Elizabeth Beisel
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Elizabeth Beisel is back; swimming takeaways

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Five thoughts off Friday’s finals at swim meets in Charlotte and Atlanta:

1. Ryan Lochte’s 400m individual medley win wasn’t impressive

First off, it’s hard to judge times when it’s unknown where swimmers are at in training and when they don’t have an elite-level field to push them. 

That said, Lochte’s coach, David Marsh, raved before the meet about how Lochte has been looking in training and put him in just one event on Friday, the 400m IM, to focus.

Lochte prevailed by two seconds in 4:16.92, but he would have finished third at the opposite meet in Atlanta with that time. And neither field included Chase Kalisz, the fastest American in the event last year.

“I would like to be faster,” Lochte told media in Charlotte. “I always feel I can go faster, but for right now, where I’m at, I think that’s all right. … But this is not the big meet. I’ve still got six weeks to tune everything up and get ready for trials.”

Lochte remains the fastest in the U.S. this year, with his 4:12.66 on Jan. 16, which bodes well for his chances to defend his Olympic title should he swim the event on the opening day of the U.S. Olympic Trials on June 26.

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2. Katie Ledecky’s more impressive swim was the race she lost

Ledecky crushed the 200m free in Atlanta by 3.08 seconds, which was to be expected with nobody else in the field close to her level in the event.

But Ledecky showed her growing versatility 77 minutes later by finishing third in the 400m IM, an off-event for her, with a personal-best time by 1.25 seconds.

Ledecky’s 4:37.93 isn’t going to scare the favorites to make the Olympic team in the event, because …

3. Elizabeth Beisel is back

Beisel won the 400m IM in Atlanta in 4:33.55, her fastest time since the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships.

Beisel, the 2012 Olympic 400m IM silver medalist, came into this weekend questionable at best to make her third Olympic team. Now she’s the fastest American in the event this year. That time was bettered in 2015 by only one other American, Maya DiRado, who took Worlds silver in 4:31.71 on Aug. 9.

4. Lilly King could be the new U.S. breaststroke queen

The 19-year-old from Indiana took seven tenths off her 100m breaststroke personal best, clocking the second-fastest time in the world this year in 1:05.73.

Among Americans, only Katie Meili has been faster since the start of 2014, and King beat Meili by .81 on Friday. Plus, other Olympic team contenders Melanie Margalis (1:07.48), Molly Hannis (1:07.86) and Breeja Larson (1:08.46) were slower over in Atlanta.

5. The women’s 200m freestyle gets more crowded

Ledecky, Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt might not be the only women in the mix for two 200m freestyle spots in Rio.

Enter Leah Smith, who set personal bests in the morning and evening in Charlotte and moved past Franklin as the third-fastest American in the event this year. Smith won in 1:57.26, but keep in mind Franklin has gone 1:56.04 or faster each of the previous five years (just not yet this year).

At the very least, Smith, who is known more for her 400m free, is in a great place to make the 4x200m freestyle relay pool of the top six finishers at trials.

And don’t forget Simone Manuel. The top U.S. finisher in the Worlds 100m free (sixth place) clocked a 200m free personal best by .64 on Friday. She moved into fifth place in the U.S. this year in the event, meaning she’s an Olympic relay threat, too, should she want to branch out beyond the 50m and 100m frees.

NBC Sports Live Extra will have live coverage of the Saturday and Sunday finals in Charlotte at 6 ET both nights.

VIDEO: Inside Lochte’s home, including ‘The Jeah Spot’

Tahiti chosen for Olympic surfing competition at 2024 Paris Games

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Paris 2024 Olympic organizers want the surfing competition to be held in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris.

It would break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host. In 1956, equestrian events were moved out of Melbourne due to quarantine laws and held five months earlier in Stockholm, some 9,700 miles away.

The Paris 2024 executive board approved the site Thursday — specifically, the village of Teahupo’o — and will propose it to the IOC.

“We look forward to hearing Paris’ presentation at the IOC Executive Board in March 2020,” an IOC spokesperson said in an email when asked for comment on Paris’ choice.

Tahiti beat out other applicants Biarritz, Lacanau, Les Landes and La Torche, all part of mainland France.

“If, ever, we have two alternatives, and where one alternative gives the athletes of a particular sport more closeness to the heart of the Games and allows them to enjoy the magic and the spirit of the Games better, then in the interest of the athletes, we prefer this solution,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in June when asked about Tahiti’s interest in hosting surfing.

Surfing will debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games but is not on the permanent Olympic program. Surfing was among sports added to the Paris 2024 program in June and could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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Jordan Thompson, U.S. volleyball’s new weapon, took unique route to NCAA history

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It was about this time last year that Jordan Thompson first appeared on the radar of U.S. women’s volleyball coach Karch Kiraly. Since, Thompson emerged as the youngest starter, and arguably a star, for the national team.

She goes into what could be her final weekend of college volleyball as one of the most dominant athletes in any sport. And one of the most unique stories in NCAA history.

