Ryan Lochte fails in 400m IM as swimmers begin to clinch Olympic berths

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The first event of the U.S. Olympic swimming trials produced a stunner: Ryan Lochte failed to qualify for the team Sunday night in an event he won at the 2012 London Games.

Lochte, an 11-time Olympic medalist, raced out to a big lead on the first two legs of the 400-meter individual medley but had nothing left for the breaststroke and freestyle. He finished third behind Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland, who were college teammates at Georgia.

After the race, Lochte revealed that he pulled a groin muscle during the morning preliminaries, saying it left him with no choice other than to try to build a commanding lead in the butterfly and backstroke and hope it would hold up.

It didn’t. Not even close.

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Kalisz won in 4 minutes, 9.541 seconds, while Litherland rallied to take the second spot for Rio in 4:11.021.

Lochte, his legs totally gone, labored home in third at 4:12.021.

“I had to go out faster than usual because I couldn’t use my legs in the breaststroke,” said the 31-year-old Lochte, who still has several other events to claim his spot on his fourth Olympic team — assuming he can overcome his injury. “I did everything I could in that race, it just wasn’t enough. Just got to forget about that and move forward.”

While college teammates Kalisz and Litherland celebrated, Lochte hung on a lane rope, totally exhausted. He finally made it over to the side of the pool, struggling just to climb out of the water. He said he might need a cortisone shot to help deal with the pain.

“I’m going to keep working on it day in and day out, and hopefully it gets better,” Lochte said. “I thought about it this morning, about scratching, but I mean, it’s the Olympic trials. If I had a broken leg, I’d still go out there and swim.”

ZACCARDI: Lochte’s outlook for rest of Trials

Michael Phelps, who won the 400 IM at both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, finished fourth behind Lochte in London and dropped the grueling event from his program. With no races on the first day of the meet, Phelps watched from the stands.

“I wasn’t surprised with Jay,” Phelps said. “He’s like a shark in the water. He knows how to rise to the occasion.”

Phelps was especially happy for long-time training partner Kalisz, who like Litherland is heading to his first Olympics.

“He’s like a brother to me,” Phelps said.

Unaware of Lochte’s injury, Phelps said he could tell that Lochte had nothing left when he got to the breast. And the two freestyle laps were downright painful to watch, as Lochte closed with a sluggish pace of 1:00.56 — more than 3 seconds slower than the 20-year-old Litherland.

“I know what Ryan felt like in that race,” Phelps said, remembering his loss at the 2012 Olympics. “I felt the same thing. It’s tough to swim two 400 IMs in one day at that level. … When you overdo it in that first 200, you’re not going to have anything left.”

Two other finals were held at the sold-out CenturyLink Center, which is hosting the Olympic trials for the third straight time in a temporary pool.

Maya DiRado qualified for her first OIympic team in the women’s 400 IM, knocking off 2012 silver medalist Elizabeth Beisel.

DiRado, who plans to retire after the London Games at age 23, is a late bloomer who peaked at just the right time. She touched in 4:33.73, finishing a couple of body lengths ahead of Beisel, who still earned a spot on her third Olympic team by holding off Bethany Galat.

Beisel finished in 4:36.81, while Galat missed out on Rio by less than a second in 4:37.69.

“Really the biggest thing is just staying calm and not getting flustered,” DiRado said. “I don’t know what life I’m living, but it’s amazing.”

In the men’s 400 freestyle, Connor Jaeger and Conor Dwyer are heading back to the Olympics for the second time after finishing 1-2. Jaeger won in 3:43.79, while Dwyer took the runner-up spot in 3:44.66 — just 0.38 ahead of third-place finisher Townley Haas.

Kalisz knew he would need a comeback to beat Lochte.

“I don’t have a fly and backstroke like him, so I’ve got to play to my strengths,” Kalisz said. “The whole thing went by so fast and I feel like I’m in a different reality right now.”

Phelps broke down crying when congratulating Kalisz after the race.

“He told me he was proud of me,” Kalisz said. “It was just a very emotional moment.”

Lochte has entered five more events at the trials, giving him plenty of chances to still get on the Olympic team. But the groin injury makes him a huge question mark.

“He’s somebody who’s really, really tough,” Phelps said. “Hopefully, he can get some recovery and get whatever he needs worked on. He’s somebody we need.”

Full Olympic Trials results are here.

MORE: For Michael Phelps at Olympic Trials, nothing is a lock

2021 Burton U.S. Open snowboarding event canceled

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The Burton U.S. Open, snowboarding’s most storied event, canceled its 2021 competition due to uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“The truth is, we just can’t be sure it will be safe from a public health standpoint for us to host the event in 2021,” a statement read.

The U.S. Open, held since 1982, is usually around the first weekend in March, making it the season-ending event for many riders. Halfpipe champions include Shaun WhiteChloe KimKelly Clark and Ross Powers, who also earned Olympic gold medals.

Other 2020-21 winter sports events affected by the coronavirus pandemic include figure skating’s Junior Grand Prix. The first two stops of that eight-event series, scheduled for late August and early September in Canada and Slovakia, have been canceled.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation, which is due to put on the February 2021 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, made a formal request on Monday to postpone the event until March 2022, one month after the next Winter Olympics in Beijing. The International Ski Federation (FIS) council will decide July 1.

