Ryan Lochte painfully beaten in Austin; Katie Ledecky wins



Ryan Lochte entered what they call the “decathlon of swimming” in competition Friday for the first time in 20 months.

It did not go well.

“I forgot how bad that event hurts,” Lochte told reporters at the Pro Swim Series in Austin, Texas. “Right after the fly [the first 100 meters], I was like, I’m already in pain.”

Lochte, the Olympic champion in the event, finished in third place. He clocked 4 minutes, 18.68 seconds, which was 2.6 seconds behind winner Josh Prenot. (full meet results here)

Lochte was 13.5 seconds slower on Friday than he was in the London Olympic final, which isn’t shocking given swimmers don’t train to peak in January.

Lochte was also seven seconds slower than in his last 400m IM in competition, at the 2013 Santa Clara Grand Prix. In fact, that was Lochte’s only 400m IM since the London Olympics before Friday.

Since 2012, Lochte has been off-and-on about whether he will try to swim the 400m IM at the 2016 Olympics. He said in interviews shortly after the London Olympics that he couldn’t do longer-distance events in 2016 because of his age (he is older than Michael Phelps and will turn 32 two days before the Opening Ceremony).

Those comments were reminiscent of Phelps’ comments after the 2008 Olympics, when he ruled out the 400m IM entirely. Of course, Phelps went back on his word and swam the 400m IM in London, placing fourth.

Lochte opted not to swim the 400m IM at the 2013 and 2014 U.S. Championships. Instead, he swam a different event on the same day as the 400m IM at both meets — the 100m butterfly, which he’s never competed at an Olympics and is a Phelps trademark event.

Now, Lochte is already saying he will “definitely” swim the 400m IM at the next Pro Swim Series event in Orlando in February (coincidentally, he aggravated a knee injury in Orlando last February, setting him up for an injury-hampered season, perhaps a big reason why he didn’t swim the 400m IM, and, at the Pan Pacific Championships in August, his worst performance at a major international meet since 2006).

Phelps, who is suspended into April, has said in his comeback that he will not swim the 400m IM (again).

“It’s probably the hardest event in swimming, besides the mile,” Lochte said of the 400m IM on Friday. “I just started training like a week and a half ago. This meet is like a training meet. … Getting my butt kicked is always a good thing.”

In other events Friday, Katie Ledecky won the 200m freestyle in 1:56.16, which was one second slower than her personal best set at the 2014 U.S. Championships. Again, not bad at all for a January meet. Ledecky also swept the 100m and 400m frees Thursday.

The world’s best all-around swimmer, Katinka Hosszu, was surprisingly off Friday. She finished third in the 400m IM, where she is the reigning World champion. U.S. Olympic silver medalist Elizabeth Beisel beat Hosszu by 3.22 seconds there.

Hosszu, a Hungarian, was also sixth in the 200m backstroke, won by Dominique Bouchard by .07 over Beisel.

Conor Dwyer, who isn’t swimming for North Baltimore Aquatic Club in Austin, won the men’s 200m free. Ryan Murphy beat Olympic 100m back champion Matt Grevers in the men’s 200m back.

Brazil’s Bruno Fratus outdueled the U.S.’ best sprinters — Nathan Adrian, Anthony Ervin, Cullen Jones and Jimmy Feigen — to win the 50m free.

The meet concludes Saturday.

Katie Ledecky and the 100m freestyle


Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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IOC recommends how Russia, Belarus athletes can return as neutrals

Thomas Bach

The IOC updated its recommendations to international sports federations regarding Russian and Belarusian athletes, advising that they can return to competitions outside of the Olympics as neutral athletes in individual events and only if they do not actively support the war in Ukraine. Now, it’s up to those federations to decide if and how they will reinstate the athletes as 2024 Olympic qualifying heats up.

The IOC has not made a decision on the participation of Russian or Belarusian athletes for the Paris Games and will do so “at the appropriate time,” IOC President Thomas Bach said Tuesday.

Most international sports federations for Olympic sports banned Russian and Belarusian athletes last year following IOC recommendations to do so after the invasion of Ukraine.

Bach was asked Tuesday what has changed in the last 13 months that led to the IOC updating its recommendations.

He reiterated previous comments that, after the invasion and before the initial February 2022 recommendations, some governments refused to issue visas for Russians and Belarusians to compete, and other governments threatened withdrawing funding from athletes who competed against Russians and Belarusians. He also said the safety of Russians and Belarusians at competitions was at risk at the time.

Bach said that Russians and Belarusians have been competing in sports including tennis, the NHL and soccer (while not representing their countries) and that “it’s already working.”

“The question, which has been discussed in many of these consultations, is why should what is possible in all these sports not be possible in swimming, table tennis, wrestling or any other sport?” Bach said.

Bach then read a section of remarks that a United Nations cultural rights appointee made last week.

“We have to start from agreeing that these states [Russia and Belarus] are going to be excluded,” Bach read, in part. “The issue is what happens with individuals. … The blanket prohibition of Russian and Belarusian athletes and artists cannot continue. It is a flagrant violation of human rights. The idea is not that we are going to recognize human rights to people who are like us and with whom we agree on their actions and on their behavior. The idea is that anyone has the right not to be discriminated on the basis of their passport.”

The IOC’s Tuesday recommendations included not allowing “teams of athletes” from Russia and Belarus to return.

If Russia continues to be excluded from team sports and team events, it could further impact 2024 Olympic qualification.

The international basketball federation (FIBA) recently set an April 28 deadline to decide whether to allow Russia to compete in an Olympic men’s qualifying tournament. For women’s basketball, the draw for a European Olympic qualifying tournament has already been made without Russia.

In gymnastics, the ban has already extended long enough that, under current rules, Russian gymnasts cannot qualify for men’s and women’s team events at the Paris Games, but can still qualify for individual events if the ban is lifted.

Gymnasts from Russia swept the men’s and women’s team titles in Tokyo, where Russians in all sports competed for the Russian Olympic Committee rather than for Russia due to punishment for the nation’s doping violations. There were no Russian flags or anthems, conditions that the IOC also recommends for any return from the current ban for the war in Ukraine.

Seb Coe, the president of World Athletics, said last week that Russian and Belarusian athletes remain banned from track and field for the “foreseeable future.”

World Aquatics, the international governing body for swimming, diving and water polo, said after the IOC’s updated recommendations that it will continue to “consider developments impacting the situation” of Russian and Belarusian athletes and that “further updates will be provided when appropriate.”

The IOC’s sanctions against Russia and Belarus and their governments remain in place, including disallowing international competitions to be held in those countries.

On Monday, Ukraine’s sports minister said in a statement that Ukraine “strongly urges” that Russian and Belarusian athletes remain banned.

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