Kate Ziegler returns from 2-year swimming break, by way of Alaska, Australia

Kate Ziegler
5 Comments

Two-time Olympian Kate Ziegler will swim competitively this week for the first time in more than two years and, the former world-record holder said, in a refreshed, excited state for the first time in more than three years.

“I needed time away,” Ziegler said in a phone interview from her Tennessee base Tuesday, reflecting since the London 2012 Olympics, refocusing her passion for a sport that had more often than not been her identity since age 6.

She’s in a new training setting and, as will be seen at the Pro Swim Series meet in Charlotte starting Thursday, in new events.

Ziegler, now 26, is entered in the 100m, 200m and 400m freestyles. Her first event is Friday’s 200m free, the beginning of a much lighter slate than she’s used to.

Ziegler was once the world’s greatest distance swimmer, following the likes of U.S. Olympic champions Janet Evans and Brooke Bennett.

She swept the 800m and 1500m freestyles at the 2005 and 2007 World Championships, the first of those golds coming less than a month after her 17th birthday (elite distance swimmers often peak in their teens).

She also shattered Evans’ 19-year-old world record in the grueling 1500m by nearly 10 seconds in 2007 and held the mark for six years before Katie Ledecky seized it.

But in the Olympics, Ziegler did not advance to any finals over three events in 2008 and 2012. She felt burned out at Beijing 2008 and suffered from the flu after walking in the Opening Ceremony at London 2012.

It was reportedly 65 degrees at Olympic Stadium that evening, and many swimmers skip the Opening Ceremony to rest up for events that weekend, but Ziegler wasn’t due to compete for another six days.

In her only London Olympic swim, Ziegler finished eighth out of eight swimmers in her 800m freestyle heat, 15.51 seconds slower than her second-place time at the Olympic trials one month earlier.

The top eight overall made the final, won by Ledecky. Ziegler finished 21st overall, behind athletes from Argentina, Liechtenstein and Lebanon, nations with little history of swimming success. The U.S. entered 52 swimmers in the pool across 26 individual events in London. Ziegler was the only one to finish outside the top 20.

She reportedly broke down in tears in front of media following her swim, four years after a Beijing Olympic experience she called a “complete failure” that led her to believe she “wasn’t proud to tell people I was an Olympian.”

“I came into this race thinking I was going to fight and do the best I could,” she reportedly said after the London 800m free heat, “and that’s what I did.”

Ziegler spent the final days of the Olympics touring London with teammate Amanda Weir and coming back for the Closing Ceremony. It may have been her Olympic farewell.

Ziegler took six months off after the 2008 Olympics but went right back into the pool following London.

It wasn’t until after a February 2013 meet that she decided a break was necessary.

“I was not done with swimming but needing to do other things,” she said.

Ziegler visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and ate lunch at the White House, but her passion for the sport was perhaps most rekindled in Alaska and Australia last year.

She helped lead swim clinics in Anchorage and Fairbanks in July and August. Another swimmer on that trip, 2012 Olympic 4x200m free relay champion Davis Tarwater, encouraged Ziegler to check out his home of Knoxville, Tenn., if she was looking to return to regular training.

She took him up on it and toured Knoxville for the first time in September.

“Sort of like a recruiting process,” said Tarwater’s intermittent coach, the University of Tennessee head coach Matt Kredich.

Later that fall, Ziegler flew to Australia and New Zealand with her mother and coached at the International Children’s Games in New South Wales, for athletes ages 12 to 15.

During this time, she spoke regularly with her longtime coach in Virginia, Ray Benecki.

“Kate, you’ve got to do what’s best for you,” Ziegler said Benecki told her. “What brings you happiness?”

Ziegler moved to Knoxville in January. She now trains with a post-graduate group under Kredich.

She gushed about the environment, an uplifting, empowering culture.

“It’s a place that you just want to succeed at, and it fosters success,” said Ziegler, who modified her stroke to adapt to shorter events. “It’s been refreshing.”

Ziegler also noted the support of former teammates, specifically close friend Katie Hoff and Ian Crocker, whose careers included highs and Olympic lows like Ziegler.

“Two people who were really instrumental in helping me figure out my ‘why’ in the sport,” Ziegler said. “Why am I doing this? What do I want to get out of it?”

It’s all about outlook.

“The reminder for myself is that swimming distinguishes me, and it’s something I enjoy doing, but it does not define me,” Ziegler said. “I’m not defined by the successes or the failures in the sport. That was something that was very hard for me growing up. It was really my identity.”

With that mindset, Ziegler isn’t putting expectations on her return this week. Kredich said she’s improved at a higher rate over the last four weeks than any other stretch since she moved to Knoxville.

