Swim race mishaps emerge at U.S. Championships

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IRVINE , Calif. — The fastest swimmer doesn’t always win.

Any number of issues can derail a race, and they can even take down the world’s best.

Shocking lapses from Michael Phelps and two-time Olympic medalist Elizabeth Beisel made waves on the first two nights of the U.S. Swimming Championships.

Phelps mistimed a flip turn in the 100m freestyle final Wednesday, barely touching the wall with his feet. He lost significant momentum and finished seventh.

Beisel was more glaring in slipping to begin the 200m backstroke Thursday. Rather than launching backward off the start, she dropped into the water and essentially had to start the distance from a dead hang.

Beisel, the Olympic 200m back bronze medalist, finished sixth, 3.99 seconds behind Missy Franklin.

They are what swimmers call age-grouper mistakes, stuff that happens when they’re starting to compete as kids.

“Olympians make mistakes, too,” Beisel said.

What specific problems befall them?

“Everything,” seven-time Olympic medalist Aaron Peirsol said. “My goggles have filled up. My suit’s fallen down. My suit has ripped. I’ve missed walls. I’ve slipped off blocks. I’ve slipped off pads. I’ve slipped off pads at the Olympic Games.”

The most famous recent race mishaps include Phelps, when his goggles filled with water in the 200m butterfly final at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Phelps still won of course, en route to his eight-for-eight gold effort, but he tossed his cap and goggles on the Water Cube deck in obvious frustration. The goal-oriented Phelps eyed a faster time before he was blinded.

Nathan Adrian‘s suit ripped on the starting blocks of the 100m free at the Indianapolis Grand Prix in March 2012, four months before he won the event at the London Olympics.

Adrian still won the race in Indianapolis, and quickly covered his exposed butt crack with a white towel after getting out of the pool.

Disqualifications happen in many ways, too. In breaststroke especially, swimmers are monitored closely for taking one too many dolphin kicks at the start or off walls before resuming the stroke.

Australia’s greatest swimmer ever, Ian Thorpe, lost his balance on the block and fell into the pool for a false start at the 2004 Olympic Trials.

Relay swimmers mistime exchanges and jump into the pool too quickly, like Ian Crocker did at the 2007 World Championships in the medley relay, denying Phelps an eighth gold medal at that meet.

Twelve-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin has been disqualified for staying under water too long off the start of a freestyle race.

“There’s only so much you can really prepare for,” Peirsol said. “You kind of just have to accept stuff’s going to happen. If you stick around long enough, you’ll see everything.”

The backstroke slip would be all but eliminated by a special wedge to aid swimmers at the start. It was planned to be implemented at Nationals for the first time this week, but FINA cooled on the prototype, and it won’t debut until the fall at the earliest (Swimming World has more here).

Beisel can’t worry about that now. She moved on Friday to her next event, the 400m individual medley, hoping she can qualify for the Pan Pacific Championships team.

“Hopefully I got all my bad luck out of the way,” Beisel said.

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Johnny Gregorek runs fastest blue jeans mile in history

Johnny Gregorek
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Johnny Gregorek, a U.S. Olympic hopeful runner, clocked what is believed to be the fastest mile in history for somebody wearing jeans.

Gregorek recorded an unofficial 4 minutes, 6.25 seconds, on Saturday to break the record by more than five seconds. Gregorek, after the record run streamed live on his Instagram, said he wore a pair of 100 percent cotton Levi’s.

Gregorek, the 28-year-old son of a 1980 and 1984 U.S. Olympic steeplechaser, finished 10th in the 2017 World Championships 1500m. He was sixth at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.

He ranked No. 1 in the country for the indoor mile in 2019, clocking 3:49.98. His outdoor mile personal best is 3:52.94, ranking him 30th in American history.

Before the attempt, a fundraiser was started for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, garnering more than $29,000. Gregorek ran in memory of younger brother Patrick, who died suddenly in March 2019.

“Paddy was a fan of anything silly,” Gregorek posted. “I think an all out mile in jeans would tickle him sufficiently!”

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U.S. Open mulls no fans, group flights, coronavirus tests as decision looms

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Charter flights to ferry U.S. Open tennis players and limited entourages from Europe, South America and the Middle East to New York. Negative COVID-19 tests before traveling. Centralized housing. Daily temperature checks.

No spectators. Fewer on-court officials. No locker-room access on practice days.

All are among the scenarios being considered for the 2020 U.S. Open — if it is held at all amid the coronavirus pandemic — and described to The Associated Press by a high-ranking official at the Grand Slam tournament.

“All of this is still fluid,” Stacey Allaster, the U.S. Tennis Association’s chief executive for professional tennis, said in a telephone interview Saturday. “We have made no decisions at all.”

With that caveat, Allaster added that if the USTA board does decide to go forward with the Open, she expects it to be held at its usual site and in its usual spot on the calendar. The main draw is scheduled to start Aug. 31.

“We continue to be, I would say, 150% focused on staging a safe environment for conducting a U.S. Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on our dates. It’s all I wake up — our team wakes up — thinking about,” Allaster said. “The idea of an alternative venue, an alternative date … we’ve got a responsibility to explore it, but it doesn’t have a lot of momentum.”

An announcement should come from “mid-June to end of June,” Allaster said.

All sanctioned competition has been suspended by the ATP, WTA and International Tennis Federation since March and is on hold until late July.

The French Open was postponed from May to September; Wimbledon was canceled for the first time since 1945.

There is no established COVID-19 protocol for tennis, a global sport with several governing bodies.

“Everybody would agree to the fundamental principles, I’m sure: protecting the health of participants, following the local laws and minimizing the risk of the transmission of the virus,” said Stuart Miller, who is overseeing the ITF’s return-to-tennis policy. “But then you have to get down into the specific details.”

One such detail: The USTA wants to add locker rooms — including at indoor courts that housed hundreds of temporary hospital beds at the height of New York’s coronavirus outbreak — and improve air filtration in existing spaces. Also being considered: no locker-room access until just before a match. So if anyone goes to Flushing Meadows just to train, Allaster said, “You come, you practice, and return to the hotel.”

The USTA presented its operational plan to a medical advisory group Friday; now that will be discussed with city, state and federal government officials.

MORE: Olympic tennis: Key questions for Tokyo Games in 2021

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