Swimmers prep for Olympic Trials at split meets this weekend

Ryan Lochte
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Ryan Lochte is racing in Charlotte. Katie Ledecky is racing in Atlanta. Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin are training in Colorado.

The Olympic Trials are in six weeks, and the best U.S. swimmers are spread across the country.

An annual grand prix meet in Charlotte started Thursday, highlighted by the 11-time Olympic medalist Lochte, who resides in the Queen City.

Another meet in Atlanta begins Friday, with a field including the five-time 2015 World champion Ledecky.

Phelps was scheduled to compete in Atlanta but withdrew last week ahead of his baby boy being born.

Franklin signed up for neither meet and is believed to be training hard at home in Colorado, embarking on a blackout period for sponsorships as she focuses on Olympic Trials prep.

“We’re six weeks out of trials, and about another five weeks out of the Olympics, so everybody has dialed in now,” Lochte’s coach, David Marsh, told media Thursday. “This meet is probably the key window of time, about six weeks out, where, as an athlete and a coach, and kind of all the preparation comes together to make the adjustments. … So the information that will be gained from this weekend will be very, very important in terms of the preparation. And even as a standalone, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some tremendous swims.”

Lochte is entered in seven events from Friday through Sunday in Charlotte and said it will be his last-chance meet to determine what he swims at the Olympic Trials in Omaha from June 26-July 3.

The Charlotte meet finals are at 6 ET each night, with NBC Sports Live Extra coverage on Saturday and Sunday. USASwimming.org will have a live webcast all three nights.

Questions about Lochte’s event schedule center on whether he swims the grueling 400m individual medley at trials. That’s the only individual event Lochte won at the 2012 Olympics, but he contested the 400m IM at one meet in 2013 and 2014 combined.

He raced it a little more often since January 2015, has the fastest time in the U.S. this year and is contesting it again Friday.

The other questionable trials event for Lochte is the 200m backstroke, the only individual race he won at the 2008 Olympics. Lochte didn’t make the 2015 World Championships team in the 200m back and isn’t racing it this weekend.

Marsh marveled at Lochte’s individual-medley prowess in Thursday’s press conference, saying Lochte’s breaststroke is better than ever.

“Ryan has, I think, the best four strokes in the world, if you can put them all together,” Marsh said.

London Olympic champions Tyler Clary and Dana Vollmer are also competing in Charlotte.

The Atlanta meet also includes 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin and Olympic 100m free gold medalist Nathan Adrian.

But the headliner is Ledecky, who is entered in six events, including both individual medleys and the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles.

It was four years ago Friday that Ledecky stamped herself as an Olympic team favorite by winning the 800m freestyle in Charlotte with a personal best by more than four seconds.

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Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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