U.S. men stunned in Worlds relay as streaks snapped

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The U.S. won three silver medals at the World Swimming Championships on Friday but saw its two longest gold-medal streaks in major international meets snapped in Kazan, Russia.

Great Britain’s James Guy overcame a 1.63-second deficit on Michael Weiss on the 4x200m freestyle relay anchor leg to win by .42. The U.S. had won the event at 11 straight major international meets dating to Ryan Lochte‘s first Olympic medal in the Athens 2004 relay.

Lochte led off the relay Friday and gave the U.S. a .54 lead. Conor Dwyer extended it to .85 and Reed Malone to 1.38 over Russia, but Weiss couldn’t hold off Guy, the individual 200m freestyle World champion. Had the U.S. had Michael Phelps, it might have been a different result.

“I know that we were missing some guys; I think everyone from each team is missing some guys,” Lochte told media in Kazan. “We came up short, but we’re going to definitely remember this and hopefully train our butts off all next year and hopefully not let that happen again.”

Australian Mitch Larkin ended a 20-year American run atop the men’s 200m backstroke, sweeping the 100m and 200m back golds in Kazan. Larkin clocked 1:53.58, followed by Poland’s Radoslaw Kawecki (1:54.55) and Russia’s Yevgeny Rylov (1:54.60).

Americans Ryan Murphy and Olympic champion Tyler Clary were fifth and seventh, respectively. The U.S. had won the 200m back at 20 straight major international meets (Olympics/Worlds/Pan Pacific Championships), the last loss coming at the 1994 World Championships.

The U.S. owns 14 medals through six of eight days at the World Championships, leading the medal standings over Australia and China, which both have 11. The U.S.’ fewest medals won at a Worlds or Olympics in the last 50 years was 21 at the 1994 World Championships.

World Swimming Championships: Friday results | Broadcast schedule

In the 100m freestyle, Australian sisters Bronte and Cate Campbell took gold and bronze, respectively, to become the first siblings to share a Worlds individual podium.

Bronte, 21, clocked 52.52 for the victory. Swede Sarah Sjostrom took silver at 52.70. Cate, 23 and the 2013 World champion, touched in 52.82.

Americans Simone Manuel and Missy Franklin finished sixth and seventh, respectively. Franklin finished fifth in the 100m free at the 2012 Olympics and fourth at the 2013 Worlds, both in faster times than Friday. A U.S. woman has not won a Worlds 100m free medal since 2005 (Natalie Coughlin) and a gold medal since 1998 (Jenny Thompson).

Franklin came back 16 minutes later to win her 200m backstroke semifinal, qualifying third overall into Saturday’s final behind Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu and Australian 100m backstroke champion Emily Seebohm.

American Kevin Cordes earned silver in the 200m breaststroke, .29 behind German Marco Koch. Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta took bronze in a bid to become the third swimmer to earn four straight World titles in one event. Cordes, 21, won bronze in the non-Olympic 50m breast earlier at Worlds.

Cordes has rebounded well from a disastrous Worlds debut in 2013, when he disqualified the U.S. men’s medley relay team by taking off .01 too early in the final. Cordes also was disqualified from the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships 100m breast final after trying to take off his goggles during the race because they filled with water.

In the women’s 200m breast, Japan’s Kanako Watanabe overtook Danish world-record holder Rikke Moller Pedersen in the final 50 meters, winning in 2:21.15. American Micah Lawrence earned silver, 1.29 seconds behind. Lawrence was the bronze medalist in 2013.

Pedersen, China’s Shi Jinglin and Spain’s Jessica Vall tied for bronze Friday. It’s the first time five swimmers won medals in an individual swimming event at an Olympics or World Championships.

In semifinals Friday, Nathan Adrian broke Cullen Jones‘ American 50m freestyle record to lead all qualifiers into Saturday’s eight-man final. Adrian, the Olympic 100m free champion, finished a disappointing seventh in the 100m free Thursday.

Tom Shields was the No. 2 qualifier into Saturday’s 100m butterfly final, behind Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh and in front of defending World champion Chad le Clos of South Africa.

Earlier Friday, Katie Ledecky clocked the fastest qualifying time into Saturday’s 800m freestyle final. If she wins gold, she will become the first swimmer to sweep the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees at a Worlds. She will also become the third swimmer to win four individual golds at a single Worlds, joining Lochte and Phelps.

