an American and for a swimmer and the most for any active athlete.

Before he matriculated at UF, Lochte was coached by his father, Steve, a junior college All-American who started the Daytona Beach Swimming club after moving the family from New York when Lochte was 12.

When Lochte earned his first individual gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, TV cameras caught his proud father in tears in the Water Cube crowd. Steve felt fulfilled, years after first telling his son that, to be great, a swimmer needed to break a world record and win an Olympic title.

From there, he started breaking Phelps’ records and beating Phelps in races, through the 2012 Olympics and Phelps’ first retirement.

Everything changed in 2016. Phelps was in the shape of his life for his last Olympics, winning another six medals. Lochte, slowed by a groin injury at Olympic Trials, made the team in one individual event and one relay and placed fifth in the 200m IM in Rio.

After he was done competing in Brazil, Lochte lied about an early morning gas-station incident after a late night of drinking. The spiral led to sponsors dropping him and a 10-month suspension. Then there was the alcohol addiction rehab stint. And the 14-month ban for an IV of an illegal amount of a legal substance, brought on by Lochte posting a photo of the infusion on his social media.

Lochte was planning to come back in full this year. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic halting sports, he must do it in 2021, looking to become, at 36, the oldest U.S. Olympic male swimmer in history.

“Yes, I made a mistake in Rio, and I need to earn the respect fro my fellow swimmers, from Team USA, from everyone in the world,” said Lochte, now married with two kids. “I gotta earn the respect. If I don’t make the Olympic team, they won’t see the change that I’ve made.”

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Wayde van Niekerk took 163 marvelous steps in Rio. One misstep in tag rugby changed everything.

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South African Wayde van Niekerk‘s talent turned out to be sprinting — to become the fastest 400m runner in history at age 24 in 2016 — but when the opportunity came in 2017 to play tag rugby with the nation’s other champion athletes, he did not pass it up.

“As a young boy, wanting to do a bit of sports and playing a bit of rugby with the legends of the country and so on, as you know, the rich history of South African sports,” van Niekerk said in a recent interview. “I got that privilege to rub some shoulders with such greats.”

The likes of not only rugby players, but also cricketer JP Duminy and soccer player Benni McCarthy.

Van Niekerk, two months after taking 400m gold and 200m silver at the 2017 World Track and Field Championships, took his place alongside them on the pitch at the 51,900-capacity Newlands Stadium in Cape Town. The celebrity game was a curtain-raiser for a match between New Zealand’s and South Africa’s national teams.

Fourteen months earlier in the Rio Olympic final, van Niekerk authored the perfect race from lane eight: a 43.03-second lap to break Michael Johnson‘s world record from 1999. He took 163 steps, according to World Athletics. He was expected to spend the rest of the Tokyo Olympic cycle trying to break 43 seconds in the 400m and cementing himself as the world’s best 200m runner, too.

In the rugby match on Oct. 7, 2017, one misstep and a twisted knee changed the trajectory of his career.

“This whole injury was so innocuous,” said van Niekerk’s career-long agent, Peet van Zyl, who was in the stands that day. “He tried to side step a guy, and he just stopped and he sat down. He got up again, and he walked off the field. He just said, ‘Guys, I’m done. I don’t want to play any further. I think I’m a bit injured.’ He walked off the field and all that. It wasn’t the case of him being stretchered off or anything like that. I think we thought maybe he’s just done something. It’s not too bad.”

Van Niekerk said it was quite painful.

“But I think you somewhat try and fight against the thought of it, or kind of denying your reality at that moment, hoping that it’s nothing serious, hoping that it’s something you can bounce back from really quickly, that it’s a bit of a knock, a bit of a twist,” he said. “The reality was totally different to what I was hoping it to be.”

Van Niekerk left the stadium and went across the street to the Sports Science Institute of South Africa for scans. He was with his fiancee, Chesney, whom he married three weeks later, and his stepfather. A doctor delivered the findings: an ACL and meniscus tear.

“He thought, he’ll be fine. It’ll be ready within a few months. and he’ll be able to start running again,” van Zyl said. “I think the actual severity of it sank in a little bit later.”

Van Niekerk sought another opinion, but surgery was inevitable. After his wedding, he flew to Vail, Colorado, for the operation.

“With everything that happened, now I think how silly it was, exposing my body to something like that and then putting my body in somewhat of strain that it has never trained itself [for],” he said. “I mean, rugby is a sport that my body is not conditioned for. That’s where my mind goes toward when asked about it.”

