Ryan Murphy: I’m definitely not world’s best backstroker

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Ryan Murphy was the only man to earn 100m and 200m backstroke medals at worlds, but neither was gold like in Rio, leading to a frank assessment.

“I’m definitely not the best backstroker in the world at this point,” Murphy told media in Budapest after taking silver in the 200m back Friday. “It’s a title I want. So I’m going to do everything I can to get that back.”

The U.S. returned to the world podium in the 200m back, its most storied individual event, but a Russian is at the top.

Evgeny Rylov held off Murphy and Jacob Pebley in the last 50 meters to win Russia’s first men’s global title since Alexander Popov swept the 50m, 100m and 4x100m free titles at the 2003 Worlds.

The Olympic bronze medalist Rylov clocked 1:53.61, topping Murphy by six tenths despite having the slowest final split of the top six swimmers. Pebley was a further .85 back, edging Russian Kliment Kolesnikov for bronze by .08.

The U.S. used to own the 200m back, winning 20 straight major international meets (Olympics/Worlds/Pan Pacific Championships) from 1995 through 2014.

But Americans were shut out of the medals entirely at the 2015 Worlds before Murphy restored order in Rio.

Murphy swept the backstrokes in 2016, including breaking the 100m back world record. But the 22-year-old relinquished both titles in Budapest by going six tenths slower in the 100m and 200m than a year ago and taking home silver and bronze medals.

Murphy pointed to a more taxing academic slate as a senior at California, where he took a lighter class load in the Olympic year.

“No one’s going to outwork me the next three years,” said Murphy, who turned pro after the last NCAA season. “I just didn’t have that same level of focus, that same amount of motivation to be great [this year].”

Pebley, 23, improved upon his fifth-place finish in the Olympic 200m back by going .46 faster in Budapest.

Rylov, 20, lowered his European record by .36 this year and figures to be a major rival for Murphy and Pebley for years to come.

Men’s 200m Backstroke Results
Gold: Evgeny Rylov (RUS) — 1:53.61
Silver: Ryan Murphy (USA) — 1:54.21
Bronze: Jacob Pebley (USA) — 1:55.06
4. Kliment Kolesnikov (RUS) — 1:55.14
5. Xu Jiayu (CHN) — 1:55.26
6. Peter Bernek (HUN) — 1:55.58
7. Ryosuke Irie (JPN) — 1:56.35
8. Danas Rapsys (LTU) — 1:56.96

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Geraint Thomas attacks, takes Tour de France lead ahead of Chris Froome

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British Olympic track cycling champion Geraint Thomas grabbed the Tour de France lead, attacking with three and a half miles to win a summit finish on Stage 11 on Wednesday.

Thomas now leads a Team Sky one-two in the overall standings, 85 seconds ahead of four-time Tour winner Chris Froome, as the three-week Grand Tour passed the halfway mark.

“Froome is the [Team Sky] leader here, so there’s no pressure on me,” Thomas said Tuesday, according to Cyclingnews.com. “It’s a bonus for me to be up there, and hopefully I can be there for as long as possible.”

The Tour continues Thursday with stage 12 to Alpe d’Huez, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold (full broadcast schedule here).

The 109-mile stage features three beyond-category climbs — Col de la Madeleine, Croix-de-Fer and the iconic Alpe d’Huez finish after 21 switchbacks to close out the Tour’s three days in the Alps. The overall standings are sure to change.

Greg Van Avermaet, the Rio Olympic road race champion, went into stage 11 with a 2:22 lead, which he had tripled on the first mountain day Tuesday.

But Van Avermaet, who predicted he would lose the yellow jersey before stages Tuesday and Wednesday, cracked on the second of three major climbs Wednesday. He finished in a group 22 minutes after Thomas.

Van Avermaet is a super one-day racer but not a strong climber.

Thomas dons the yellow jersey for a second straight Tour. The 2008 and 2012 Olympic track cycling gold medalist won the opening stage in 2017 and wore the maillot jaune four days before Froome took over en route to his fourth title in Paris.

There was talk before and during this year’s Tour that Thomas could challenge Froome as Sky’s team leader, even though Froome has won the last three Grand Tours and is going for record-tying fifth Tour de France crown.

But Thomas and Sky have played that down.

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U.S. Olympic, USA Gymnastics leaders set for another Senate hearing

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Recently replaced U.S. Olympic Committee acting CEO Susanne Lyons, USA Gymnastics President and CEO Kerry Perry and Michigan State interim president John Engler are scheduled witnesses for a Senate subcommittee hearing next Tuesday on reforms following the Larry Nassar sexual-abuse crimes.

The hearing is titled, “Strengthening and Empowering U.S. Amateur Athletes: Moving Forward with Solutions” and will stream live at https://www.commerce.senate.gov/ on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. ET.

“The hearing will focus on changes made by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), USA Gymnastics (USAG), and Michigan State University (MSU) to protect Olympic and amateur athletes from abuse,” according to the subcommittee’s website. “It will examine recent reforms to provide safe environments for athletes and how these reforms are being implemented.”

The subcommittee held hearings April 18 and June 5 with testimonies from gymnasts and other athletes who were abused, former Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon and former senior vice president of USA Gymnastics Rhonda Faehn. Former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny also attended the June 5 hearing but refused to answer questions.

Lyons and Perry were questioned at a House subcommittee hearing May 23.

The USOC last Thursday named Sarah Hirshland its new CEO, replacing Lyons, who had been in the role on an interim basis since Scott Blackmun resigned in February. Blackmun, who had been CEO since January 2010, left citing prostate cancer and the USOC’s need to immediately address the USA Gymnastics sexual-abuse scandal.

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