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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Salwa Eid Naser, world 400m champion, provisionally banned

Salwa Eid Naser
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Salwa Eid Naser, the world 400m champion of Bahrain, was provisionally suspended for missing three drug tests in a 12-month span.

“I’ve never been a cheat. I will never be,” Naser, 22, said in an Instagram live video. “I only missed three drug tests, which is normal. It happens. It can happen to anybody. I don’t want people to get confused in all this because I would never cheat.”

Naser said “the missed tests” came before last autumn’s world championships, where she ran the third-fastest time in history (48.14 seconds) and the fastest in 34 years.

“This year I have not been drug tested,” she said. “We are still talking about the ones of last season before the world championships.”

The Athletics Integrity Unit, which handles doping cases for track and field, did not announce whether Naser’s gold medal could be stripped.

“Hopefully, it’ll get resolved because I don’t really like the image, but it has happened,” she said. “It’s going to be fine. It’s very hard to have this little stain on my name.”

Naser, the 2017 World silver medalist, upset Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas for the world title in Doha on Oct. 3.

The only women who have run faster than Naser, who was born Ebelechukwu Agbapuonwu in Nigeria to a Nigerian mother who sprinted and a Bahraini father, were dubious — East German Marita Koch (47.60) and Czechoslovakia’s Jarmila Kratochvilova (47.99).

“I would never take performance-enhancing drugs,” Naser said. “I believe in talent, and I know I have the talent.”

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When Laurie Hernandez winked at the Olympics

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Blink, and you may have missed one of the social-media-sensation moments of the Rio Olympics.

Laurie Hernandez, then 16, was the youngest woman on the U.S. Olympic team across all sports. She was about to start arguably the most important floor exercise routine of her life.

So, she winked.

“The amazing thing about the Olympics is that you feel so many different emotions in the span of a few days, and they are all intense,” she wrote in her 2017 book, “I Got This,” a nod to what she told herself before her balance beam routine earlier that night. “So it was nice to have at least one totally playful moment.”

The U.S., on its fourth and final rotation, already had the team gold all but locked up. Knowing she was nervous, Hernandez’s teammates confirmed to her that they were a few points ahead.

Then Hernandez heard the beep, and it was time to go. She was in the view of an out-of-bounds judge at the Rio Olympic Arena.

“Well, I looked straight at her and suddenly felt this surge of confidence to wink,” she wrote. “Later, a woman came up to me while I was watching Simone [Biles] and Aly [Raisman] compete in their all-around finals and she said, ‘Wow, I just want you to know that when you winked at the judge, it really worked.’ I didn’t know how to respond, so I just said, ‘Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.’ That’s when she told me she was the out-of-bounds judge! All I could say was ‘Oh my goodness.'”

Hernandez, a New Jersey native, finished the Olympics with a team gold and balance beam silver.

She took more than two years off before making a comeback in earnest last year, announcing she planned to return to competition this spring under new coaches in California. Now that’s on hold given the coronavirus pandemic, which pushed the Tokyo Olympics to 2021.

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