“My impression is she wants to she how good she can be,” Kredich said. “She’s in some ways starting over, and she just wants to keep progressing and keep getting better. I believe she has the Olympic trials in her crosshairs. That’s definitely on her mind.”

She might not swim the 100m freestyle in Charlotte, and she doesn’t see any 800m or 1500m frees in her future. Is her best event now the 400m, or the 200m?

“I think that’ll be answered at Charlotte,” Kredich said. “Her background says 400. The training and what she’s been working at would say the 200.”

Ziegler was reflective when pressed about a potential third Olympics.

“Would it be redemption? I don’t know,” said Ziegler, whose Twitter bio includes this line, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

“I look back on my Olympic experiences, and there was a lot of heartache there, but I’m really actually, as crazy as it might sound, I’m really thankful for what happened,” she said. “It taught me a lot. This time, if I make it to the Olympics again, I will be able to swim with a lot more freedom, gratitude and perspective that I think will help me to truly appreciate the experience.”

Katie Ledecky eyes daunting double at World Championships

Noah, Josephus Lyles have unfinished business after record-breaking sprint season

Noah Lyles, Josephus Lyles
Getty
0 Comments

CHARLOTTE — Brothers Noah and Josephus Lyles each hit a milestone in the 200m this past summer. Each has a clear next step in mind.

Noah, the elder at age 25, is (in a change) now talking openly about wanting to break Usain Bolt‘s world record of 19.19 seconds. He will do it if he improves his personal best by a similar amount of time as he did in 2022.

At the world championships in July, Noah prevailed in 19.31 seconds, a personal best by 19 hundredths and an American record. He is now the third-fastest man in history. Bolt’s world record is 12 hundredths of a second away. Eye blinks can be quicker, but it is still a significant gap. Since worlds, Noah repeated a desire to break Bolt’s record.

Noah, speaking before an event for the brothers’ foundation last week, was asked if he had any hesitation about voicing that ambition given there will be doubters. He ruminated.

“There’s like 150 different ways I can go about [answering] this. I’m trying to figure out which one I want to do,” he said. “It kind of really all boils down to: I don’t care what other people think.”

Recall a back-and-forth between Noah and the retired Bolt in 2019. That summer, Noah ran 19.65 at a Diamond League meet in Paris — breaking Bolt’s meet record. In Noah’s Instagram story that day, an image showed him making a shushing motion with the caption, “Bolt who?” That drew a reaction from Bolt. Noah was asked often that summer about Bolt’s world record. Rather than take aim at 19.19, Noah said coyly that he had special things planned.

Noah did not run 19.65 or faster for another two years, until after taking bronze at the Tokyo Olympics. But his 2022 was arguably the deepest 200m season in history. Noah went faster than 19.65 on six occasions. Bolt is the only other man to break 19.65 more than three times over a career, and he never did it more than three times in one year (In his prime, Bolt did not race the 200m as often as Noah did this year).

In summary: Noah is back and better than ever, boosted by a more efficient start out of the blocks and improved mental health, having worked with therapist Diana McNab. Bolt was 23 when he ran 19.19. Michael Johnson was 28 when he ran his personal best of 19.32. Noah turns 26 on July 18, one month before next summer’s world championships in Budapest.

“When you enter a sport, why shouldn’t your dream be to achieve the best that is ever possible?” Noah said. “To anybody who says to themselves, ‘A record is not going to be broken,’ look at all the previous world records. All broken. And even when I get this record, it’s going to be broken. And that’s OK.”

In addition to chasing Bolt in the 200m, Noah plans to reintroduce the 100m into his major event program. He has a bye into the world championships in the 200m, so expect him to run the 100m at next summer’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, where three world spots are at stake.

Noah previously planned to double in the 100m and 200m for the Tokyo Olympics but did not find his rhythm before the Olympic Trials, where he placed seventh in the 100m, one week before making his first Olympic team in the 200m. Only one man has won both the 100m and the 200m at a global championship in the last 15 years: Bolt in 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016.

“We were planning on going after [the double] this year, but just a few complications,” Noah said. “Mostly, [needing to work on] my start was making that very difficult. We decided to focus mainly on the 200m, and I’m glad we did because we were able to accomplish two things — winning the world championship in the 200m again, and then actually getting a better start. So now that I’ve secured both of those things, I now feel I have the freedom to go and try and bring the same success to the 100m.”

Josephus, the younger brother by 369 days, had a breakout 2022 of his own. He went under 20 seconds in the 200m for the first time and, had he not been running into a headwind, would have broken 10 seconds in the 100m for the first time.

