Kirsty Coventry, Africa’s top Olympian, dives in one last time

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HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — The African with the most Olympic medals is one of the great distance runners from Kenya or Ethiopia, right?

Nope.

It’s a swimmer from Zimbabwe.

Like Michael Phelps, Kirsty Coventry is going to the Olympics for the fifth and final time, and she’s swimming for one more little slice of history in the Rio de Janeiro pool.

Phelps has the all-time Olympic record with his medal haul of 22, but Coventry needs one more podium finish at her last Olympics to be the first female swimmer to win eight individual medals.

It’s not an arbitrary stat. It underlines how Coventry, from a southern African nation with very little Olympic success (apart from hers, that is) has done it all by herself. No help from relay teammates to boost that medal count.

Zimbabwe has won eight medals in total at the Olympics, and seven of them have been provided by Coventry, the two-time gold medalist in the 200-meter backstroke. The country’s only other medal is a women’s field hockey gold won during the boycotted 1980 Games in Moscow.

She’s already Africa’s best at the Olympics. As for the other mark, Coventry is level on seven individual swimming medals with Hungary’s Krisztina Egerszegi. Rio is the last chance to edge ahead of Egerszegi. Coventry is 32, on her way out, knows it, and can make light of it.

Who’s the swimmer to watch at the Rio Games?

“Me!” she responded.

Joking.

“In all seriousness the field of swimmers is so strong right now, it’s crazy,” Coventry wrote in an email exchange. “I remember saying how strong it was in London (in 2012), but Rio will be even more so.”

Of them all, Coventry rates Americans Camille Adams and Katie Ledecky highest.

“Camille Adams … she will get you out of your chairs when she is racing. And then there is Katie Ledecky. She will blow your mind. They are the whole package: hard working, competitive, confident, talented, beautiful and filled with positive energy and kindness.”

Coventry’s been pretty good, too, basically representing her country at the Olympics single-handedly over the last 16 years, and ending up with more Olympic medals than any other African athlete. In the pool, too, not on the running track, normally the most fertile ground for African athletes.

“Making the Olympic team is a huge accomplishment, going to five Olympics is incredible,” she wrote. “But winning this number of medals in a sport that is not strong in Africa is unbelievable.”

Like Phelps, she made her Olympic debut as a teenager in Sydney in 2000. And they’ll finish at the same time. In Rio, Coventry will focus on her favorite race and the one that’s brought her two Olympic golds, the 200 backstroke. She’s also qualified in the 100 backstroke and 200 individual medley.

Is there one more medal in there somewhere? It’ll be tough. She didn’t manage to get on the podium in London four years ago.

Coventry grew up around swimming and the Olympics. She remembers watching the ’92 Games in Barcelona on TV and telling her parents she wanted to go to the Olympics. She went to the Sydney Olympics while still at high school. She broke through in Athens with the first of her back-to-back Olympic titles. She went to Auburn University in Alabama, winning NCAA swimming championships while she studied. She was desperately grateful for an Olympic scholarship that helped her prepare for Beijing. She also broke the world records in the 100 and the 200 backstroke.

Makes sense, then, that she stays around sport and the Olympic movement. Coventry is now a member of the International Olympic Committee and serves on the IOC and World Anti-Doping Agency’s athletes’ commissions. She has clear opinions on the big issues affecting the Olympics right now.

On the Russian doping scandal, Coventry said: “This is a huge embarrassment for Russia and the Russian authorities are responsible … there is a higher level of dishonesty at play. This is a warning to any country, coach, parent and athlete that is doping or considering doping: it does not matter who you are and it may not happen today, but you will get caught, and you will become an embarrassment to your friends and family.”

And on the Zika virus and the problems it has presented for the Rio Olympics, Coventry said she never once considered skipping the games. “Brazil are going to put on a great show. It’s going to be an awesome Olympics with some outstanding performances and I can’t wait to get there.”

Onto the last Olympics for Africa’s best Olympian and, ideally, one last medal. But if not, no big deal.

“It’s always been about a desire to make the Olympic team and represent my country,” Coventry said.

MORE: Olympic Swimming Trials reveal where U.S. stands versus world

Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record; David Wise wins first title in 5 years

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Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, American David Wise earned his first major ski halfpipe title since repeating as Olympic champion in 2018. Wise landed back-to-back double cork 1260s to end his winning run, according to commentators.

“I wouldn’t still be out here if I didn’t think I had a chance,” Wise, 32 and now a five-time X Games Aspen champ, said on the broadcast. “I’m not going to be the guy who just keeps playing the game until everybody just begs me to stop.”

U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

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