Thompson plays not for a Big Ten or Pac-12 powerhouse, but for Cincinnati, a school that, before she arrived, never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The unranked Bearcats upset second-ranked Pittsburgh in the second round last Saturday. They play Penn State, winner of six of the last 12 NCAA titles, in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

In 33 games this season, Thompson has registered a Division I-leading 768 kills, which is 143 more than the next most prolific attacker. That margin of 143 is the same number that separates No. 2 from No. 31.

Last season, she had 827 kills, which was 240 more than anybody else and a single-season record (by 112 kills) since NCAA match formats shifted from 30-point to 25-point sets in 2008.

She is a contender, if not a favorite, to be AVCA National Player of the Year. All of the previous winners dating to 1985 came from schools that reached at least one Final Four.

On Oct. 4, a UCF player’s face caught the wrong end of a Thompson attack. Cincinnati teammates watching from the bench dropped to the floor in astonishment.

Thompson tallied 50 kills in one match alone on Nov. 3, becoming the first D-I player to do so in 20 years.

That happened on Senior Day. Before that match, Thompson received a plaqued No. 23 jersey and flowers.

She posed for a photo standing with her husband, former Cincinnati offensive lineman Blake Yager, her mother, Mary, whose bribes helped Thompson develop into an attacker, and her father, 1990s Harlem Globetrotter Tyrone Doleman (and brother of Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman).

Mary has been most instrumental, raising Thompson as a single mom in Minnesota. Thompson, who is 6 feet, 4 inches now, was always tall for her age.

She played youth basketball against older girls and grew frustrated by the physical contact. Kneepads weren’t comfort enough. She decided to give volleyball a try in middle school.

“She was very timid,” Mary said of her daughter, who has since gotten 10 tattoos, including one of a hummingbird. “She would tell me she didn’t want to hurt anyone on the other side of the net. I told her I would give her a dollar for every time she would whack it. And I would give her $10 if she would actually hit someone on the other end of the court.”

It took a while, but Thompson was motivated by her love of horses. The payouts from her mom went toward a saddle and a bridal. A box with horse equipment remains in the family garage back home.

“She was trying to build up her supplies to be able to one day say to me, look, I’ve got a saddle, I’ve got all of my tack, I’ve got stuff to clean the hooves, can we get a horse now?” Mary said. 

After just two years of club volleyball, Thompson received her first Division-I scholarship offer. It came from Syracuse. Thompson was a high school sophomore.

“In the back of my head, I’m thinking, I’m never going to get another offer, so I better take this one,” she said.

Thompson was intent on Syracuse for a year before a coaching change led her to decommit. She wasn’t sure if many schools knew she had reopened her recruiting. A Minnesota club teammate had committed to Cincinnati and suggested Thompson take a visit.

The Bearcats went 3-29 the season before she committed.

“I said, Jordan, you can play D-I at Texas. You can go to Nebraska,” Mary said. “She was like, no, no, I want to play all four years. I actually want to get playing time, mom. She really struggled believing how good she could be.”

The biggest obstacle came junior year. In a preseason training session, Thompson collided with that Minnesota club teammate, Jade Tingelhoff, and tore the UCL in her dominant, right arm. She was in an armpit-to-wrist brace for two months post-Tommy John surgery, including three weeks with her arm locked in place.

She couldn’t brush her hair, had a hard time brushing her teeth and found it difficult showering and getting dressed.

She still went to every Bearcats game and traveled with the team. Cincinnati went from 22-10 her sophomore season to 13-19 that year without her on the court.

“It ended up being OK,” Tingelhoff said. “She came back that next season — I’m not kidding — 10 times as better than she was even the previous year.”

As a redshirt junior, Thompson and her 827 kills helped Cincinnati to a 26-8 record and its first NCAA Tournament win in seven years. She also caught the eye of Kiraly by the end of that 2018 season.

“She was one of the elite players in all of college volleyball,” he said. “Probably the only one who came from a conference other than the ones known for producing the most NCAA champions, like the Big Ten and the Pac-12.”

By last spring break, Thompson had become a favorite of U.S coaches at a camp to help select teams for summer international tournaments.

She had a one-on-one conversation with Kiraly, the only person to own Olympic indoor and beach gold medals. The legend told her she had potential to play at the Pan American Games. Later, he upped the praise to say she was ready for the top-level Nations League, a precursor to Olympic qualifying.

Thompson made her national team debut in May. By August, she came off the bench to help spur a comeback in a crucial Olympic qualifying match. The next day, she was in the starting lineup for the U.S.’ final Olympic qualifier, where the Americans clinched a Tokyo 2020 berth.

“I think a lot people don’t know she is still in college,” two-time U.S. Olympic outside hitter Jordan Larson said then. “She still has one more year left.”

Agents reached out, but Thompson had no intention of giving up her final year of NCAA eligibility. She wanted to make history at Cincinnati. That was secured with the Sweet 16 berth.

With the new year, she will trade the Cincinnati red and black for Team USA colors. She will keep in mind what the U.S. coaching staff told the team during Olympic qualifying and what she called a dream summer.

“My big goal in life was I just wanted to be in the USA gym,” said Thompson, who is working on her master’s in criminal justice. “To hear that we’re all working towards this goal of trying to make this roster, and we are being looked as potential players to make that roster, my jaw dropped. To know that it’s even a remote possibility is mind-blowing.”

VIDEO: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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