Josephus also made his first world championships team, albeit in unusual circumstances. He was fifth in the 200m final at nationals, where the top four earned spots at worlds. Josephus, who had a two-day bout with COVID a week before nationals, left the Hayward Field track believing that he missed the team by six hundredths of a second.

Then he got a call from Noah, who saw Josephus’ name on a board at team processing and told his younger brother to hurry over to get fitted for national team clothes. Turns out, Josephus was named to the 4x100m relay pool, unexpectedly given he didn’t run the 100m at nationals. Micah Williams, who was fourth in the 100m at nationals, was not named to the team (no reason was given).

At worlds, the U.S. ran the same four men in 4x100m qualifying and the final, meaning that Josephus and Kyree King, another relay pool-only runner, didn’t get to race. Josephus left bittersweet.

“All I know is I’m not going to be in the relay pool again [without qualifying in an individual event],” he said. “I’m going to make the team [individually] so I don’t have to worry about that.”

Josephus and Noah traded stories about their seasons after taking an eight-hour road trip from Central Florida to Charlotte, where they lived for five years growing up. They sat for an interview on bleachers inside the Sugaw Creek Recreation Center, where they planned to show off their medals, give away signed spikes and meet and greet more than 200 people, including a question-and-answer session with kids.

The foundation, launched in late 2020, supports children who want to be involved in track and field.

“We’re still in the early stages,” Noah said.

Next: the brothers go back to their native D.C. area, where they will be inducted into their high school district’s athletics hall of fame next week. Later in October is what Noah calls an “End of Season Bash” in Bermuda. There is plenty to celebrate, and plenty to look forward to.

Before rising from the bleachers, the brothers were asked what will make 2023 a success on the track.

“If I go out there and I have fun, everything else will fall into place,” Josephus said.

Noah joked that Josephus stole his answer.

“I got a lot of success this year, but I can’t let that overrun everything,” Noah said. “I want to make sure that I use that energy to fuel doing even more into this [next] year. I know if I do that. the world is mine.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

U.S. women win record 27th consecutive FIBA World Cup game

USA Basketball
Getty
0 Comments

SYDNEY — There’s been a long legacy of success for the U.S. women’s basketball team at the World Cup.

The names change over time, but the results don’t seem to.

Kelsey Plum scored 20 points, Chelsea Gray added 16 and the United States routed Bosnia and Herzegovina 121-59 on Tuesday to break the team record for consecutive wins at the World Cup.

The victory was the 27th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The U.S. won 26 in a row from 1994-2006 leading up to that game. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86.

“It’s kind of amazing,” said Breanna Stewart, who has been part of the last three World Cup teams. “Obviously, been here for some of it, but you understand the legends before that who really kind of started the streak. It goes to show that no matter who is playing on USA Basketball, we’re always trying to chase excellence.

“This streak doesn’t mean much right now because we’re going into the quarterfinals and focusing on winning a gold medal, but it’s something to kind of hang your hat on later.”

What started with Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles has now been passed on to Stewart and A’ja Wilson. A legacy of excellence that doesn’t appear it will end anytime soon.

“The players change and, you know, there was a lot of concern about who’s next,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said. “It was a concern when Dawn Staley and Lisa Leslie were playing and who was going to be next. Then it was Sue and (Taurasi) and then other great players, too. Now with this group they are saying, hey, we’re pretty good, too.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

The U.S. last lost a group play game in 1975, according to Bill Mallon of Olympedia.org.

“We know the responsibility when you put on this jersey. There’s a lot more than yourself,” Plum said. “Everyone puts pride to the side. We have a common goal. We have some amazing players on this team.”

The Americans (5-0) won their pool games by an average of 46.2 points and never trailed in any of them. Now they play Serbia in the quarterfinals.

The U.S. was coming off a record rout of South Korea in which the team broke the World Cup record for points with 145. While the Americans didn’t match that number, they put the game out of reach in the first 10 minutes, going up 33-15.

The lead ballooned to 63-31 at halftime. Bosnia and Herzegovina put together a small run to start the third quarter, but the U.S. scored the final 19 points of the period.

Once again they used a dominant inside performance, outscoring Bosnia and Herzegovina 84-28 in the paint led by Wilson, Stewart and Brionna Jones.

“It’s a huge part of our identity,” Reeve said. “Ninety-whatever we had yesterday and 84 today, we just know what we’re good at and we have players that are really understanding their opportunities for that.”

The U.S. was missing Jewell Loyd, whom the team said was resting. Kahleah Copper started in her place and finished with 11 points.

Nikolina Elez scored 19 points to lead the Bosniaks (0-5), who were playing in their first World Cup.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!