Caeleb Dressel ties Michael Phelps’ record with 7th gold

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Michael Phelps, you’ve got company.

Caeleb Dressel won his seventh gold medal of the world championships Sunday, putting the U.S. team ahead to stay with another dominating swim in the 4×100-meter medley relay.

Twenty-four hours after becoming the first swimmer to win three golds in one night at a major international meet, Dressel joined Phelps in another elite club: seven golds at the second-biggest meet after the Olympics.

Phelps was the first to do it at the 2007 worlds in Melbourne, Australia — a prelude to his unprecedented eight golds the following year at the Beijing Olympics.

Dressel matched the feat along the banks of the Danube, emerging as America’s next swimming sensation.

“We’re seeing a star being born,” teammate Matt Grevers said.

The 20-year-old University of Florida student won three individual golds and was part of four winning relay teams.

“I’m pretty tired, but, you know, it’s been a good season, a good year, and to put together a seven-day meet, it’s a really nice feeling,” Dressel said. “There’s a lot more that goes into this than just the seven days that people see, so I’m very happy to be done.”

It was a big night all around for the Americans.

Lilly King set her second individual world record of the meet in the 50 breaststroke, again besting Russian rival Yulia Efimova, and returned as part of the women’s 4×100 medley relay that also broke the world record.

“I couldn’t imagine a better finish to this meet,” King said.

Chase Kalisz swept the men’s individual medleys to carry on America’s dominance in those races, even after Phelps’ retirement and Ryan Lochte missing out on Budapest because of his shenanigans at the Rio Olympics.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be on the level of those guys,” said Kalisz, who romped to victory in the 400 IM on the heels of his victory in the 200. “But for me to be able to continue our prior tradition of IM, that was one thing when I grew up that I knew that was our thing.”

The U.S. finished with 18 golds and 38 medals overall — a huge improvement over the previous worlds two years ago in Kazan, where the Americans managed just eight golds and 23 medals.

The home crowd had no complaints, either.

Katinka Hosszu, the “Iron Lady,” finished off her third straight 200-400 IM sweep at the championships, to go along with a pair of golds from Brazil last summer.

“Ria! Ria! Hungaria!” the packed house at Duna Arena chanted, as Hosszu celebrated on deck wrapped in her country’s red, white and green flag.

But this meet will be remembered as Dressel’s coming-out party.

He won the 50 and 100 freestyle, and nearly took down Phelps’ world record in the 100 butterfly. Dressel was a beast on the relays, swimming both the free and fly.

Phelps’ feat at worlds still stands supreme since five of his seven golds were in individual events, and he didn’t have the benefit of the mixed relays. Dressel won a pair of golds in that relatively new race, which he was quick to point out after his three wins Saturday.

But the comparisons to the winningest athlete in Olympic history are sure to pick up steam heading into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Dressel swam the fly in the final event of the meet, taking over for the third leg with the Americans facing a slight deficit after world record-holder Adam Peaty pushed Britain ahead on the breaststroke.

No worries.

Dressel surged to the front with a down-and-back time of 49.76 — the only butterfly swimmer to break 50 seconds. Nathan Adrian took over for the freestyle anchor with a comfortable lead, pulling away to win in 3 minutes, 27.91 seconds. Britain settled for the silver, more than a second behind.

When Adrian touched, Dressel hugged his other teammates, Grevers and Kevin Cordes. As everyone else walked off deck, Dressel lingered a bit, watching a replay of the race on the video board.

It must have seemed more than a little surreal.

“I’ve never had had it happen,” Dressel said, “so I don’t really know what to say.

To the surprise of no one, he was named the top male swimmer of the meet. The female award when to Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom, who capped off a stellar performance of her own with a bit of redemption in the 50 free.

After setting a world record in the semifinals, Sjostrom completed the furious dash from one end of the pool to the other in 23.69 — just two-hundredths off her mark the previous evening. Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands claimed the silver, while Simone Manuel of the U.S. settled for the bronze.

It was Manuel who knocked off Sjostrom in the 100 free after the Swede went out far too fast on the opening lap and had nothing left for the return. This time, she didn’t have to come back.

Sjostrom set two world records in the meet, also getting credit for one in the 100 free for her opening leg of the 4×100 free relay. She now holds four world records overall including the 50 and 100 fly.

Manuel was feeling a lot better when she anchored the U.S. women to a world record in the 4×100 medley relay. She joined King, Kelsi Worrell and Kathleen Baker in setting a time of 3:51.55, breaking the mark of 3:52.05 that had stood since an American victory at the 2012 London Olympics.

King’s time in the 50 breast was 29.40, beating the mark of 29.48 set by Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte at the 2013 worlds. Efimova settled for a silver, and the two even gave each other a hug when it was over — a sign that their fierce rivalry is thawing a bit.

King set two individual records in Budapest, and was part of two record-setting relay teams.

Also Sunday, Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri pulled away from Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk over the final laps to win the men’s 1,500 freestyle, while France’s Camille Lacourt took gold in the 50 backstroke.

But the biggest winner was Dressel.

“I’m going to take a little break,” he said. “Just enjoy myself, you know.”

He certainly earned it.

Men’s 4x100m Medley Results
Gold: United States — 3:27.91
Silver: Great Britain — 3:28.95
Bronze: Russia — 3:29.76
4. Japan — 3:30.19
5. Brazil — 3:31.53
6. China — 3:31.65
7. Hungary — 3:32.13
8. Belarus — 3:33.63

Women’s 4x100m Medley Results
Gold: United States — 3:51.55
Silver: Russia — 3:53.38
Bronze: Australia — 3:54.29
4. Canada — 3:54.86
5. Sweden — 3:55.28
6. China — 3:57.69
7. Great Britain — 3:59.51
8. Italy — 3:59.98

Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

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Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

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Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

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Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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