Ryan Lochte

World Swimming Championships men’s preview

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What will the men’s results at the World Swimming Championships portend for the Rio Olympics?

Ryan Lochte could win the 200m individual medley and 200m freestyle in Kazan, Russia, next week.

But he would do so against fields that do not include longtime rival Michael Phelps (out as part of punishment for last year’s DUI) and Japan’s Kosuke Hagino (injured), perhaps the world’s best all-around swimmer. France’s Olympic and World 200m free champion Yannick Agnel is also out for health reasons.

U.S. Olympic champion Nathan Adrian could bag his first World title in the 100m freestyle, but two-time reigning World champion James Magnussen won’t be in Kazan following shoulder surgery.

And China’s Sun Yang, who swept the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles at the 2013 World Championships, won’t have South Korean rival Park Tae-hwan to push him in the 400m. Park is missing Worlds due to a doping ban but could return for the Rio Olympics.

All that’s to say that many rightfully earned gold medals next week will not carry the added title of 2016 Olympic favorite.

Worlds broadcast schedule | Daily schedule of events | Entry lists | Women’s preview

What’s clear is several nations have gold-medal contenders in Kazan, from usual powers like the U.S., Australia, China and Japan to recently emerged South Africa and Brazil and even Great Britain and Germany.

The U.S. men have star power even without Phelps. It starts with Lochte, who will surely add to his career total of 23 Worlds medals, even though he is not the same force he was four years ago, when he bagged four individual gold medals to become the clear-cut world’s top all-around swimmer going into London 2012.

Lochte, who turns 31 on Monday and is coming back from an injury-beset 2014, ranks in the top 20 in the world in one individual event this year and is swimming two individual events next week — the 200m individual medley and 200m freestyle.

“This meet, whatever the outcome is, is just a stepping stone to what I want to accomplish next year at the Olympics,” Lochte, who keeps his goals a secret, told media in Kazan on Friday.

Ryan Lochte faces his smallest Worlds schedule ever after throwaway 2014

Matt Grevers (100m backstroke), Nathan Adrian (100m freestyle) and Tyler Clary (200m backstroke) are competing in events where they won 2012 Olympic gold medals, but it’s possible that none are favorites.

Sun could very well take male Swimmer of the Meet honors for a second straight Worlds. Like Katie Ledecky, he’s added the 200m free to his program of 400m, 800m and 1500m frees. Phelps and Lochte are the only swimmers who have won four individual golds at a single Worlds. Sun could join them.

South Africa’s Chad le Clos is the reigning FINA men’s Swimmer of the Year. He’ll benefit greatly from Phelps’ absence with a chance to sweep the butterflies.

From Japan, Ryosuke Irie could upset the Americans in both backstrokes. Daiya Seto could sweep the individual medleys.

The breaststrokes feature medal contenders from Australia, Brazil, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Japan, South Africa and, perhaps, the U.S.

Key men’s finals:

Sunday, Aug. 2
400m freestyle — Sun is the 2012 Olympic and 2013 World champion, but Australian Mack Horton is fastest this year
4x100m freestyle relay — Five nations in the medal mix — U.S., Australia, France, Russia, Brazil

Monday, Aug. 3
100m breaststroke — Great Britain’s Adam Peaty broke South African Olympic champion Cameron van der Burgh‘s world record by more than a half-second earlier this year

Tuesday, Aug. 4
200m freestyle — Lochte can reclaim his 2011 title in the absence of Phelps and Agnel, but Sun, world-record holder Paul Biedermann lurk
100m backstroke — Grevers is the 2012 Olympic and 2013 World champion, but Irie has been faster in 2014 and 2015

Wednesday, Aug. 5
200m butterfly — Le Clos is the 2012 Olympic and 2013 World champion, but Seto has been faster in 2014 and 2015
800m freestyle — Sun is the 2013 World champion, but Horton is fastest this year

Thursday, Aug. 6
200m individual medley — The 2013 World champion Lochte doesn’t have to face Olympic champion Phelps or World silver medalist Hagino
100m freestyle — Australian Cameron McEvoy beat Adrian by nearly a half-second at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships (in Australia)

