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Rio 2016 Paralympics storylines with 2 years to go

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In two years, the 2016 Paralympics will open in Rio de Janeiro, including some 4,350 athletes from 160 nations in 22 sports.

The Rio Paralympics will run from Sept. 7-18, beginning 17 days after the Olympics finish.

In 2012, the U.S. finished fourth with 98 total medals. China won nearly twice as many medals as any other nation with 231, leading the medal table for a third straight Games. The U.S. last won the most medals at the 1996 Atlanta Games, so perhaps a return to the Western Hemisphere will provide a boost.

NBC and NBCSN will air a record 66 hours of coverage of the Rio 2016 Paralympics. The USOC will provide live coverage at TeamUSA.org, too.

Here are five athletes to watch going forward:

Jessica Long, Swimming: Not only does the most decorated Olympian of all time hail from Baltimore, so does the most decorated active U.S. Paralympian. Long is a 17-time Paralympic medalist. She won her first three Paralympic golds at the 2004 Athens Games, when she was 12. She holds 10 world records, the latest coming in June.

Tatyana McFadden, Track and Field: McFadden, 25, has won 10 medals over the last three Paralympics. She added her first Winter Paralympic medal in Sochi. In 2013, McFadden became the first woman to win six gold medals at a single International Paralympic Committee Track and Field World Championships. She also became the first person, able-bodied or Paralympic-eligible, to sweep the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathons in the same year.

Alan Oliveira, Track and Field: He is best known for beating Oscar Pistorius at the London Paralympics, but Oliveira’s fame will reach another level as one the host nation’s biggest stars in two years. Oliveira, 22, won 100m, 200m and 400m gold at the 2013 World Championships and broke his record for the fastest 100m ever run by a double amputee two months ago (10.57 seconds).

Melissa Stockwell, Triathlon: Stockwell swam at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics as the first Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran to make Team USA. The first lieutenant and first female U.S. soldier to lose a limb in active combat, Stockwell then switched to paratriathlon. She is a three-time World champion and will become a mom in the fall. Paratriathlon makes its debut on the Paralympic program in 2016.

Alex Zanardi, Cycling: The Italian former open-wheel racing champion who lost his legs in a September 2001 crash won three hand cycling medals in his Paralympic debut in 2012 at age 45. He wrapped up another three-medal haul at the World Championships in Greenville, S.C., last week.

Will Rio de Janeiro be ready for the 2016 Olympics?

Gregorio Paltrinieri swims second-fastest 1500m freestyle in history

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Olympic champion Gregorio Paltrinieri swam the second-fastest 1500m freestyle in history, clocking 14:33.10 in his native Italy on Thursday.

Paltrinieri, 25, missed Chinese Sun Yang‘s world record from the 2012 Olympics by 2.08 seconds.

The Italian now owns the second- and third-fastest times in history, including his 14:34.10 from the 2016 European Championships, also held at the 2012 Olympic pool in London.

Paltrinieri is a versatile distance swimmer. At last year’s world championships, he finished sixth in the open-water 10km to qualify for the Olympics, then won the 800m free in the pool in a European record time and finished with 1500m bronze, just missing a third straight world title in that event.

German Florian Wellbrock won the 1500m in 14:36.54 at worlds, with Paltrinieri finishing 2.21 seconds back.

Sun, 28, was in February banned eight years stemming from destroying a drug-test sample with a hammer in September 2018. Sun, who focused more on the 200m and 400m frees in recent years, did not race the 1500m at the 2017 or 2019 Worlds.

Top-level swim meets in the U.S. are scheduled to resume in November with the Tyr Pro Series.

MORE: Michael Phelps qualifies for first Olympics at age 15

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Bianca Andreescu to miss U.S. Open

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Bianca Andreescu withdrew from the U.S. Open, citing “unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic” compromising her ability to prepare to defend her Grand Slam title.

“I have taken this step in order to focus on my match fitness and ensure that I return ready to play at my highest level,” Andreescu, a 20-year-old Canadian, posted on social media. “The US Open victory last year has been the high point of my career thus far and I will miss not being there. However, I realize that the unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic, have compromised my ability to prepare and compete to the degree necessary to play at my highest level.”

Andreescu’s absence means the U.S. Open, the first Grand Slam tournament since tennis resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic, will be without both 2019 male and female singles champions.

Rafael Nadal previously announced he would not defend his title, saying he would rather not travel given the global situation. Roger Federer is also out after knee surgery. Women’s No. 1 Ash Barty didn’t enter, either, citing travel concerns.

Last year, Andreescu made her U.S. Open title run as the 15th seed, sweeping Serena Williams in the final. Ranked 208th a year earlier, she became the first player born in the 2000s to win a Slam and the first teen Slam winner since Maria Sharapova at the 2006 U.S. Open.

Andreescu then missed the Australian Open in January due to rehab from a knee injury that forced her to retire during a match at the WTA Finals on Oct. 30. She also missed the French Open and Wimbledon in 2019 following a rotator cuff tear.

MORE: Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis competition

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