Michael Phelps

Five takeaways from Mesa Grand Prix

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The most anticipated swim meet of 2014 (so far) is in the books, the fourth of six USA Swimming Grand Prix events leading up to the National Championships in Irvine, Calif., and the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia, both in August.

Michael Phelps and Co. next head to Charlotte, N.C., from May 15-18. Before looking ahead, here are five takeaways from the Arena Grand Prix at Mesa, Ariz.:

1. Michael Phelps looked great, but it was only a glimpse. Phelps initially entered three events in Mesa, his first meet since the 2012 Olympics, swam two and made the finals in one. The attention put on his comeback was great for the sport — a Brazilian media outlet even showed for his pre-meet press conference — but there wasn’t too much to analyze.

Phelps was the top qualifier into the finals of the 100m butterfly, an event he won at the last three Olympics. He was faster in those preliminaries than Ryan Lochte, the world’s best all-around swimmer. Phelps then took second to Lochte in the final, by a mere two tenths of a second.

Headlines said Phelps challenged Lochte in his first meet in 20 months, but truth be told Lochte suffered major knee injuries in November, and he came back too quickly in February. It’s also April, still early in the season. Times and results are less vital now than closer to the National Championships and Pan Pacific Championships.

But, this is all we have to go on with Phelps, so let’s look at the time. He clocked 52.13 seconds, which would have placed fourth at the 2013 U.S. Championships, where the top two made the World Championships team. Lochte was second at last year’s nationals, in 51.73.

Phelps, for whatever form he was in last week, must shave about a half-second off his 100m butterfly to feel confident of a top-two finish at nationals in Irvine, Calif., in August. That’s certainly doable. Who knows if Lochte will swim the 100m butterfly in four months, as it has usually not been on his program for major international meets.

RELATED: What’s next for Phelps

2. Katie Ledecky a sprinter? The 17-year-old high school junior is renowned for her distance dominance. She’s the Olympic and world champion in the 800m freestyle and world champion in the 400m and 1500m events, too.

She was peerless in those three at the 2013 World Championships, winning all of them by at least two seconds. That’s why it was intriguing to see Ledecky swim not only the 200m freestyle but also the 100m freestyle in Mesa.

Ledecky actually swam the 200m free at last year’s U.S. Championships, taking second to Missy Franklin, and dropped it from her program at the World Championships. Ledecky did lead off the U.S. 4x200m free relay at worlds in 1:56.32, the fourth fastest in the 32-swimmer field (impressive for a leadoff leg, which is typically slower), and a time that would have placed fourth in the individual 200m free in Barcelona. (Franklin won in 1:54.81)

In Mesa, Ledecky won the 200m free in 1:56.27, a personal best. Any personal best in the month of April is fantastic, given the plan is to peak in the summer. She beat the Olympic 200m free champion, Allison Schmitt, though Franklin was not in the field.

There is little doubt Ledecky is one of the top two U.S. swimmers in the 200m freestyle. It’s just a matter of if she wants to add it to her busy program at a major international meet. The 200m free came the day after the 1500m free final at last year’s World Championships, but the grueling 1500m is not an Olympic event.

Then there’s the 100m free. Ledecky clocked 55.22 for fourth in Mesa, which would have placed 13th at last year’s U.S. Championships. She doesn’t swim the 100m free often, but it’s interesting to note she clocked 56.00 at last year’s Mesa Grand Prix. She’ll continue to improve there if she focuses on it.

It’s said that the distance freestyles are young women’s events. Britain’s Rebecca Adlington won the 2008 Olympic 800m free at age 19, dropped to bronze four years later and is now retired at age 25.

The shorter freestyles offer Ledecky more short-term challenges and long-term viability, but there’s no reason to give up the distance events (yet) after seeing her beat the World Championships silver medalist in the 800m free by nearly 13 seconds in Mesa.

source: AP
Can Ryan Lochte regain the title of World Swimmer of the Year in 2014? (AP)

3. Give Ryan Lochte some time. We’re not six months removed from Lochte’s fan run-in that yielded a torn MCL and sprained ACL. He said the knee hurt after coming back too early in February. Here’s Lochte’s scorecard from Mesa:

100m freestyle: Fourth, 49.68
200m freestyle: First, 1:49.48
100m butterfly: First, 51.93
100m backstroke: Fourth, 56.58 (prelims)
200m backstroke: Fifth, 2:02.54 (prelims)
200m individual medley: Fourth, 2:06.91 (prelims)

Lochte scratched out of the finals of the latter three, including both of his finals on the final day Saturday, due to a leg issue in warm-ups. His coach, David Marsh, said it was a precautionary move and Lochte wasn’t expected to miss training time.

Those results for Lochte would have been satisfactory for an April meet even if he wasn’t coming off the knee injury — two wins, a fourth in a strong 100m free field and three prelim times that safely advanced him to A finals.

Lochte, who is one year older than Phelps, should only get stronger as spring turns to summer. A key in upcoming meets will be his ability, at 29, to turn in the kind of loaded schedules we’re accustomed to seeing after not finishing things off in Mesa.

4. Katie Hoff’s comeback also looks strong. The three-time 2008 Olympic medalist took about a year off from competition after missing the 2012 Olympic Team.

Hoff is a three-time Olympian, but she’s only 24 years old and has the talent to be among the world’s best all-around swimmers. That was evident at her most competitive meet since her break. Hoff built up as the meet went on, going from 10th in the 100m free to fifth in the 100m butterfly to third in the 200m free to winning the 200m individual medley on Saturday.