10-year-old girl swims at World Championships

Women’s 100m Freestyle
Gold: Bronte Campbell (AUS) — 52.52
Silver: Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) — 52.70
Bronze: Cate Campbell (AUS) — 52.82
4. Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED) — 53.17
5. Femke Heemskerk (NED) — 53.58
6. Simone Manuel (USA) — 53.93
7. Missy Franklin (USA) — 54.00
8. Shen Duo (CHN) — 54.76

Men’s 200m Backstroke
Gold: Mitch Larkin (AUS) — 1:53.58
Silver: Radoslaw Kawecki (POL) — 1:54.55
Bronze: Yevgeny Rylov (RUS) — 1:54.60
4. Ryosuke Irie (JPN) — 1:54.81
5. Ryan Murphy (USA) — 1:55.00
6. Xu Jiayu (CHN) — 1:55.20
7. Tyler Clary (USA) — 1:56.26
8. Li Guangyuan (CHN) — 1:56.79

Women’s 200m Breaststroke
Gold: Kanako Watanabe (JPN) — 2:21.15
Silver: Micah Lawrence (USA) — 2:22.44
Bronze: Rikke Moller Pedersen (DEN) — 2:22.76
Bronze: Shi Jinglin (CHN) — 2:22.76
Bronze: Jessica Vall (ESP) — 2:22.76
6. Rie Kaneto (JPN) — 2:23.19
7. Vitalina Simonova (RUS) — 2:23.59
8. Kierra Smith (CAN) — 2:23.61

Men’s 200m Breaststroke
Gold: Marco Koch (GER) — 2:07.76
Silver: Kevin Cordes (USA) — 2:08.05
Bronze: Daniel Gyurta (HUN) — 2:08.10
4. Andrew Stephen Willis (GBR) — 2:08.52
5. Yasuhiro Koseki (JPN) — 2:09.12
6. Dmitriy Balandin (KAZ) — 2:09.58
7. Anton Chupkov (RUS) — 2:09.96
8. Mao Feilian (CHN) — 2:10.02

Men’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay
Gold: Great Britain — 7:04.33
Silver: U.S. — 7:04.75
Bronze: Australia — 7:05.34
4. Russia — 7:06.89
5. Germany — 7:09.01
6. Belgium — 7:09.64
7. Netherlands — 7:09.75
8. Poland — 7:10.34

Ragan Smith finds joy in college gymnastics after life-changing decision

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Ragan Smith, after her first two weeks of college gymnastics, quickly pointed out the coolest part of competing for the Oklahoma Sooners. It’s the noise that erupts on the last pass of her floor exercise, or upon her dismount off the uneven bars or balance beam.

They are similar sounds to what drew her to commit to Oklahoma back in 2015, when she was 15 years old.

“The girls in practice were all cheering for each other,” she recalled in a phone interview earlier this month.

Last spring, Smith called Oklahoma coach K.J. Kindler with a request. The Texan wanted to enroll at OU that summer, a year earlier than planned. Originally, Smith committed to the university with the intention of deferring until after the 2020 Olympic season.

Smith, a Rio Olympic alternate in her first year at the senior elite level, began this Olympic cycle in 2017 by winning the U.S. all-around title. Granted, the triumph came during Simone Biles‘ one-year break. But consider that Smith’s margin of victory — 3.4 points — was greater than Biles’ average margin for her four national titles from 2013-16.

Everything changed for Smith on Oct. 6, 2017. Minutes before she was to compete as the favorite in the world championships all-around, she suffered an ankle injury warming up on vault (reportedly three torn ligaments). She was withdrawn from the meet and fought injuries for the rest of her elite career.

In calling Kindler last spring, Smith signaled she was ready to move on from Olympic-level or “elite” gymnastics. It is possible for collegians to compete at U.S. Championships or Olympic trials, but no woman with NCAA experience has made any of the last three Olympic teams.

“I felt like my time was done in elite,” said Smith, whose mother and aunt competed for Auburn and Maryland, respectively. “I really just wanted to move on with my life and everything.”

Kindler was walking in an academic center on campus when Smith called her last spring.

“[Smith] said, ‘I was in the shower, and I was thinking, and I think I really, really want to come,'” Kindler said. “‘My body is ready to be done with elite gymnastics, and my mind is ready to move forward, and I would love to come to school this year. Is there a spot for me?’

“We saved a spot in case she changed her mind [about waiting until after the Olympics], but the plan was always for her to defer. We never talked about anything else, so I was very surprised by the phone call.”

Kindler urged Smith to think it over. Discuss it with her elite coach, 1991 World all-around champion Kim Zmeskal.

