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

Olympian Tasha Schwikert says she is a Larry Nassar survivor, speaks out on Steve Penny

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Tasha Schwikert is at least the ninth Olympian to come forward as a Larry Nassar survivor.

“After months of grappling with the decision, I have decided to come forward as a victim of Larry Nassar,” was tweeted from the 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Schwikert’s account. “I want to join my former teammates and fellow survivors to help enact REAL change at @USAGym and @TeamUSA. #MeToo.

“I refuse to remain a victim. It is time for @USAGym and @TeamUSA to come clean and be held accountable for the toxic environment that enabled Nassar’s abuse. Only then will we see REAL change.”

Schwikert, now 33, was the youngest woman on the 2000 Olympic team across all sports, the U.S. all-around champion in 2001 and 2002, the 2003 World champion team captain and an alternate for the 2004 Olympic team.

Schwikert also said that ex-USA Gymnastics president and CEO Steve Penny pressed her to publicly support USA Gymnastics at the height of the Nassar scandal, according to ABC’s “World News Tonight.”

Penny was arrested Wednesday and indicted on charges he tampered with evidence in the Nassar sexual-assault investigation and on Thursday banned for life from USA Gymnastics. Penny’s lawyers said he is “confident that when all the facts are known it will be shown that he did nothing criminal.”

“Steve had always manipulated all of us, really, but I felt indebted to him,” Schwikert said on ABC. “Him and USA Gymnastics made me feel like if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be the person or the athlete who I was.”

She is at least the second member of the Sydney 2000 team to come forward as a Nassar survivor, joining Jamie Dantzscher, the first Olympian to do so in February 2017.

USA Gymnastics posted a statement from Schwikert on social media the night Dantzscher’s first interview aired, saying, “As a member of the national team from 1999-2004, I firmly believe USA Gymnastics always had my health and well-being top of mind. The program provided me with the resources and experiences that helped me achieve my goals.”

Penny resigned a month later.

Seven of the eight members of the 2012 or 2016 Olympic women’s artistic gymnastics teams have also come forward — Simone BilesGabby Douglas, Aly RaismanMcKayla MaroneyJordyn WieberKyla Ross and Madison Kocian. As have world championships team members among the hundreds of girls and women who said Nassar sexually abused them under the guise of medical treatment when he worked for Michigan State and USA Gymnastics.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue can make it 10 straight at Skate America

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If Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue ever lacked motivation in the post-Olympic summer, they needed only scan their Montreal training ice.

They would spot France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, the only ice dancers from the Olympic podium who return this season. Papadakis and Cizeron relegated the Americans to silver at March’s world championships, one month after Hubbell and Donohue were fourth in PyeongChang (the French took silver). They have trained under the same coaches in Quebec for three years.

They would also see Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, the third- and fourth-place finishers from January’s U.S. Championships. Those couples moved to the Montreal group in the spring. They are Hubbell and Donohue’s top threats to repeat as national champions in Detroit in three months, given U.S. silver medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are also taking a break.

Practicing next to rivals is often shunned in sports. It has elevated ice dance the last several years.

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White trained together in Michigan and split the Olympic gold and silver medals in 2010 and 2014.

When Virtue and Moir returned from a two-year break in 2016, they joined the Montreal group and went one-two with training partners Papadakis and Cizeron at every major competition through PyeongChang.

Hubbell and Donohue thrived last season, their third in Montreal, winning their first national title after six straight years of finishing third or fourth. They were in position for an Olympic medal, third after the short dance, but Donohue fell in the free dance (as he did at 2017 Worlds after they were third in the short).

Then at worlds in March, they delivered back-to-back podium-worthy performances on the global stage for the first time for that silver medal. They are the world No. 2 and the favorites at this weekend’s Skate America, with the French not in the field.

U.S. couples have won nine straight Skate Americas, more than the other three disciplines combined in the last decade.

MORE: Skate America TV/Stream Schedule

“Clearly this formula is working for them,” NBC Sports analyst and 2006 Olympic ice dance silver medalist Tanith White said. “It has proven to work for many of the greatest teams in ice dance over the last few decades. … I cannot see a drawback.”

Hubbell and Donohue (and Papadakis and Cizeron) appear to agree.

They joked back and forth at a press conference after worlds in March. Asked how they would spend the offseason, Cizeron looked straight at Hubbell and Donohue and said, jokingly, “Our goal is to get drunk together as many times as we can.”

“As much as our own personal accomplishment is pretty incredible, being on the podium with training mates and having, literally, everyone from our training center skate the best programs of their season, all at the same competition, was pretty incredible,” Donohue said last week.

Hubbell and Donohue should breeze through Skate America in Everett, Wash. Nobody else from the top nine in PyeongChang is in the field. They’re the favorites next week at Skate Canada, too.

The first real test will be at December’s Grand Prix Final, where Papadakis and Cizeron should join them. Hubbell and Donohue never outscored the French in nine head-to-head competitions and were more than 10 points adrift at worlds.

“The French, where they left off last season, I think that they are still in a category on their own based on the last time we saw those two teams go up against each other,” White said. 

Hubbell said the world silver medal showed that they had tackled their demons, fear and history of errors. If the next goal is gold, they must conquer a much more visible foe, one they see every day on the ice.

“The podium at worlds,” Hubbell said, “was the moment I was able to leave that season behind me and go into the future.”

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