The 200m IM was key. Hoff won by nearly two seconds over a field that included the top U.S. women at last summer’s nationals, Caitlin Leverenz and Elizabeth Beisel. She’s gone from full-time student in Miami back to top-ranked American in an all-around event in less than a year. Not too bad.

RELATED: Hoff’s victory the highlight of Saturday’s races

5. Give Michael Andrew time, too. The 15-year-old phenom of national age group swimming finished eighth in the 100m backstroke, 12th in the 50m free, 18th in the 100m butterfly, 19th in the 100m breaststroke, 26th in the 100m free, 43rd in the 200m free and 14th in the 200m individual medley prelims.

The times and results aren’t as important as the stat that Andrew wasn’t beaten by anybody at his age or younger in six of his seven events.

Really, the highlight of the meet for Andrew may have been chatting with Phelps, to whom he’s often been compared. Keep in mind that Phelps made an Olympic final at age 15. Andrew has plenty of promise, but he’s getting his feet wet in long-course meters competition, a significance noted by Phelps last week.

Andrew’s goal is to make junior national teams this summer. Mesa was a solid meet from which to build.

RELATED: The other Michael in the spotlight in Mesa

Alysa Liu, attempting unprecedented jump list, takes silver at Junior Grand Prix Final

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Alysa Liu took silver at the biggest international competition of her young career, attempting a historic set of jumps at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy.

Liu, the 14-year-old who in January became the youngest U.S. senior champion in history, attempted two triple Axels and two quadruple Lutzes in her free skate Friday. She fell on the first Axel, and the other three landings were judged as under-rotated.

Earlier this season, Liu became the first woman to land both a triple Axel and a quad of any kind. She was attempting Friday to become the first woman to land two triple Axels and two quads in one program.

Liu, the leader after Thursday’s short program, was overtaken in the free skate by Russian Kamila Valieva, who was not alive when Turin hosted the 2006 Olympics. Valieva is the latest star pupil of coach Eteri Tutberidze, who guided Olympic and world champions Alina Zagitova and Yevgenia Medvedeva.

Valieva, who has a quad in her arsenal, was recently injured, according to the ISU broadcast, and did not attempt a four-revolution jump. She relied on artistry and other elements, tallying 207.47 points. She beat Liu by 2.82 points to become the 10th straight Russian to win the event.

Liu became the first U.S. woman to earn a Junior Grand Prix Final medal since Hannah Miller took silver in 2012.

Liu, previously undefeated in her first junior international season, appears likeliest to disrupt the Russians come the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. First, she must compete at the junior international level through next season. She is expected to defend her senior national title in January.

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Caroline Wozniacki sets tennis retirement

Caroline Wozniacki
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Former No. 1 and 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki will retire from professional tennis after competing in Melbourne next year.

The 29-year-old from Denmark wrote in an Instagram post on Friday that she wants to start a family with her husband, former NBA player David Lee, and work to raise awareness about rheumatoid arthritis.

Wozniacki said her decision to stop playing “has nothing to do with my health.” She announced in October 2018 that she has rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition that can cause pain and swelling in the wrist and other joints.

“I’ve always told myself, when the time comes, that there are things away from tennis that I want to do more, then it’s time to be done,” Wozniacki wrote. “In recent months, I’ve realized that there is a lot more in life that I’d like to accomplish off the court.”

She is currently ranked No. 37 after going 20-15 without a singles title in 2019.

Coached for much of her career by her father, Piotr, a former professional soccer player, Wozniacki used tremendous court coverage — she ran in the New York City Marathon — and uncanny ability to get back shot after shot from opponents in a counter-punching style to win 30 WTA titles, including the season-ending tour championships in 2017.

She also reached three Grand Slam finals.

At just 19, Wozniacki was the runner-up to Kim Clijsters at the 2009 U.S. Open, then again was the runner-up at Flushing Meadows in 2014 to her good friend Serena Williams.

Wozniacki claimed her first major championship in her third such final, and 43rd appearance in a Grand Slam tournament, at last year’s Australian Open. She beat Simona Halep in a three-set final to return to the top of the rankings after a six-year absence, a record.

As someone who had played so well, for so long, without ever quite claiming one of her sport’s most important trophies until then, Wozniacki was thrilled to set aside all of the questions about whether she ever would win a major title.

She has earned more than $35 million in prize money — along with millions more in endorsements — and owns a win-loss record of 630-262. She spent 71 weeks at No. 1 and competed in three Olympics, carrying the flag for Denmark at the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony.

“I’ve accomplished everything I could ever dream of on the court,” she wrote.

The Australian Open begins on Jan. 20.

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I’ve played professionally since I was 15 years old. In that time I’ve experienced an amazing first chapter of my life. With 30 WTA singles titles, a world #1 ranking for 71 weeks, a WTA Finals victory, 3 Olympics, including carrying the flag for my native Denmark, and winning the 2018 Australian Open Grand slam championship, I’ve accomplished everything I could ever dream of on the court. I’ve always told myself, when the time comes, that there are things away from tennis that I want to do more, then it’s time to be done. In recent months, I’ve realized that there is a lot more in life that I’d like to accomplish off the court. Getting married to David was one of those goals and starting a family with him while continuing to travel the world and helping raise awareness about rheumatoid arthritis (project upcoming) are all passions of mine moving forward. So with that, today I am announcing that I will be retiring from professional tennis after the Australian Open in January. This has nothing to do with my health and this isn’t a goodbye, I look forward to sharing my exciting journey ahead with all of you! Finally, I want to thank with all my heart, the fans, my friends, my sponsors, my team, especially my father as my coach, my husband, and my family for decades of support! Without all of you I could have never have done this!

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