Ryan Lochte faces his smallest Worlds schedule ever after throwaway 2014

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Ryan Lochte is swimming his fewest individual events at major international meet in 11 years at the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, in a little more than two weeks.

He’s coming off what he called probably the worst year of his career, which followed the worst injury of his career in November 2013 and retirement thoughts.

Yet Lochte is once again front and center.

Michael Phelps is suspended from Worlds. The biggest stars from Australia (James Magnussen), France (Yannick Agnel), Japan (Kosuke Hagino) and South Korea (Park Tae-hwan) will also be absent.

Qualifying for Worlds took place last year for U.S. swimmers.

Lochte made the Worlds team in two events — the 200m individual medley and the 200m freestyle — after winning a single individual medal at the year’s major international meet, the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia in August. It marked the first time he failed to win multiple individual medals at an Olympics, Worlds or Pan Pacs since his major international meet debut at the Athens 2004 Olympics.

For all that, Lochte blamed himself.

“I wasn’t in the shape that I wanted to be in,” Lochte said recently. “I had injuries and everything. … I wasn’t training as hard as I should have. My focus wasn’t there. We’re going to throw 2014 out. That year is gone.”

He undoubtedly came back too early by swimming in a February 2014 meet three months after tearing an MCL (via what Lochte has said was an overzealous fan running into him and him falling and hitting a curb). The knee hurt then, and it hurt even more two months later when he re-tore it.

Lochte added Thursday, “I should have stuck with rehab a little bit better. I should have took care of myself outside of the pool.”

With coach David Marsh, whom Lochte calls a “mad scientist,” the 11-time Olympic medalist has experimented. Lochte, who has said he’s eaten pizza and wings every Friday since he was 8, started a new technique off turns around early July, when he rolled onto his back while kicking under water en route to freestyle legs.

“I’m becoming my normal self again,” he said.

He still must prove it. Lochte ranks in the world top 20 in one individual event this year, the 200m IM. Four years ago, Lochte swooped four individual gold medals at the World Championships and became the man to beat — rather than Phelps — going into the London Olympics.

This year, he will benefit greatly from the absence of Phelps, Hagino, Agnel and Park at Worlds.

Lochte is the three-time defending World champion in the 200m IM. In Kazan, he won’t have to face the three-time reigning Olympic champion Phelps nor Hagino, the man who beat both Phelps and Lochte at Pan Pacs last year.

Lochte won gold in the 200m free at the 2011 Worlds and was fourth in the event at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds. In Kazan, he won’t have to face the 2008 Olympic champion Phelps nor Agnel and Park, who won gold and silver at the 2012 Olympics.

Lochte refused to acknowledge that winning those two events, his only two individual events, at Worlds would mean less without stars in the lanes next to him.

“There’s so many other swimmers out there that are up and coming,” Lochte said. “I’m not always really focused on, ‘Oh well Michael’s not there or Hagino, I can easily win.’ … Just because they’re not there doesn’t mean it should be a shoo-in for me.”

One thing’s for certain. Lochte will have more free time at Worlds than he’s used to at major meets. He swam four individual events each at his busiest at the 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympics.

“I don’t know if it makes it a little easier [swimming fewer events], just because I’ve always been that swimmer that loves racing,” Lochte said. “The more races I do, the better I am.”

He may return to a loaded schedule next year. Lochte has made it a habit of not revealing his goals (a Phelps habit, too) but said recently that swimming the grueling 400m individual medley was “not out of the question” at the 2016 Olympic trials.

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Copenhagen withdraws as 2021 World Gymnastics Championships host, cites pandemic

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Copenhagen withdrew as host of the 2021 World Gymnastics Championships, citing financial strain as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gymnastics worlds are usually not held in Olympic years, but the October 2021 edition remained scheduled when the Tokyo Games were postponed to summer 2021.

Denmark’s gymnastics federation board made the decision to not host worlds due in part to uncertainty about the global development of the coronavirus pandemic. That combined with financial losses already associated with the pandemic led to the bowing out.

The International Gymnastics Federation executive committee will “consider all consequences” from Copenhagen withdrawing, including launching a new bid process.

The 2022 Worlds are set for Liverpool, Great Britain, and 2023 in Antwerp, Belgium. Denmark will look into bidding to host in 2025.

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Allyson Felix, Noah Lyles headline Inspiration Games; TV, stream info

Allyson Felix, Noah Lyles
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In Allyson Felix‘s 17 years on the senior international level, she has never experienced anything like what Thursday will bring.