Van Niekerk began breaking the news of such an unusual injury for a sprinter, and through such unusual circumstances, to those around him. The toughest conversation to initiate was with his coach, Ans Botha, whose fame also skyrocketed in Rio.

“First of all, she’s not a fan of us doing any sport, obviously, away from track and field,” van Niekerk said. “Which is right. Which is also the advice I was obviously supposed to follow.”

Van Zyl said Botha was “totally against” van Niekerk participating in the rugby match.

“I wasn’t keen for him to do it, but growing up as a boy in South Africa, rugby’s almost like a religion,” van Zyl said. “She was really, really livid [afterward].”

Still, van Niekerk had time. Three years until the Tokyo Olympics. Two years until the next world championships. Van Niekerk, who became the world’s top sprinter with Usain Bolt‘s retirement, had to learn how to walk again. He was on crutches for about three months.

“There was a lot of doubt that creeped in the process,” he said.

Van Niekerk didn’t race at all in 2018, track and field’s fallow year without an Olympics or biennial world championships.

The rehab went as planned. First in Vail, then in Doha. Van Niekerk trained to return for the South African Championships in April 2019. But the week before the competition, he learned he developed a bone bruise in that right knee.

“He really pushed himself a bit too hard in the week before nationals just to see really what he could do,” van Zyl said. “We decided to pull him out because we can’t afford him to race when he’s not 100 percent.”

Van Niekerk missed the entire outdoor season, including the autumn world championships. He began the 2020 campaign early, with rust-busting meets in February, for a run-up to defending his Olympic title. Van Niekerk felt his speed returned.

“He was really healthy and in the physical and mental condition that he was able to start handling tough races again,” van Zyl said.

Then came the Olympic postponement, which means van Niekerk will go nearly four years between races at global championships.

When he raced in Rio, van Niekerk was an emerging star who just turned 24. The Tokyo Olympics, postponed to 2021, will mark his last global outdoor championships before turning 30.

It’s difficult to predict what he’s capable of. NBC Sports analyst Ato Boldon couldn’t think of another top-flight sprinter who returned from an ACL and meniscus tear.

Before the injury, van Niekerk in 2017 ran the fastest 300m in history and lowered personal bests in the 100m and 200m. He remains the only person in history to go sub-10 in the 100m, sub-20 in the 200m and sub-44 in the 400m.

Even without the injury, Boldon believes breaking his own 400m world record was a tall order due in part to the circumstances of Rio: van Niekerk had nobody in front of him in lane eight, and two past Olympic champions on his inside for motivation, even if he could not see them.

“You can look at a bunch of people that ran a PR in the beginning of their careers, like Bolt, or in the middle of their careers, like many other people, and never got back there,” Boldon said (Bolt’s PRs came at age 23; Johnson, the oldest man to win an Olympic sprint title, set that 1999 400m world record at 31). “Sometimes the planets don’t align again.”

After not seeing Botha for two months, van Niekerk and his coach have been reunited on the Bloemfontein track for about a month. The plan this summer: fly to Italy, where it’s warmer than South Africa this time of year, to train and see if there are opportunities to race. Van Zyl said last week they received clearance to travel but still needed to find a flight.

Can van Niekerk return to his pre-injury level? What about the potential mental hurdle of pushing that right knee to the limit in a major race?

Before van Niekerk, the heir to Bolt’s sprint throne was Jamaican Yohan Blake, who hasn’t returned to his record-teasing levels since major hamstring injuries in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, Blake’s coach (also Bolt’s coach) said that Blake was running scared, in fear of getting hurt again. In other sports, athletes faced that psychological obstacle, from Derrick Rose to Lindsey Vonn.

“The mental challenges that come with track and field is part of the process,” van Niekerk said. “Yeah, mentally, there will be additional this time around, thinking of my leg, but it’s now part of, basically, who I am as an athlete. I’ve been someone that accepts my circumstance very easily.”

Van Niekerk compares the comeback to his ascent. He began working with Botha in 2012 as a marketing student at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein. He was a 100m and 200m sprinter.

Van Niekerk raced his first senior 400m in 2012, according to World Athletics. He broke the South African record in 2014. He broke the African record in winning the world title in 2015, when he ran himself to such exhaustion that he was stretchered off the track and taken to a hospital as a precaution. He ran another .45 faster in Rio.

But Rio actually wasn’t perfect. Van Niekerk said he was in tears before the 400m final due to hamstring and back injuries.

“I know how it is coming from nothing to achieving greatness,” he said last week. “Being able to break a world record with so much uncomfort that I did go through back then just shows me that I have the ability to continue pushing through the pain.”

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