Friday, Aug. 7
200m backstroke — Clary and Ryan Murphy look to win the U.S.’ 21st straight 200m back gold at a major international meet, but Irie is a big threat
200m breaststroke — Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta is the three-time reigning World champion, but Germany’s Marco Koch has been faster in 2014 and 2015
4x200m freestyle relay — U.S. has won five straight World titles; Australian Grant Hackett made the Australian team after coming out of a six-year retirement

Saturday, Aug. 8
50m freestyle — French Olympic champ Florent Manaudou has been fastest in 2014 and 2015
100m butterfly — Le Clos won’t face Phelps, but Tom Shields could be a threat

Sunday, Aug. 9
1500m freestyle — Nobody’s been within eight seconds of Sun’s world record since 2012, not even Sun
4x100m medley relay — U.S. is heavily favored if it doesn’t get DQed, as it did in 2013

Mark Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

Justin Gatlin, with Usain Bolt gone, shows the kids he’s still spry

AP
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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Sometimes after a particularly grueling workout, sprinter Justin Gatlin will turn to his younger training partners and inquire: “Are you sore, too?”

It’s just an age check. He doesn’t feel 37 except on rare occasions. Like at big races when he sees so much youth on the starting line and not the familiar faces from years gone by.

Missing, of course, is his biggest rival, Usain Bolt, the Jamaican standout who rewrote the record book before saying goodbye to track nearly two years ago.

Arriving on the scene, a slew of 20-somethings such as Americans Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles who present another challenge for Gatlin, the defending 100m world champion.

“I don’t think about age. I don’t think about being old,” said Gatlin, who will compete in the 100m at the U.S. championships this week in Des Moines, Iowa. “I just feel like a time traveler in a way. I’m still here, still running, still putting down good times, still training really well. Just staying focused on what the goal is.”

And that goal is to show the kids he’s still young at heart. At a Diamond League race in Monaco on July 12 , Gatlin won the 100 in 9.91 seconds, holding off Lyles by 0.01 seconds.

“These young athletes, they make me feel young,” said Gatlin , who doesn’t consider the Tokyo Olympics next summer his finish line as he contemplates racing through the 2021 World Championships in Eugene, Ore. “They’re running super-fast times that I ran before so it gives me a target. It gives me a sounding board to know where I have to be and how I’m going to have to compete.”

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Throughout his career, Gatlin has been a polarizing figure. With his doping past — his four-year suspension ended in 2010 — Gatlin’s been booed (like the night he beat Bolt for gold at the ’17 World Championships in London) and hounded (he gestured toward a heckler bothering his mom in the stands during the medal ceremony at the ’15 Worlds in Beijing). He’s never let it bother him.

Instead, he lets his performances do most of his talking.

“I’m an enigma,” Gatlin said. “I’ve had my dark times and I’ve gone through an area where normally someone who’s been away from the sport or had a ban would never come back from. … I defied those odds to a point where I think that it made people uncomfortable because not only did I come back, but I came back better.”

He said the younger generation doesn’t judge him. An up-and-coming sprinter once joked with Gatlin that he happened to be in first grade when Gatlin won the 100m title at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

“Those kinds of things always shock me, how time really works. But it still doesn’t make me feel old,” said Gatlin, whose best 100m time is 9.74 seconds in Doha on May 15, 2015. “I’ve gained so many more followers just off of the respect of me working hard, me climbing, keep fighting for it no matter my age, no matter how many times I lost to Usain. It was all about staying the course, which was my course, and not veering from and trying to be something that everyone wanted me to be. I just wanted to be Justin.”

Gatlin surprised the track world at worlds in ’17 by beating Bolt in Bolt’s final major 100 race. Gatlin also edged Coleman, who came in second that night with Bolt taking third.

Not having Bolt at the world championships this fall in Doha remains hard to fathom for Gatlin. They’ve had so many epic races over the years, like at worlds in ’15 when Bolt eclipsed Gatlin at the line.

But this thought keeps Gatlin working: The next Bolt is out there. It could be Lyles. Or Coleman. It could be Andre De Grasse of Canada or Matthew Boling, the teen from Texas who is headed to Georgia for college and who became a viral sensation this spring when he ran a wind-aided 9.98 in the 100m (Bolt’s world record is 9.58).

It could be anyone.

“Track and field is a beautiful, beautiful novel with many, many unique chapters,” Gatlin said. “I’m excited about what’s going to come after and how it’s going to be unique and maybe bigger and better than a Usain Bolt.”

