Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte go 1-2 in last showdown before Rio Olympics

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Matching each other stroke for stroke, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte surged to the wall in almost perfect sync.

Phelps got there first, just ahead of the guy who’s pushed him hard for more than a decade.

It was like so many races they’ve had before.

There’s one more to go in Rio.

In the latest epic of their longtime rivalry — and billed as the last showdown in their home country — Phelps edged Lochte in the 200-meter individual medley at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials Friday night.

SWIM TRIALS: Video | Results | Broadcast Schedule

“Ryan and I always have a great race with one another,” said Phelps, who plans to retire again after his fifth Olympics. “When we race each other, we bring each other to a different level.”

Phelps led from start to finish, but Lochte was right with him all the way. In fact, he seemed to pull even midway through the final lap, but the most decorated athlete in Olympic history managed to get to the wall in 1 minute, 55.91 seconds.

Lochte was next at 1:56.22 and had no complaints about the consolation prize: his only individual race at the Olympics.

“I knew going into this race it was definitely going to be a dogfight to the end,” Lochte said. “It’s been a long journey, but the journey’s not over. We still have another month to get ready and show the world that the U.S. is number one.”

Lochte, an 11-time medalist, injured his groin on the very first day of the meet, struggled in his next few races and was down to his final chance to get a swim of his own at the Summer Games.

Now, that’s out of the way, which means Phelps and Lochte will get another crack at each other in South America.

As a three-time defending gold medalist in the 200 IM, Phelps will be the favorite.

But he knows Lochte won’t be far behind, especially with a month to get over the groin issue.

“I don’t know of another person in this world who brings out the best in me like he does,” said Phelps, who has 18 golds and 22 medals overall. “Neither one of us likes to lose.”

Phelps and Lochte actually had their first encounter on the way to the deck. Lochte, walking out right behind Phelps, stepped on the back of his sneaker.

“I gave him a flat tire by accident,” Lochte said. “He’s like, ‘What are you doing, trying to mess me up?’ I was like, ‘No, no, no.'”

All was forgiven when it was over, Phelps and Lochte holding up their arms together on the deck while the sellout crowd roared.

It was the end for another defending Olympic champion.

Tyler Clary finished third in the 200 backstroke and called it a career, having missed out on a chance to defend the gold he won in London. He finished behind California Aquatics teammates Ryan Murphy and Jacob Pebley, who earned the two spots for Rio.

Murphy grabbed the lead on the second lap and pulled away to win easily in 1:53.95, completing a sweep of the backstroke events.

Pebley held on for the second spot, touching in 1:54.77 to earn his first trip to the Olympics.

Clary was next at 1:55.33. He clung to a lane rope while Murphy and Pebley celebrated, before swimming over to congratulate them both.

“That’s it,” Clary said. “I couldn’t be happier to be sending Team USA off with two backstrokers that I have a lot of respect for, and I know they are going to represent Team USA well in Rio.”

There was another sweep in the women’s breaststroke, where Lilly King added a 200 victory to her earlier triumph in the 100. The 19-year-old from Indiana won in 2:24.08, while Molly Hannis claimed the second Rio spot at 2:24.39, giving the U.S. team yet another Olympic rookie.

Then again, it wasn’t totally a night for the upstarts.

Anthony Ervin and Nathan Adrian were the top two qualifiers in the semifinals of the 50 freestyle. The 35-year-old Ervin led the way in 21.55, while Adrian was second quickest in 21.60. Both men are already on the team, with Ervin still seeking an individual event to go with his relay duty and Adrian set to defend his 100 free title from the London Games.

Don’t forget Cullen Jones, a silver medalist in this event four years ago. The 32-year-old was third quickest in 21.93.

Katie Ledecky’s bid to add another relay to her Rio program took a big blow when she finished seventh in the 100 freestyle. Abbey Weitzeil (53.28) and Simone Manuel (53.52), a pair of 19-year-olds heading to their first Olympics, earned the individual spots. Olympic veterans Amanda Weir, Lia Neal, Allison Schmitt and Dana Vollmer took the next four spots to put themselves at the head of the 4×100 free relay pool.

Ledecky will likely have to settle for three individual events and one relay at these games. Her sprinting still needs a bit of work.

“I would’ve loved to have gone faster, but I’ll take it,” she said.

Phelps has locked up two individual events for Rio, having already qualified in the 200 butterfly. He returned about 30 minutes after his victory over Lochte to post the sixth-fastest time in the semifinals of the 100 fly.

That was good enough to send Phelps to the final Saturday night — his final event of the trials.

Then it’s on to Rio, where one more race with Lochte awaits.

Missy Franklin advanced to the final of the 200-meter backstroke, giving her a chance to claim a second individual event in Rio.

Franklin won her semifinal heat at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in 2 minute, 8.63 seconds. She already qualified for the Olympics in the 200 free, while missing out in three other events that she qualified for in 2012.

The only one faster than Franklin was Maya DiRado, who touched first in the other semifinal heat in 2:08.14.

DiRado already swept the 200 and 400 individual medley, and now she’s positioned to claim a third individual race at the first and only Olympics of her career. The 23-year-old has lined up a job and plans to retire after Rio.

