Ryan Lochte feels like ‘underdog’ as loaded Mesa meet starts

Ryan Lochte
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Four years ago, Ryan Lochte was the world’s best swimmer, coming off a haul of five gold medals at the 2011 World Championships.

Now?

The 31-year-old feels like “the underdog” with the Olympics less than four months away and the Olympic Trials in a little more than two months.

“I would say there is less pressure going into these Olympic Games because my past couple of years haven’t really been where I needed to be,” Lochte said Wednesday. “Now that Michael [Phelps] is back and everything, I think I’m back to being the underdog.”

Lochte, Phelps and the other members of U.S. swimming’s Big Four — Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky — all compete in Mesa this weekend (broadcast schedule here).

It should be the last time they’re together at one Grand Prix-level meet before the Olympic Trials in Omaha from June 26-July 3.

Lochte expects to race the 200m freestyle and 100m butterfly on Thursday.

He’s also entered in the 200m butterfly and 100m backstroke on Friday and the 200m individual medley, 200m backstroke and 100m freestyle on Saturday.

Phelps is racing only one event per day — 200m freestyle, 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley.

Lochte and Phelps’ duels are always highlights at these domestic meets, but both are training to peak for the trials, so head-to-heads and even times in Mesa shouldn’t be dissected too much.

Lochte’s setbacks and struggles since he won three individual medals at London 2012 are more pertinent — a coaching change, significant injuries and doubts that reached retirement thoughts.

Lochte made the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in four individual events, but it’s looking unlikely that he can replicate that in Omaha.

Lochte ranked in the top five in the U.S. last year in two events — 200m freestyle and 200m individual medley. He did win his fourth straight 200m individual medley World title on Aug. 6.

But that field didn’t include then-punished Phelps, who had the fastest 2000m IM time in the world last year, or injured Japan superstar Kosuke Hagino, who beat Lochte and Phelps at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships.

Lochte and his mad scientist coach David Marsh threw a curveball in January, entering the grueling 400m individual medley at a meet in an Olympic-sized pool for the first time since May 30, 2013.

He won the race, beating the fastest U.S. man in the event from 2015 (Chase Kalisz) by 1.98 seconds. It marked Lochte’s first win in a Grand Prix-level meet in an event other than the 200m individual medley since April 24, 2014.

Lochte remained coy about whether he would swim that grueling race at the Olympic Trials. It’s on the first night of that meet and the Olympics.

Lochte, then the world’s best swimmer, destroyed the field in the London Olympic 400m IM by 3.68 seconds (where Phelps finished fourth).

Times have since changed.

“I haven’t really done anything the past couple of years,” Lochte said Wednesday. “But now that I’m back in shape, I’m training hard, it’s going to be interesting.”

VIDEO: Michael Phelps Under Armour spot

Noah Lyles runs personal best and is coming for Usain Bolt’s world record

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Noah Lyles ran a personal-best time in the 60m on Saturday, then reaffirmed record-breaking intentions for the 100m and, especially, the 200m, where Usain Bolt holds the fastest times in history.

Lyles, the world 200m champion, won the 60m sprint in 6.51 seconds at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, clipping Trayvon Bromell by two thousandths in his first top-level meet of the year. Bromell, the world 100m bronze medalist, is a past world indoor 60m champion and has a better start than Lyles, which is crucial in a six-second race.

But on Saturday, Lyles ran down Bromell and shaved four hundredths off his personal best. It bodes well for Lyles’ prospects come the spring and summer outdoor season in his better distances — the 100m and 200m.

“This is the moment I’ve been working, like, seven years for,” he said. “We’re not just coming for the 200m world record. We’re coming for all the world records.”

Last July, Lyles broke Michael Johnson‘s 26-year-old American record in the 200m, winning the world title in 19.31 seconds. Only Bolt (19.19) and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake (19.26) have run faster.

Lyles has since spoken openly about targeting Bolt’s world record from 2009.

How does an indoor 60m time play into that? Well, Lyles said that his success last year sprung from a strong indoor season, when he lowered his personal best in the 60m from 6.57 to 6.56 and then 6.55. He followed that by lowering his personal best in the 200m from 19.50 to 19.31.

He believes that slicing an even greater chunk off his 60m best on Saturday means special things are on the horizon come the major summer meets — the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July (on the same Oregon track where he ran the American 200m record) and the world championships in Budapest in August.

After focusing on the 200m last year, Lyles plans to race both the 100m and the 200m this year. He has a bye into the 200m at world championships, so expect him to race the 100m at USATF Outdoors, where the top three are in line to join world champ Fred Kerley on the world team.

Lyles’ personal best in the 100m is 9.86, a tenth off the best times from Kerley, Bromell and 2019 World 100m champ Christian Coleman. Bolt is in his own tier at 9.58.

Also Saturday, Grant Holloway extended a near-nine-year, 50-plus-race win streak in the 60m hurdles, clocking 7.38 seconds, nine hundredths off his world record. Olympic teammate Daniel Roberts was second in 7.46. Trey Cunningham, who took silver behind Holloway in the 110m hurdles at last July’s world outdoor championships, was fifth in 7.67.

Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 60m in 7.02 seconds, one week after clocking a personal-best 6.98 to become the third-fastest American in history after Gail Devers and Marion Jones (both 6.95). Hobbs, 26, placed sixth in the 100m at last July’s world championships.

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the Olympic and world 400m hurdles champion competing for the first time since August, and Jamaican Shericka Jackson, the world 200m champion, were ninth and 10th in the 60m heats, just missing the eight-woman final.

In the women’s pole vault, Bridget Williams, seventh at last year’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, upset the last two Olympic champions — American Katie Moon and Greek Katerina Stefanidi. Williams won with a 4.63-meter clearance (and then cleared 4.71 and a personal-best 4.77). Stefanidi missed three attempts at 4.63, while Moon went out at 4.55.

The indoor track and field season continues with the Millrose Games in New York City next Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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