Sun Yang’s return sets up potential legendary race

Sun Yang
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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

Diana Taurasi says 2024 Paris Olympics ‘on my radar’

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi said immediately after winning her fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo that she might try for a record sixth in Paris.

It’s still on her mind 17 months out of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“It’s something that it’s on my radar,” Taurasi told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday after the first day of a USA Basketball training camp in Minnesota, her first national team activity since Tokyo. “I’m still competitive, still driven, still want to play, I still love being a part of USA Basketball.”

Taurasi will be 42 at the time of the Paris Games — older than any previous Olympic basketball player — but said if she’s healthy enough she’d like to give it a go.

“If the opportunity comes to play and be a part of it, it’s something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in,” said Taurasi, who shares the record of five Olympic basketball gold medals with the retired Sue Bird. “When you get to my age at this point in my career, you just try to win every day. Right now this is a good opportunity to be part of this team moving forward we’ll see what happens.”

She said she would have played at the FIBA World Cup last year in Australia, but had a quad strain that kept her out of the end of the WNBA season.

“I got hurt a little bit before. I had a good conversation with Coach (Cheryl) Reeve and (USA Basketball CEO Jim) Tooley. I felt like I hadn’t played enough basketball to be out there and help,” Taurasi said. “That’s the biggest thing with USA Basketball is being able to help the team win.”

Reeve said Monday that when she succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach a few months after Tokyo, she wasn’t sure whether Taurasi would play for the national team again. That was before her conversation with Taurasi.

“I look forward to having a chance to have her be around and be, as I told her, a great voice,” Reeve said. “Obviously, the competitive fire that she competes with is something that we all do well with.”

In Tokyo, Taurasi started all six games and averaged 18.8 minutes per game, sixth-most on the team (fewer than backup guard Chelsea Gray). Her 5.8 points per game were her fewest in her Olympic career, though she was dealing with a hip injury.

Taurasi is an unrestricted free agent although she is expected to return back to Phoenix where she’s spent her entire career since getting drafted No. 1 overall in 2003.

“Phoenix still has things they need to work out,” the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer said.

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Alexis Pinturault wins world championships combined; American in fourth

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France’s Alexis Pinturault won the world Alpine skiing championships combined at his home venue after defending world champion Marco Schwarz blew a lead in the final seconds of his slalom run.

Pinturault, a 31-year-old who hadn’t won a race in nearly two years (the longest drought of his distinguished career), prevailed by one tenth of a second over the Austrian Schwarz in Courchevel, France.

“I hope to enjoy it because it was pretty difficult some months ago,” Pinturault said.

Austrian Raphael Haaser took bronze in an event that combined times from a morning super-G run and an afternoon slalom run, one day after his older sister took bronze in the women’s combined.

River Radamus was fourth, a quarter of a second from becoming the first U.S. man to win an Alpine worlds medal since 2015. Radamus’ best event is the giant slalom, which is scheduled for Feb. 17 at worlds.

“It’s nice, but honestly, you don’t come to world championships hoping to get fourth,” Radamus said.

Five skiers finished within 2.98 seconds of the winner in an event that has been dropped from the annual World Cup schedule and is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Pinturault had the fastest super-G run by six hundredths over Schwarz. Schwarz, a slightly better slalom skier than Pinturault, erased that deficit early in the slalom and had a three tenths lead at the last intermediate split.

He gave it all away about six gates from the finish, slamming on the brakes. Moments later, he crossed the finish line one tenth behind Pinturault, who reacted by pumping his fists in the air.

The Frenchman earned his first race victory since the March 2021 World Cup Finals giant slalom, where he clinched his first World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. Last season, Pinturault went winless on the World Cup for the first time since he was a teenage rookie in 2011, plus went medal-less at the Olympics.

Pinturault, who grew up in Courchevel and now co-owns the family’s five-star Hotel Annapurna there, had retirement cross his mind in the offseason, according to Eurosport. He skipped a pre-worlds Sunday press conference due to illness.

Nonetheless, Pinturault was on the front page of French newspapers this week, including L’Equipe on Tuesday. In a sports cover story for Le Figaro, Pinturault said that, given the circumstances, it would be almost a “nice surprise” to go for a medal at these worlds.

Olympic champion Johannes Strolz of Austria skied out of the slalom after tying for 29th in the super-G.

Olympic silver and bronze medalists Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway and Jack Crawford of Canada were among the speed specialists who did not start the slalom. They essentially used the event as a training run for Thursday’s super-G.

Worlds continue Wednesday with the women’s super-G, where Mikaela Shiffrin is a medal contender but not the favorite. She can tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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