Elizabeth Beisel is back; swimming takeaways

Elizabeth Beisel
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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.

Atlanta Results | Charlotte Results

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’

Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson
Puma
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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, checklist complete, carries lessons into new World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin
Atomic
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Mikaela Shiffrin said she hit every possible statistical goal in the first 11 years of her Alpine skiing career. Keep that in mind as the storyline the next few seasons may turn to the World Cup wins record.

Shiffrin, who begins her 12th World Cup season in Soelden, Austria, in two weeks, is up to 74 victories on the circuit. The 27-year-old ranks third all-time behind Lindsey Vonn, who owns the women’s record of 82 wins, and Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who has the overall record of 86.

Shiffrin did rounds of interviews Thursday at the media day for her ski sponsor, Atomic. In one sitdown streamed by Atomic, she was asked, “Are you aiming for the record? … There’s just 12 left. Normally, winning 12 races, that’s a lot, but you already won 74, so it doesn’t sound that much anymore.”

“Just 12,” Shiffrin joked. “If you look at it like that, but that’s maybe oversimplification.” (Note greats including Americans Picabo Street and Julia Mancuso didn’t win 12 World Cups over a career.)

Then Shiffrin asked if the interviewer did in fact say 74 — “Yeah, you have 74,” the interviewer confirmed to Shiffrin, who sat between fellow stars Sofia Goggia of Italy and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway.

“Even after 74 … one race feels like a lot,” Shiffrin continued. “Twelve [wins] still feels like a large mountain to climb, for sure, but it’s step by step or race by race. If I just focus on what’s coming in the next couple weeks and then keep going from there, then we’ll see.”

From 2017 to 2019, Shiffrin won 11, 12 and 17 times on the World Cup. Her last three seasons were abbreviated after her father’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic and back problems. She still won an average of five races each year.

In an earlier interview Thursday, Shiffrin expressed confidence about her preseason form. She followed February’s Beijing Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth, by bagging her fourth World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport, crowning the best all-around skier.

“Finishing off [at last March’s World Cup Finals] in Meribel, that final race of the season, I was thinking, I could use a moment to breathe,” she said. “There was also this part of me that’s like, I kind of didn’t want this to be the last race. I was a little bit antsy to actually get going on the next season already.”

Shiffrin took less of a break than a year ago, spending 10 days in Maui. She had “really productive” training camps in Colorado, Switzerland and Chile and arrived back in Europe on Wednesday for the run-up to the World Cup opener on Oct. 22.

As always, the priority is keeping her slalom and giant slalom technique top-notch. As long as that’s flowing, Shiffrin feels comfortable branching into the speed events, starting with super-Gs. She plans to race both the slalom and GS at February’s world championships, then possibly the super-G with the combined less of a priority. The downhill is “fairly doubtful,” but she has a few months to make a final decision.

Of course, Shiffrin raced everything at the Olympics in February. In interviews last winter, she couldn’t quite explain why the greatest technical skier in history did not finish any of her three technical runs at the Games.

Shiffrin gave a detailed, two-and-a-half-minute answer when asked Thursday if she went back during this offseason to analyze those races. Or if she is brushing them off as an anomaly.

“Statistically, it’s an anomaly, but there was a lot of culminating factors that could have been involved,” she said.

In basic terms, she got on her inside ski in the opening GS and fell within 13 seconds — “a technical flaw that had a much higher consequence than it’s ever had in any other race that I’ve ever done.” In slalom, she had too much intensity, or too much speed, in a section that required more precision and skidded out within six seconds — “I was not giving anything away, and then I gave everything away.”

“There was less margin for error in Beijing because of the snow conditions,” said Shiffrin, who like every other racer hadn’t previously raced on that slope of manufactured snow. “I don’t think I maybe considered that enough in the moment when I was skiing to kind of reel it in sometimes when it would have been necessary. But I also wasn’t skiing to reel it in or make it to the finish. I was skiing to like, blow the course apart. I was going for it.”

She hopes to take that mentality into this season. In the spring and summer, she devoted more time to developing equipment that works better on softer snow, which is becoming more commonplace at World Cup venues given warmer temperatures.

“If you have a checklist of goals you want to achieve before you retire, actually, my checklist is complete,” she said. “If I had one, it would be complete. Somehow, I feel like I still have something left to accomplish, or faster skiing to do, so that’s kind of why I’m here. Hopefully I can remember that when there’s points in the season that feel stressful or pressure. There’s nothing that has to be done.”

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