Alan Webb set for first Olympic-sized triathlon test Saturday

Alan Webb
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Alan Webb, the American record holder in the mile who switched to triathlon last year, will measure himself against Olympic-level competition in his new sport for the first time Saturday.

What is the 2004 Olympian’s expectation for his individual World Triathlon Series debut in Abu Dhabi?

“That’s a good question, I don’t want to give all my secrets away,” he joked in a Skype interview Thursday.

Webb, 32, doesn’t hide his ambition of qualifying for the Rio 2016 Games.

While the U.S. Olympic team criteria hasn’t been announced, his biggest proving ground to date comes in the season opener for elite triathlon’s regular season circuit in the United Arab Emirates capital at 8:06 a.m. ET on Saturday (Universal Sports, 8:30 p.m. on delay).

Webb got his feet wet in 2014, taking part in a World Triathlon Series mixed relay in July and placing 10th and 26th in lower-level September and October races. He spent the last four months training with a group in Scottsdale, Ariz.

On Saturday, he will dive in off the Abu Dhabi Corniche at the Abu Dhabi Sailing & Yacht Club with 17 of the top 18 men from last season’s World Triathlon Series (65 total entrants), including World champion Javier Gomez of Spain.

“I can be in the mix, in the top group is my goal,” Webb said. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could compete with anybody. How good that actually is, specifically, it depends on the day for each person. That’s why they run the race.”

Webb expounded. He aims to be at least close to the top group coming off the 750m swim (his most crucial leg), maintain contact on the 20km bike and “close the deal on the run,” which is 5km.

“Not overly complicated,” he said of his strategy.

Abu Dhabi is a sprint, half the distance of World Triathlon Series races later this year and at the Olympics in August 2016.

USA Triathlon performance adviser Jonathan Hall is in Abu Dhabi with Webb and the other American man competing Saturday, 2008 Olympian Jarrod Shoemaker. World champion Gwen Jorgensen is favored in the women’s race.

Shoemaker was the top-ranked U.S. man last season (22nd overall) and thus one of the favorites to make the Rio Olympic team, which could include up to three men depending on how many quota spots the Americans earn via international results.

A U.S. man has never won an Olympic triathlon medal. It debuted at Sydney 2000. Hall cautioned expectations for Webb.

Webb’s plan this season is to peak for the Olympic test event in Rio de Janeiro in August and the World Triathlon Series Grand Final in Chicago in September.

If to-be-announced 2016 Olympic qualifying procedures are similar to 2012, a top-nine finish at one or both of those events could book an Olympic berth. Webb is confident he will make the start lists for Rio and Chicago.

“I’d probably be concerned if he was in that place right now, because I’d say that would indicate we pushed him too hard, or he pushed too hard,” said Hall, a former Australian road cyclist. “If Alan’s not ready the first day until that day in Rio, that’s soon enough.”

Webb is not mentioned in a World Triathlon Series preview for 2015 that includes a “New Kids on the Block” section. He ranks No. 133 on the International Triathlon Union points list, counting only 2014 results, with four races to his credit while most others had six.

He is one of the lowest ranked men in the field of 65 in Abu Dhabi, but that’s to be expected. Webb earned what he termed a call-up to the big show about 2 1/2 weeks ago, when he was granted a substitute spot on the Abu Dhabi start list.

“It’s flippity-floppity here,” said Webb, overcoming jet lag from his 16-hour, 30-minute flight that arrived Monday. “I did very well at the World Cup level [in 2014], and I wanted to keep going, so here we are.”

Webb plans to race three straight weeks, following Abu Dhabi in Mooloolaba, Australia, on March 14 and New Plymouth, New Zealand, on March 22. Neither is a World Triathlon Series event.

Webb does not plan to compete in the next World Triathlon Series event in Auckland, New Zealand, the last weekend of March. Races in Gold Coast, Australia, and Cape Town, South Africa, follow in April, but Webb hasn’t mapped out that far ahead.

A strong finish Saturday will help earn future World Triathlon Series starts. A nation can enter no more than six men per competition (eight for host nations).

One thing Hall is certain of is that Webb will be recognized in Abu Dhabi.

“One of the disadvantages that Alan has is that he’s Alan Webb,” Hall said of a man who appeared on David Letterman after he broke Jim Ryun‘s high school mile record in 2001. “I know that when he turns up on the start line, a lot of people have expectations. They have respect coupled with fear.”

