Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky impress each other

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RIO DE JANEIRO – Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky met for the first time in 2015, when they were nominees for the same award. Ezekiel Elliott won.

Biles and Ledecky, who have a combined five gold medals at these Games and could finish with nine between them, came to New York City in April 2015 for the Sullivan Award ceremony.The award goes to the most outstanding amateur athlete in the U.S. (the definition of amateur athlete is used loosely in choosing nominees). Past winners include Michael Phelps, Michelle Kwan and Tim Tebow.

Biles and Ledecky were nominated for their 2014 performances – Ledecky winning five gold medals at the Pan Pacific Championships and Biles winning a second straight world all-around title.

But the award went to the then-Ohio State running back Elliott.

“Ezekiel truly epitomizes what the AAU Sullivan Award is all about – leadership and excellence both on and off the field,” AAU President Dr. Roger Goudy said in a press release then.

Biles is from Texas. Ledecky from Maryland. They each made the New York trip during the middle of their seasons, got dressed up and did media appearances before the ceremony that ended up crowning Elliott (but honoring all nominees).Biles’ coach, Aimee Boorman, jokes about it now.

“We were like, what, seriously, all right whatever,” Boorman said with a laugh and a smile and no disrespect Friday morning.

Biles said she and Ledecky exchanged little more than polite greetings at that first meeting.

“Everyone’s pretty shy, even though you’re at the same place for the same reason,” Biles said. “So we barely talked, but then we saw each other in L.A. [at pre-Olympic media shoots], and that’s when we started talking.”

Congratulations, good luck at your next meet, stuff like that.

Then on June 11, the 4-foot-9 Biles actually mounted a swimming starting block at an indoor pool, had it filmed and tweeted it at Ledecky.

“Yes @Simone_Biles! Great technique! You are more than welcome on the @USASwimming team!” Ledecky tweeted back.

 

Ledecky has tweeted 747 times, including about once every 12 days in the last year. Biles has tweeted more than 7,250 times.

On Biles’ first day in Rio, she saw Ledecky in the athletes’ village, ran up and hugged her.

“Simone’s kind of animated,” Boorman said. “Katie’s kind of chill.”

Asked if she could compare anything about the athletes’ accomplishments, Boorman remembered walking behind two male and two female swimmers the other day. They were discussing how hard it was for the male swimmer to train with Ledecky, who has been known to beat men in practice.

Then the male swimmer asked how Ledecky will fare if she swims at Stanford starting next year (Ledecky has not turned pro, so she is still eligible for NCAA competition).

“I don’t know, because she needs to train with the guys just to have someone to push her, someone to challenge her,” Boorman remembered the female swimmer saying.

“So that says how dominant she is,” Boorman continued. “It’s funny, because I’ve heard male gymnasts talk about Simone that way. They get upset that she can tumble and vault better than they can.”

Ledecky will end her Olympics on Thursday night as an overwhelming favorite in the 800m freestyle. If she wins, she will become the third U.S. woman to win four gold medals at a single Olympics, joining Missy Franklin and Amy Van Dyken.

Biles gets Friday and Saturday off before returning for apparatus finals Sunday (vault), Monday (balance beam) and Tuesday (floor exercise). If she sweeps them, which is possible to probable, she will surpass Ledecky, Franklin and Van Dyken with five golds.

As impressive as that would be, Biles looks at what Ledecky does and gives a look of dread.

“I would drown for sure,” Biles said.

Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever
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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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