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WATCH LIVE: Men’s 50 free, women’s 200 back among Thursday’s qualifying heats

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Preliminary heats in four swimming competitions will be held Thursday afternoon, beginning with the ultimate sprint that is the 50 meter free. The men hit the pool in this event Thursday, with Americans Nathan Adrian and Anthony Ervin among those looking to qualify for the semifinal round. Also in the competition is France’s Florent Manaudou, the reigning Olympic champion in the 50 meter free.

The 11 men’s 50 free heats will be followed by four heats in the women’s 800 free, an event won by American Katie Ledecky in London four years ago. Ledecky’s back to defend her gold medal, with silver medalist Mireia Belmonte Garcia also swimming in the qualifying heats. Leah Smith, who swam on the United States’ 4×200 free relay gold medal team with Ledecky, is also competing in the 800 free and Great Britain’s Jazz Carlin is also expected to contend for a medal.

WATCH LIVE: Men’s 50 free, women’s 800 free, men’s 100 butterfly, women’s 200 back preliminary heats — 12 p.m. Eastern

Michael Phelps will be swimming in the 100 butterfly, an event he’s won in each of the last three Olympic Games. South Africa’s Chad le Clos will also be swimming in the 100 butterfly, and it will be interesting to see what his mindset is after drifting out of medal contention in the 200 butterfly after spending so much time focusing on Phelps. The final qualifying heats will be in the women’s 200 back, with Americans Missy Franklin and Maya DiRado among the medal contenders in the field.

Franklin won gold in this event four years ago, and Australians Emily Seebohm and Belinda Hocking and Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu are among the other competitors expected to contend.

Mark Spitz takes on Katie Ledecky’s challenge

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Swimmers around the world took on Katie Ledecky‘s milk-glass challenge since it became a social media sensation, including one of the few Americans with more Olympic gold medals.

Mark Spitz, who won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games, took 10 strokes in an at-home pool while perfectly balancing a glass of what appeared to be water on his head.

“Would’ve been faster with the ‘stache, @markspitzusa, but I still give this 7 out of 7 gold medals,” Ledecky tweeted.

Spitz joined fellow Olympic champions Susie O’Neill of Australia and American Matt Grevers in posting similar videos to what Ledecky first shared Monday.

In Tokyo next year, Ledecky can pass Spitz’s career gold-medal count of nine if she wins all of her expected events — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and the 4x200m free relay.

Then she would trail one athlete from any country in any sport — Michael Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist who has yet to post video of swimming while balancing a glass on his head.

MORE: Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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