Sun Yang

Sun Yang’s return sets up potential legendary race

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The last eight men’s winners of Swimming World‘s World Swimmer of the Year are active, now that Sun Yang is back from suspension and Michael Phelps out of retirement.

Sun, Phelps and Ryan Lochte combined to win every World Swimmer of the Year title since 2006 — five for Phelps, two for Lochte and one for Sun (last year).

It’s not out of the question that Sun, Phelps and Lochte could go head to head to head in the same final in the distant future, based on separate meets this week in China and Charlotte, where Sun and Phelps were both slated for the 200m freestyle.

The 200m free was the famous “Race of the Century” event at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. It was a decade ago that Ian ThorpePieter van den Hoogenband, Phelps and Grant Hackett raced together. That quartet combined to win 12 straight Swimmer of the Year titles from 1998 through 2009 (though Thorpe and Phelps owned 10 of the 12).

But back to Sun.

The 22-year-old returned in strong form Monday from a suspension dating to November, winning the 200m free at the Chinese National Championships by more than 1.5 seconds.

Sun, 22, clocked 1:46.04 in Qingdao, China. The Olympic 400m and 1500m free champion is returning to competition after he was suspended following a car accident in which he drove without a license in November. It was reported he had foot surgery in January.

“My aerobic training has not yet [kicked in],” Sun said Monday, according to SwimVortex.com. “I hope to get better and better after I’ve had a longer period of time to train.”

Comparing early season times can be dangerous, but note that Lochte won the 200m free at the Mesa Grand Prix in 1:49.48 on April 25. Lochte finished fourth in the 200m free at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 World Championships and is currently the top rival to Sun as the world’s best swimmer.

France’s Yannick Agnel, who trains with Phelps in Baltimore, is the reigning Olympic and world 200m free champion. Australian Cameron McEvoy owns the fastest time of 2014, 1:45.46.

Sun, who is better in longer distances, won silver in the 200m free at the 2012 Olympics in a national record 1:44.93. He did not swim the 200m free at the 2013 World Championships, where he swept the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles.

He did, however, anchor China’s 4x200m free relay team that won bronze. Sun’s split — 1:43.16 — was the second-fastest in history and 1.82 seconds better than the other 31 swimmers, including Lochte and Agnel.

So, when could we see Sun, Phelps and Lochte in the same race? Perhaps the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia in August, if Lochte and Phelps opt for the 200m free and make the U.S. team, certainly bigger concerns for Phelps than Lochte.

A problem for Sun is the Pan Pacific Championships schedule, which calls for both the 200m free and 1500m free finals on the first night. And who knows if Sun will even enter the meet, given China sent just four swimmers (Sun not among them) to the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships.

Olympic medalist, world champion swimmer banned for doping

David Boudia adjusts diving event, goal for world championships

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David Boudia earned diving medals at his last three world championships and the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, but that was on the platform. He competes on the global stage on the springboard for the first time at worlds this week.

“I don’t have a lot of high hopes,” Boudia, who is still learning the springboard after switching to it in the last year, said in a phone interview from South Korea, where he begins competition Wednesday (TV schedule here). “But I think my biggest goal is to walk away with an Olympic spot.”

An Olympic spot not necessarily for himself, but for the U.S.

Boudia, a 30-year-old father of three, and any other American will clinch 2020 Olympic quota spots by placing in the top 12 in their respective individual events this week. Those spots, and any others earned at later competitions in the next year, will be filled at trials in June in Indianapolis.

NBC Sports analyst Cynthia Potter believes Boudia, who left the sport to sell homes in 2017 and came back and suffered a concussion off the platform in 2018, can meet his goal of making Friday’s 12-man final in Gwangju.

“He would have to dive well, but not better than he’s been diving,” she said. “His springboard is really well-timed, rhythmic, and he’s for a long time known how to go into the water without making a splash.”

But challenging Rio Olympic gold and silver medalists Cao Yuan of China and Jack Laugher of Great Britain, plus defending world champion Xie Siyi of China would be very tough.

Boudia lacks their degrees of difficulty, for now. He hopes to switch out two of his six dives before his first competition of 2020, though he could insert one of them should he make the world final.

“I need a good six months, so from August to December is when we’re kind of really drilling the fundamentals of learning those new dives and getting them perfected,” he said.

Boudia rallied to beat Rio Olympic springboard diver Michael Hixon for the title in May at nationals, where the top two per event earned world berths. But Boudia competed there with about a month of competition dive practice, about half as long as he would prefer.

“Hix and I are going to have a lot of training to do if we want to be even close to cracking that top five,” at worlds, Boudia said in May, according to TeamUSA.org.

Boudia is the lone U.S. diver to earn an individual world medal in an Olympic diving event since 2009.

The U.S. produced breakthroughs at worlds so far. Sarah Bacon became the first American woman to earn a world title since 2005, taking the non-Olympic 1m springboard event. Murphy Bromberg and Katrina Young bagged bronze in synchronized platform, ending a decade-long medal drought in any synchro event.

But Boudia’s goal must be shared among the whole team — as many top-12 finishes individually and top three in synchro events to gobble up Tokyo 2020 quota spots. The U.S. failed to qualify full teams for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

“Getting in the top 12 in the four individual Olympic events is the big deal right now,” Potter said. “Whether you are on the awards stand or not, that would be icing on the cake for a lot of these divers.”

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Anita Wlodarczyk, one of track and field’s most dominant, sidelined

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Poland hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk, the only woman to win the last five combined Olympic and world titles in a track and field event, will not go for a fourth straight world championship this fall.

Wlodarczyk had season-ending, arthroscopic left knee surgery on Monday, according to Polish media citing her coach.

Wlodarczyk, 33, has the top 15 throws on the IAAF’s all-time list, and 27 of the top 29. Her world record of 82.98 meters (scribbled on her leg pre-op) is 11 and a half feet farther the second-best woman in history. She originally took silver at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds but was upgraded to gold after Russian Tatyana Lysenko was stripped for doping.

Wlodarczyk won a reported 42 straight finals between 2014 and 2017, then suffered three losses in 2018 and two so far this year in three lower-level meets before the operation.

Americans DeAnna Price and Brooke Anderson rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year. A U.S. woman has never finished in the top five of an Olympic or world championships hammer throw, which debuted at worlds in 1999 and the Olympics in 2000.

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