Missy Franklin’s dream to become most decorated female swimmer ever

At the French Open, a Ukrainian mom makes her comeback


Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, once the world’s third-ranked tennis player, is into the French Open third round in her first major tournament since childbirth.

Svitolina, 28, swept 2022 French Open semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, then beat Australian qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the last 32 at Roland Garros. She next plays 56th-ranked Russian Anna Blinkova, who took out the top French player, fifth seed Caroline Garcia, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on her ninth match point.

Svitolina’s husband, French player Gael Monfils, finished his first-round five-set win after midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. She watched that match on a computer before going to sleep ahead of her 11 a.m. start Wednesday.

“This morning, he told me, ‘I’m coming to your match, so make it worth it,'” she joked on Tennis Channel. “I was like, OK, no pressure.

“I don’t know what he’s doing here now. He should be resting.”

Also Wednesday, 108th-ranked Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis ousted three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 in four and a half hours. Wawrinka’s exit leaves Novak Djokovic as the lone man in the draw who has won the French Open and Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz as the lone men left who have won any major.

The top seed Alcaraz beat 112th-ranked Taro Daniel of Japan 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. The Spaniard gets 26th seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada in the third round. Djokovic, the No. 3 seed, swept 83rd-ranked Hungarian Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (2), 6-0, 6-3 to reach a third-round date with 29th seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Svitolina made at least one major quarterfinal every year from 2017 through 2021, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019. She married Monfils one week before the Tokyo Olympics, then won a singles bronze medal.

Svitolina played her last match before maternity leave on March 24, 2022, one month after Russia invaded her country. She gave birth to daughter Skai on Oct. 15.

Svitolina returned to competition in April. Last week, she won the tournament preceding the French Open, sweeping Blinkova to improve to 17-3 in her career in finals. She’s playing on a protected ranking of 27th after her year absence and, now, on a seven-match win streak.

“It was always in my head the plan to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” she said. “I’m as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger, because I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court, and match by match I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental can influence your physicality, as well.”

Svitolina said she’s motivated by goals to attain before she retires from the sport and to help Ukraine, such as donating her prize money from last week’s title in Strasbourg.

“These moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well, the kids who loved to play tennis before the war, and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “But these moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”

Svitolina was born in Odesa and has lived in Kharkiv, two cities that have been attacked by Russia.

“I talk a lot with my friends, with my family back in Ukraine, and it’s a horrible thing, but they are used to it now,” she said. “They are used to the alarms that are on. As soon as they hear something, they go to the bomb shelters. Sleepless nights. You know, it’s a terrible thing, but they tell me that now it’s a part of their life, which is very, very sad.”

Svitolina noted that she plays with a flag next to her name — unlike the Russians and Belarusians, who are allowed to play as neutral athletes.

“When I step on the court, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine,” she said, “and me, I’m fighting here on my own front line.”

Svitolina said that she’s noticed “a lot of rubbish” concerning how tennis is reacting to the war.

“We have to focus on what the main point of what is going on,” she said. “Ukrainian people need help and need support. We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.

“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians. That’s the main point of this, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands because they are at the war, and they are fighting for Ukraine.

“You can donate. Couple of dollars might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people.”

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2023 French Open women’s singles draw, scores

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At the French Open, Iga Swiatek of Poland eyes a third title at Roland Garros and a fourth Grand Slam singles crown overall.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Swiatek, the No. 1 seed from Poland, can join Serena Williams and Justine Henin as the lone women to win three or more French Opens since 2000.

Turning 22 during the tournament, she can become the youngest woman to win three French Opens since Monica Seles in 1992 and the youngest woman to win four Slams overall since Williams in 2002.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Men’s Draw

But Swiatek is not as dominant as in 2022, when she went 16-0 in the spring clay season during an overall 37-match win streak.

She retired from her last pre-French Open match with a right thigh injury and said it wasn’t serious. Before that, she lost the final of another clay-court tournament to Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed, and Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, the No. 4 seed and Wimbledon champion, are the top challengers in Paris.

No. 3 Jessica Pegula and No. 6 Coco Gauff, runner-up to Swiatek last year, are the best hopes to become the first American to win a Grand Slam singles title since Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major drought is the longest for U.S. women since Seles won the 1996 Australian Open.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Women’s Singles Draw

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