“[Zmeskal] and I had a really good understanding of what Ragan’s goals were, which is why I think it had to be Ragan’s decision,” Kindler said. “I didn’t want to place any influence on anything. Kim thinks the world of Ragan. She was in full support. Her and I texted back and forth and spoke about it. She said she wanted Ragan to think about it a little bit, and she did do that, and still had decided that this was for her. I think Kim supported that decision, just as I said I would support whatever she wanted to do.”

Smith shared the news on July 7.

“I have moved on from the 1st chapter of my life and on to the 2nd,” was posted on her Instagram, accompanied by a photo of her in a crimson leotard. “I am so excited to be joining the class of 2019.”

Smith joined the defending national champion program, one that captured three of the last four NCAA titles. By enrolling a year early, Smith gets to be teammates with senior Maggie Nichols.

Nichols was second to Biles at the 2015 U.S. Championships, making her a bona fide contender for the Rio Olympic team. Early in 2016, Nichols tore a meniscus on a vault landing and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. She announced retirement from elite gymnastics two days after finishing sixth at the Olympic trials, one spot behind Smith, and not being named to the Olympic team.

Last season, Nichols became the first woman to repeat as NCAA all-around champion in 12 years.

Smith said she has already benefited from Nichols’ experience, coming to her with questions to aid her transition.

“What an incredible opportunity to have Ragan and Maggie on the same team,” Kindler said.

The Sooners are 9-0 this year and 26-0 since the start of 2019. Smith was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Week each of the season’s first three weeks. Not incredibly surprising, given Smith’s pedigree.

Perhaps more notable: Kindler said Smith hasn’t had a single ankle problem since arriving in Norman in July.

Back in August 2018, Smith said the ankle still hurt sometimes, that she had not completed a practice without pain that whole year and a coach joked to her, “You already have a 100-year-old body.”

Smith is competing easier routines collegiately than as an elite, as is the norm. But Kindler found that her passion for the sport has not waned.

“As an elite athlete, you don’t necessarily have to learn anything when you come to college,” Kindler said. “In fact, you can scale back what you’re doing, but I feel like she has a real eagerness to continue to refine what she’s doing and to learn new skills. She wants to continue to get better, and I love that about her.”

At her first college meet, Smith remembered the feeling of adrenaline brought on by competing not just for herself, but for women with whom she will call teammates week in and week out for the coming years.

“I didn’t want to let go of elite because it’s been, like, my whole life and my dream and everything,” said Smith, who was inspired by McKayla Maroney‘s 2012 Olympic vault and then had a dog named Rio. “But at the same time, my mind was telling me to come to college and have fun. I’m glad I made that decision, because I love it here.”

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Dustin Johnson wonders if Olympic golf will properly fit into his schedule

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Dustin Johnson, the world’s fifth-ranked golfer, said he isn’t sure the Tokyo Olympics will fit well into his schedule, assuming he qualifies for what will be a very competitive U.S. team of four.

“Obviously representing the United States in the Olympics is something that, you know, definitely be proud to do,” he said when asked if the Ryder Cup and the Olympics are goals this year. “But is it going to fit in the schedule properly? I’m not really sure about that, because there’s so many events that are right there and leading up to it. So you know, I’m still working with my team to figure out what’s the best thing for me to do.”

Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open winner and world No. 1 in 2017 and 2018, is the third-highest ranked American at the moment behind Brooks Koepka (who also spoke about the Olympics on Tuesday, saying they’re not as important as majors) and Justin Thomas.

Johnson is ranked one spot ahead of Tiger Woods, who has voiced intent to play in Tokyo should he qualify.

But the current world rankings, based on a two-year, rolling window of results, do not exactly mirror Olympic qualifying, which takes into account only results after the 2018 U.S. Open. Rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter has Thomas, Koepka, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay as the current U.S. top four in Olympic qualifying. Woods is fifth and Johnson seventh.

The cutoff to determine the Olympic field of 60 golfers overall is after the U.S. Open in June.

The Olympic golf tournament is July 30-Aug. 2. There is no PGA Tour event that weekend. The FedEx Cup Playoffs start two weeks after the Olympics. Last season, Johnson did not play the tournaments that will immediately precede and follow the Olympics — the 3M Open and the Wyndham Championship.

Johnson did qualify for the Rio Olympics but withdrew a month before the Games, citing Zika virus concerns as other golfers did.

“This was not an easy decision for me, but my concerns about the Zika virus cannot be ignored,” Johnson said in a statement at the time. “[Wife] Paulina and I plan to have more children in the near future, and I feel it would be irresponsible to put myself, her or our family at risk.”

Paulina gave birth to their second son in June 2017.

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