Katie Ledecky, Ryan Lochte notch key wins in Austin

Leave a comment

Katie Ledecky and Ryan Lochte recorded statement victories, while Michael Phelps showed there’s at least one event he still must improve upon in his comeback at their opening meet of the Olympic year in Austin, Texas, on Saturday.

Ledecky outdueled Swede Sarah Sjöström in the 200m freestyle, in a matchup of the two Rio Olympic favorites in the event.

Ledecky clocked a personal-best 1 minute, 54.43 seconds, with Sjöström in second, 1.71 seconds behind. Missy Franklin was third (full results here).

“Good swim all-around,” Ledecky said on NBC Sports Live Extra. “I was happy with my 100 [freestyle personal best] and my 400 [freestyle win] yesterday and knew the 200 was right in the middle, been able to focus a little more on the shorter races this year. I think it’s paying off.”

Ledecky, 18, moved into fourth place all time in the event. The reigning World champion in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles last lost a long-course meters final in any of those events on Jan. 18, 2014.

Sjöström, who beat Ledecky in the 100m free on Friday and won the 50m free later Saturday, had the world’s fastest 200m free time in 2015 but did not contest it at the World Championships last August.

Sjöström’s best time in 2015, 1:54.31, would have beaten Ledecky on Saturday, though.

Earlier Saturday, Lochte won the grueling 400m individual medley at a meet in an Olympic-sized pool for the first time since May 30, 2013.

In fact, it marked Lochte’s first win in a Pro Swim Series meet in an event other than the 200m individual medley since April 24, 2014.

Lochte, the reigning Olympic 400m IM champion, has rarely contested the event since the London Games but remained coy about whether he will race it June 26 at the Olympic trials.

“I don’t know,” he said on NBC Sports Live Extra. “It’s something that me and my coach, David Marsh, are going to talk about, but we’ll keep you guys on your toes.”

Lochte clocked 4:12.66 on Saturday, beating the fastest U.S. man from 2015, Chase Kalisz, by 1.98 seconds. Lochte’s time would have ranked No. 8 in the world and No. 4 in the U.S. for 2015.

Also Saturday, Phelps finished fourth in the 200m freestyle, which is no longer one of his primary events.

Phelps, fastest in the world in 2015 in the 100m and 200m butterflies and the 200m individual medley, ranked No. 18 in the U.S. in the 200m free in 2015.

Phelps could contend for a place on the 4x200m free relay team in Rio after being on that relay at the last three Olympics. But he will likely have to cut at least one second off his best time in the event since his comeback.

“I have to swim it more,” Phelps told media in Austin. “It was OK, but I’m just frustrated.”

Maya DiRado and Ryan Murphy, two swimmers in great position to make their first Olympic teams at trials, swept the 200m backstrokes Saturday. Franklin took third in the women’s 200m back.

Olympic 100m free champion Nathan Adrian easily took the 50m freestyle in 21.85 seconds. Adrian, the World 50m free silver medalist, won against a field that did not include reigning Olympic and World champion Florent Manaudou of France.

The meet concludes Sunday with finals at 7 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra.

MORE SWIMMING: Ledecky looks like Olympic contender in 100m free

Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

Getty Images
2 Comments

Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Roger Federer minted on Swiss coin

Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

AP
4 Comments

Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping