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

Marvel superheroes inspire Bradie Tennell, Starr Andrews

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Bradie Tennell and Starr Andrews have something in common beyond their obvious figure skating talents: both skaters look to Marvel superheroes for inspiration.

The 20-year-old Tennell, who opened her 2018-19 international season with a big win over two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia at the Autumn International Classic in Oakville, Ontario, counts Iron Man and Spider-Man as her favorites.

Believe it or not, Iron Man – also known as Tony Stark – figures into Tennell’s free skate to “Romeo and Juliet.”

“After I land the triple salchow toward the end of my program, I go down on one knee and do what I call my Iron Man pose, because that’s what Iron Man (played by Robert Downey Jr.) does in the first Avengers movie,” she said.

Summoning superhuman strength worked. Tennell had a personal-best free skate in Oakville. But in other ways, she’s the opposite of her hero: Iron Man survives his adventures largely be wearing a special suit of armor, while Tennell is all about dropping her guard this season and being more expressive on the ice.

“I believe in myself a lot more,” she said. “I don’t think I’m as timid. I’m really working on not being as shy, just kind of letting my personality come through in everything.”

Andrews, 17, is inspired by the noble and determined Black Panther, depicted in the 2018 film by Chadwick Boseman.

“There is always a challenge and you always have to fight to get what you want,” she said.

“I wanted something different this year, I definitely wanted no lyrics, and an African theme,” she added. “When I watched Black Panther, I said, ‘Yeah, I want something like (the music in) this’ and Derrick (Delmore) pulled up some music.”

Delmore, who coaches Andrews in Los Angeles, wracked his brain to find the right material. Ultimately, he choreographed her free to a medley he calls “African Tribal Xotica.”

“The music is from five different things,” he said. “She saw the movie, loved it, and sent me some music from that movie she cut herself that I didn’t love. She was inspired to do something in that genre. I finally thought of music I used a few years back for another skater, and I played it for her, and as soon as it came on she said, ‘Oh, this is what I want.’”

What Andrews wants now is a triple axel. She attempted the three-and-a-half revolution jump in her free skate in Oakville, but it was downgraded (judged short of rotation) by the technical panel. Still, she placed a respectable seventh in a tough international field.

“I’m excited for the day I get it,” Andrews said. “I just have to keep working on it. One day I will land it and will be super-confident and happy.  It’s not new to me, I’ve been working on it for a while. That little extra effort, and then I’ll land it.”

Only two other senior U.S. ladies – Tonya Harding, back in the early 1990s, and Mirai Nagasu at the Pyeongchang Olympics in February – have landed the jump in international competition, but Andrews believes it is becoming almost commonplace.  While Tennell and Andrews were competing in Oakville, Japanese teenager Rika Kihira landed two triple axels, including one in combination with a triple toe, at Ondrej Nepela Trophy.

“There are so many more people doing it know. I feel like it’s not surprising for women to do it,” Andrews said. “They are doing it in junior and even in advanced novice, like Alysa Liu (at the Asian Open), which was amazing.”

Delmore supports his student’s ambition, with a few caveats.

“Right now, I want her to get used to doing the axel,” he said. “I want it to be a regular part of her competitive experience, so she knows how to keep going when it doesn’t go well, and hopefully when she gets it, she knows what it’s like to have that amazing moment and to keep going.”

MORE: 12-year-old is third U.S. woman to land triple Axel internationally

Yuzuru Hanyu wins Autumn Classic despite shaky performance

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Yuzuru Hanyu won his third Autumn Classic International crown in Oakville, Ontario on Saturday, but it was a bumpy ride.

The two-time Olympic champion’s debut of his “Origin” free skate, inspired by Yevgeni Plushenko’s famous “Tribute to Njinsky” program, had many fine elements: opening quadruple loop and toe loop jumps, plus two triple axels in the program’s second half; a pair of superb closing spins with fittingly baroque positions; and promising step and choreography sequences that preserved Plushenko’s flair, while adding a touch more refinement and control.