MORE: Natalie Coughlin misses Olympic team, not retiring

Mikaela Shiffrin wins 85th World Cup, can tie overall record Sunday

Mikaela Shiffrin
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Mikaela Shiffrin earned her 85th World Cup win on Saturday and can tie the Alpine skiing World Cup victories record on Sunday.

Shiffrin won the first of back-to-back slaloms in Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic, site of her World Cup debut in 2011 at age 15, for her 11th victory in 22 starts this season.

She prevailed by six tenths of a second over German Lena Duerr combining times from two runs. Then she celebrated with an uncharacteristic shoulder shimmy before “Simply the Best” by Tina Turner began playing over loudspeakers in the finish area.

It’s not the first time that song has been played after a Shiffrin victory this season.

“I knew it would take some risk,” she said. “There’s a chance I don’t finish at all.”

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Shiffrin, having her best season since her record 17-win campaign in 2018-19, is now one victory shy of the Alpine World Cup record held by Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who won 86 times between slalom and giant slalom in the 1970s and ’80s.

Stenmark has held the record since January 1982.

Shiffrin races in another slalom on Sunday in Spindleruv Mlyn, the last women’s race before February’s world championships. World championships races do not count as World Cups. The World Cup season resumes following worlds in late February.

Shiffrin is on her second winning streak this season and has won nine of her last 14 races dating to Dec. 18. Last Tuesday, she won a giant slalom in Kronplatz, Italy, to break her tie with Lindsey Vonn for the women’s Alpine World Cup wins record. On Wednesday, she won another GS In Kronplatz.

She leads the standings for the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing, by more than 600 points through 27 of 39 scheduled races. At this rate, she could clinch her fifth overall title before March’s World Cup Finals.

She is currently tied with Vonn for the second-most women’s overall titles behind Austrian Annemarie Moser-Pröll, who won five in the 1970s.

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Aryna Sabalenka wins Australian Open for first Grand Slam singles title

Aryna Sabalenka Australian Open 2023
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Aryna Sabalenka won her first Grand Slam title by coming back to beat Elena Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the Australian Open women’s final Saturday.

The 24-year-old Sabalenka, who is from Belarus, was appearing in her first major final.

She improved to 11-0 in 2023, and the only set she has dropped all season was the opener on Saturday against Wimbledon champion Rybakina.

But Sabalenka turned things around with an aggressive style that resulted in 51 winners, 20 more than her opponent. She used 17 aces to overcome seven double-faults. And she managed to break the big-serving Rybakina three times, the last coming for a 4-3 lead in the third set that she never relinquished.

Still, Sabalenka needed to work for the championship while serving in what would be the last game, double-faulting on her initial match point and requiring three more to close things out.

When Rybakina sent a forehand long to cap the final after nearly 2 1/2 hours, Sabalenka dropped to her back on the court and stayed down for a bit, covering her face as her eyes welled with tears.

Sabalenka is a powerful player whose most glowing strength was also her most glaring shortfall: her serve. Long capable of hammering aces, she also had a well-known problem with double-faulting, leading the tour in that category last year with nearly 400, including more than 20 apiece in some matches.

After much prodding from her team, she finally agreed to undergo an overhaul of her serving mechanics last August. That, along with a commitment to trying to stay calm in the most high-pressure moments, is really paying off now.

Sabalenka was 0-3 in Grand Slam semifinals until eliminating Magda Linette in Melbourne. Now Sabalenka has done one better and will rise to No. 2 in the rankings.

As seagulls were squawking loudly while flying overhead at Rod Laver Arena, Rybakina and Sabalenka traded booming serves. Rybakina’s fastest arrived at 121 mph, Sabalenka’s at 119 mph. They traded zooming groundstrokes from the baseline, often untouchable, resulting in winner after winner.

The key statistic, ultimately, was this: Sabalenka accumulated 13 break points, Rybakina seven. And although Sabalenka converted just a trio of them, that was enough, and the constant pressure she managed to apply during Rybakina’s service games had to take a toll.

Sabalenka had been broken just six times in 55 service games through the course of these two weeks, an average of once per match. It took Rybakina fewer than 10 minutes of action and all of two receiving games to get the measure of things and lead 2-1, helped by getting back one serve that arrived at 117 mph (189 kph).

A few games later, Sabalenka returned the favor, also putting her racket on one of Rybakina’s offerings at that same speed. Then, when Sabalenka grooved a down-the-line backhand passing winner to grab her first break and pull even at 4-all, she looked at her coach and fitness coach in the stands, raised a fist and shouted.

In the next game, though, Sabalenka gave that right back, double-faulting twice — including on break point — to give Rybakina a 5-4 edge. This time, Sabalenka again turned toward her entourage, but with a sigh and an eye roll and arms extended, as if to say, “Can you believe it?”

Soon after, Rybakina held at love to own that set.

Sabalenka changed the momentum right from the get-go in the second set. Aggressively attacking, she broke to go up 3-1, held for 4-1 and eventually served it out, fittingly, with an ace — on a second serve, no less.

Sabalenka acknowledged ahead of time that she expected to be nervous. Which makes perfect sense: This was the most important match of her career to date.

And if those jitters were evident ever-so-briefly early — she double-faulted on the evening’s very first point — and appeared to be resurfacing as the end neared, Sabalenka controlled them well enough to finish the job.

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