At nationals this week, Gatlin’s plan is modest. He will run a round of the 100m — he already has an automatic spot to worlds — and see how he feels. If he feels good, he may chase after the title. If not, he won’t. Gatlin is planning to skip the 200m as he tries to get his hips and hamstrings feeling 100 percent.

To keep his legs fresh at 37, Gatlin has learned to take rest days. To keep his mind fresh at 37, he works out with younger training partners who bring new energy and ideas.

“That,” Gatlin said, “is really what keeps me young.”

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Geraint Thomas crashes, recovers; other pre-Tour de France favorite out in Stage 16

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NIMES, France (AP) — Crashing is becoming a bad habit for defending Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas.

After hitting the ground twice over the past two weeks, the Welshman fell off his bike one more time on Tuesday as a heat wave engulfed the race ahead of grueling days in the Alps when the Tour will reach its climax.

Once again, Thomas was lucky enough to escape with bruises and scratches, but the timing of his crash in the rural hinterland of the antique Roman city of Nimes was unfortunate. Although Thomas quickly got back on his bike and did not lose time, crashes always have a lingering effect on riders’ bodies. It’s generally after 48 hours that the soreness reaches its peak, and that’s when he will be fighting in high altitude with rivals trying to take him off his perch.

Lagging 1 minute, 35 seconds behind race leader Julian Alaphilippe with the race now going into its five last stages, Thomas was caught off guard under a scorching sun about 40 kilometers into the stage won by Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan.

The peloton was not riding at full speed, but Thomas was surprised.

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“I just had one hand on the bars, and the gears jumped and jammed and I got thrown off my bike on a corner,” he said. “I knew the race wasn’t on so I just got back into the group. It’s just frustrating. It was such a freak thing.”

Danish rider Jakob Fuglsang, who stood ninth overall, was not as lucky and was forced to abandon the Tour with a left hand injury after falling late in the stage as the peloton pedaled past the picturesque town of Uzes.

Thomas, a former track specialist who transformed into a Tour de France contender after years spent working in support of four-time champion Chris Froome, has always been prone to crashing. Just last month, his preparation for the Tour was cut short by a spill during a race in Switzerland.

But he has also shown in the past that he can soldier on in pain. Six years ago when riding the Tour as Froome’s loyal teammate, Thomas fell off his bike on a Corsican road in the opening stage and broke his pelvis. But he kept racing for 3,000 kilometers to reach the finish.

He will need to be at the top of his form on Thursday for the start of an Alpine trilogy of stages including six climbs over 2,000 meters. This is when the race — the most exciting in the last decade — will be decided before Sunday’s ceremonial ride to Paris.

Sixteen stages out of 21 have been completed, but the suspense remains intact, with six riders separated by little more than 2 minutes. Behind Alaphilippe and Thomas, Steven Kruijswijk remained third, 1:47 off the pace and 3 seconds ahead of Thibaut Pinot. Thomas’ Ineos teammate Egan Bernal lags 2:02 behind and Emmanuel Buchmann has a 2:14 deficit.

Bernal, a Colombian and one of the best pure climbers in the Tour, played down Thomas’ crash and said the race in the Alps will suit him more than the Pyrenees, where both Ineos leaders conceded time to Pinot.

“He crashed but with no consequence and I don’t think he’ll suffer from it in the coming days,” Bernal said. “We’re approaching the Alps. The climbs there are longer and steeper. They’re more of the Colombian style of climbing. I’m ready and I feel good.”

Ewan said he suffered from the heat throughout the stage — temperatures soared as high as 40 degrees Celsius (40 F) — but it did not slow him down in the finale. The Australian Tour debutant edged Elia Viviani and Dylan Groenewegen to post his second stage win following his maiden success in Toulouse last week.

Earlier, riders tried to cool down with bottles of cold water against the backs of their necks as they pedaled on the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge set against a dramatic landscape of rocks, trees and water. Alexis Gougeard, Lukasz Wisniowski, Stephane Rossetto, Paul Ourselin and Lars Bak organized the day’s breakaway and had a maximum lead of 2 minutes.

After the group was caught two kilometers from the finish, Viviani was set up by his teammates and launched the sprint about 200 meters from the line but could not resist Ewan’s comeback.

“To be honest, I felt so bad today during the day. I think the heat really got to me,” Ewan said. “I was really suffering but I had extra motivation today because my daughter and wife are here. I’m so happy I could win for them.”

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