But a face-forward fall on a quad salchow, followed by a popped quad toe, meant Hanyu’s 165.91 points put him second in the free skate to his 16-year-old training partner, Junhwan Cha of South Korea. His total score, including Friday’s short program, was 263.65 points, just under four points higher than Cha’s second-place total.

At this point in the season, many other skaters – not including Plushenko – would have shrugged  off the imperfections in the challenging program and been happy to put a few miles on the choreography. But the 23-year-old Hanyu’s perfectionism runs year-round.

“My first competition of the season is always this level, unfortunately,” he said, as translated from Japanese. “I wanted to skate my short and free without any regrets here, and I was not able to do that.”

Hanyu likely remembers this event last season, when a mistake-riddled free skate put him second to longtime rival Javier Fernandez of Spain. This time around, the Japanese superstar, who trains at Toronto’s Cricket Skating and Curling Club under Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson, was especially disappointed that his jump glitches meant he could not attempt a quad-triple axel sequence, a combination that might have been worth some 20 points.

“I was not strong enough to skate this program yet,” he said. “I feel fine, I am not injured. Another program, maybe (last season’s) ‘Seimei,’ I might have been able to do well, but not this program. I am just not ready.”

Just as he did after Friday’s short program, where a botched spin cost him several points, Hanyu vowed to work harder.

“This is where I am right now, and I need to practice more,” he said.

Hanyu has plenty of time: his first Grand Prix event is in Finland on November 2.

The skating world may best remember this event as the week Cha came into his own. The Korean teen, who landed a quad salchow in his short on Friday, hit a quad toe to start his free to “Romeo and Juliet” – just the second time he has landed the jump in competition. While his quad salchow was judge under rotated, he went on to land two triple-triple combinations and two triple axels, all done with style and maturity beyond his years. The program earned 169.22 points to win the day.

“Last season, I didn’t skate so well. I had some hip and back (injuries) and boot problems,” Cha, who also said he had recently had a growth spurt, said. “Now I feel much stronger, and I have been working hard.”

Asked if he had a skating idol – perhaps his training partner, Hanyu – Cha demurred.

“I don’t have just one idol,” he said. “I like many different skaters, for different reasons. I will like one skater for his jumps; another skater for his spins.”

MORE: Tennell upsets Medvedeva at Autumn Classic

Canada’s Roman Sadovsky, fourth after the short program, stepped up to win the bronze medal with 233.86 points after landing two quads, a salchow and toe, in his free skate.

Jason Brown may be disappointed in his fourth-place finish here, but it cannot have come as a big surprise: the 2015 U.S. champion has said that since moving to Toronto this spring to train under Orser and Wilson, he has been re-learning his jump technique. He called the move “a four-year project.”

“I cannot speak more highly of Brian, Tracy, Lee (Barkell) and Karen (Preston), the whole team at Cricket Club,” Brown, 23, said. “They have been really been patient with me and worked with me methodically. … We’re starting from the ground up. Each day I’m learning something new, each day they are helping me work through something, whether that me a mental thing, physically getting a jump,  or the pacing of a program.”

The debut of Brown’s free to a medley of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Old Friends” and “Hazy Days of Winter” was bittersweet: his blades sung during spins, step sequences and transitions, but the jumps weren’t there. An opening quad salchow was doubled; a triple axel, popped into a single. He earned 144.33 points to place fifth in the free and fourth overall with 233.23.

Wilson, though, said they are just getting started.

“Let’s face it, he is a brilliant skater and he’s gotten close to the top of the world,” Wilson said of Brown, who was fourth in the world in 2015. “It’s a fine line trying to find room for improvement, and so that’s what we are trying to do. We are throwing a lot at him. We’re going to pull back a little.”

“What he brings, though, cannot be ignored,” she added. “My husband can be in the rink and know nothing about skating, and be mesmerized by what Jason does. He could teach clinics for every step sequence and position details. He is integral to what the sport needs.”

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