Ryan Lochte’s new emphasis adds chapter to Michael Phelps rivalry

Ryan Lochte
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Ryan Lochte, a man known for his race-day attire, showed up at the Charlotte Grand Prix last week in a fedora and knee brace.

The 11-time Olympic medalist had pulled out of the meet at his new training location three days in advance after aggravating a left knee injury at the Mesa Grand Prix in April. Lochte tore his left MCL and sprained his ACL when a fan ran into him on Nov. 2 and has been working to get back to 100 percent ever since, with setbacks.

He was held out of last week’s meet as a precautionary measure.

“He’s at a point now where, if he pushes it now, it could cost him going to Nationals [in August],” David Marsh, Lochte’s coach, said last week. “We’re better off playing it safe.”

Lochte, 29, moved from Gainesville, Fla., to Charlotte in October to train under Marsh and with Olympic teammates including good friend Cullen Jones and Tyler Clary. He said he questioned his future in swimming after his November injury but was inspired by longtime friendly rival Michael Phelps‘ return this spring.

Now the question is, will Lochte and Phelps duel again like they have in the previous three Olympics? Phelps and Lochte shared the medal podium in 2004, 2008 and 2012 in the 200m individual medley.

Phelps does not seem keen on picking up the IM, the decathlon of swimming, in his comeback. But Lochte and Phelps share this outlook: they both are favoring shorter distances in this Olympic cycle.

“I have the distance part done, and the endurance; I don’t have the speed,” Lochte said. “The things I want to do in 2016, I’m going to have to start learning how to do more sprint events. I can’t tell you what I want to be swimming in 2016. It’s just going to be a lot of different events and some of the same events.”

One different event would be the 100m butterfly, which Phelps has won at the last three Olympics. Lochte swam it at an Olympics or World Championships for the first time in Barcelona last year, finishing sixth at worlds. He entered it again at the Mesa Grand Prix and beat Phelps by two tenths of a second in Phelps’ first final since the London Games.

Phelps won a Lochte-less 100m fly final in Charlotte. They are the first- and second-ranked Americans in the event for 2014.

That adds a bit more sizzle to the National Championships in Irvine, Calif., in August, and, potentially, the Pan Pacific Championships later that month, when South Africa’s Chad le Clos, who won the 2013 world title in the 100m fly, could join the fray.

“Now that I’m able to compete with [Phelps] and be up there with him in the 100m fly, it’s going to be interesting,” Lochte said. “I’m not going to back down. He won’t back down. We’re going to give you guys a race.”

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”