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Kara Eaker eschews fear, back on balance beam to resume Olympic quest

Kara Eaker
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Kara Eaker hasn’t qualified for an Olympics yet, but she is already part of a historic club of U.S. gymnasts. The list goes, most recently, Eaker, Simone BilesKyla RossAly RaismanNastia LiukinShawn JohnsonShannon Miller and Dominique Dawes.

Those are the women who qualified for back-to-back balance beam finals at the sport’s highest level: Olympics or world championships. For Eaker (pronounced like acre), they came in her first two years as a senior gymnast in 2018 and 2019 (Biles and Johnson are the only other U.S. women to do that in the last 25 years.)

This was supposed to be Eaker’s Olympic year, but the coronavirus pandemic postponed the Games to 2021, after her Missouri high school graduation. It also kept her out of the gym for nearly two months until the GAGE Center reopened last week in Blue Springs, near Kansas City.

It was the longest Eaker had been off a regulation beam (and out of the gym) since she could remember. She began competing at age 5.

Eaker’s mom, Katherine, said her daughter never feared the four-inch-wide beam, but Eaker said the thought of returning last week “was definitely kind of scary at first.” That is, until one of her coaches eased her back with basics and work on a floor beam, one that’s not raised as high as the four feet you see in competition.

“By the time we were ready, and she was comfortable putting us back up there, it wasn’t scary,” Eaker said. “It felt normal.”

Eaker, adopted from a Chinese orphanage around age 1 in 2003 (her parents’ travel then delayed by SARS), excels on the senior elite stage with a level of normalcy.

Which is not entirely normal in this sport. She lives with her family, 10 minutes from her world-class gym. She still attends regular high school. She’s committed to continue gymnastics at the University of Utah after the Tokyo Olympics.

“I started out in dance, actually,” said Eaker, whose hobbies include robotics and calligraphy. “A little, little girl with the stuffed animal, twirling around in the dance room. And then we had our little recital and I just wasn’t … I couldn’t do the standing in front of an audience kind of thing.”

Her mom believes it was around Christmas. Eaker was 3 or 4.

“She just froze like a deer in the headlights, and all the other girls froze, too, because they were used to following her,” Katherine said. “Then she tried gymnastics. We had to drag her out [of the gym]. From then on, it was always, she’s first one in, last one out. Still is.”

The family, including Eaker’s father, Mark, retired Navy and a flight engineer, and younger sister, Sara, moved three times within Missouri in part to get Kara closer to GAGE to pursue what would eventually become an Olympic dream.

Gymnastics meets were appointment TV before Eaker entered kindergarten. She watched the Beijing Olympics, or perhaps an even earlier meet, while dancing around the living room in a leotard. Sometimes she mimicked the gold medalists by doing back bends. She continued to watch Beijing highlights, with Liukin and Johnson, on replay on YouTube.

Back at the gym, Eaker developed with the help of her coaches, plus future University of Nebraska gymnast Catelyn Orel, her “gym mom” under the GAGE program to pair older and younger athletes. Orel was a state champion on beam. Eaker proved a natural, too.

“A lot of the girls would get up there and have trouble balancing, but she just always seemed to do it just like she was on the floor,” her mom said. “She’s never really had a fear. Some girls get up there and are nervous. She just never seemed to be that way.”

In 2018, Eaker was 15, old enough to start competing on the senior level with the likes of Biles. Exactly 10 years after she would have watched Johnson win the Beijing Olympic beam title, Eaker finished second on beam at nationals behind Biles. She was invited to the world championships team selection camp, where she had the top beam score and placed sixth in the all-around. Six gymnasts would be chosen by a committee to travel to the world championships.

Eaker didn’t expect to make the team. In a large meeting with coaches and staff, the roster was announced. Eaker made it as the youngest member.

“It was a goal, but there were so many other girls and it was my first year as a senior,” she said. “I was very happy and surprised to make that team.”

Eaker again won beam at the 2019 World Championships selection camp. If Eaker endured adversity those first two years, it came at worlds.

In 2018, she fell on her mount in the beam final. The rest of her routine was medal-worthy gymnastics. She waited an eternal three minutes for her score, which placed her sixth. Eaker’s routine from the team final earlier that week would have earned silver.

In 2019, Eaker again qualified for the eight-woman beam final. The U.S. federation submitted an inquiry on her qualifying score, contesting a lower start value given to her. That backfired. Judges lowered Eaker’s score even more upon review, which took her out of the final. However, another gymnast who had qualified later withdrew due to injury. Eaker was back in the final, where she placed fourth.

She was asked afterward what she would take away from the meet.

“Just the experience of it all,” she said, composed. “How it makes me feel. How to use that [in the future].”

In 2021, Eaker will have to prove to a selection committee that she can be reliable on all four apparatuses. The Olympic team event size is four — with three gymnasts going per apparatus in the Olympic final — down from five in 2016, putting a greater emphasis on the all-around. Eaker could also be a candidate for one separate spot in individual events only.

“I definitely want to be seen as a great beam worker, but I also need to be a great all-arounder because they’re going to be looking at not just your one event,” said Eaker, who was third in the all-around at the 2019 Worlds selection camp. “You have to be able to benefit the team with your other events, even if they aren’t as strong as your [best] one.”

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