Felix, a nine-time Olympic medalist, will line up at a track in California to race 150 meters. Her opponents will be on the other side of the country — Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo in Florida — and the other side of the Atlantic Ocean — Swiss Mujinga Kambundji in Zurich.

The Inspiration Games air live on Thursday from 2-3:30 p.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. The meet is a repurposed version of a Diamond League stop in Zurich, Switzerland.

“I’ve just been training and training and training, so anything to break it up. … this seemed like something great. I just loved the concept,” said Felix, who memorably raced alone in at the Rio Olympics in a re-run of the 4x100m first round. “I’m not really sure what to expect. I think [it’s] the first time that we’ve all done anything like this. I’m just approaching it to have fun and hopefully give people something to watch and to be entertained by. I think we all miss sports so much.”

Meet organizers had to get creative with the coronavirus pandemic limiting athlete travel and group events. The Impossible Games was first to go on June 11 — in an Oslo stadium with few spectators and even fewer athletes (and others competing in different countries).

The Inspiration Games takes virtual competition to another level. Felix, Miller-Uibo and Kambundji are all slated to sprint at the same time in different locations. As are world champion Noah Lyles, Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre and the Netherlands’ Churandy Martina in a later 200m.

It marks the first meet since the coronavirus pandemic for Felix, bidding to make her fifth Olympic team and first as a mom. The pandemic and restrictions in California forced her to train on streets.

“Everything is still pretty much locked down,” she said. “You can’t get onto a track without jumping a fence.”

Felix admitted she’s “definitely not sharp” going into her first race since February.

“Once we knew for sure that the Olympic Games would be postponed, we really had to think about being at our best a year from now,” said Felix, a 34-year-old bidding to break Michael Johnson‘s record as the oldest Olympic 400m medalist. “In my situation and where I’m at in my career, I had to make some adjustments, just with the level of impact on my body so that I could still be able to continue to train, but to save something and to have that one last time to be at my best next year. I definitely think things have shifted now.”

Lyles raced last Saturday at a small meet in Florida, outsprinting Justin Gatlin in a 100m heat (9.93 seconds to 9.99 with a hefty four meter/second tailwind).

The regular Diamond League calendar is scheduled to resume in August.

Here are the Inspiration Games entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

1:35 p.m. ET — Men’s Pole Vault
1:35 — Women’s Pole Vault
2:05 — Men’s Triple Jump
2:10 — Women’s 150m
2:27 — Men’s 100 Yards
2:41 — Women’s 300m Hurdles
3:06 — Men’s 200m
3:20 — Women’s 3x100m Relay

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 1:35 p.m.
Greek Katerina Stefanidi, a Stanford grad, and American Sandi Morris renew their rivalry. Stefanidi will be in California. Morris will be in Florida. Swede Angelica Bengtsson rounds out the field. Stefanidi relegated Morris to silver at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 Worlds. But Morris snapped’ Stefanidi’s streak of eight straight wins in their head-to-head back in 2018 and has bettered Stefanidi in four of their last six meetings.

Men’s Triple Jump — 2:05 p.m.
Double Olympic champion Christian Taylor takes on longtime rival Pedro Pablo Pichardo, a Cuban-born Portuguese, and American Omar Craddock. Taylor bettered Pichardo in five of their last six meetings. In more than 30 meets together, Taylor has lost to Craddock just once (when Taylor has competed in full).

Women’s 150m — 2:10 p.m.
Felix and Miller-Uibo go head to head for the first time since the 2017 World Championships. Their most memorable duel came at the Rio Olympics, where a diving Miller-Uibo edged Felix by .07 for 400m gold. While Miller-Uibo and Felix primarily compete over a full lap, the 150m is closer to Kambundji’s wheelhouse. The Swiss earned 200m bronze at the 2019 World Championships, taking advantage of a depleted field.

Men’s 100 Yards — 2:27 p.m.
Triple Olympic medalist Andre De Grasse of Canada, Olympic 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica and French veteran Jimmy Vicaut all train in Florida and will presumably be racing at the same venue on Thursday. The 100 yards is scantly contested in top-level meets. Nobody has broken nine seconds in a 100-yard (91.44-meter) race, according to World Athletics. But Usain Bolt‘s estimated 100-yard time en route to his 2009 world record in the 100m was 8.87 seconds.

Men’s 200m — 3:06 p.m.
Lyles has lost an outdoor 200m just once in this Olympic cycle and wouldn’t normally be pestered by Lemaitre or Martina, but these are unusual times and this an unusual competition. Lemaitre is the Olympic bronze medalist but was sixth at last year’s French Championships. Martina, 36, and, like Lemaitre, hasn’t broken 20 seconds in more than three years.

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