Five takeaways from World Swimming Championships

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Five thoughts following the World Swimming Championships in Budapest …

1. This is the most dominant U.S. swim team in nearly 50 years

The U.S. won 38 medals (most by one nation at a single worlds in history), with 18 golds, in the Duna Arena pool. But that’s not the full extent of the Americans’ grip on the sport.

Look at the rest of the medal standings. No other nation won more than 10 medals or four golds in Budapest. That’s also a world championships first (and hasn’t happened at the Olympics since 1968). Proof that the distance separating the U.S. and the second-best swim nation is greater than ever in the worlds era (since 1973).

No question the pool of reputable swimming nations is as strong as ever, but the increased competition impacted everybody except the U.S. in Budapest. Same in Rio, where the U.S. had its best Olympics since 1972.

The breadth of this U.S. team is also extraordinary. Its individual gold medalists in Budapest are from Stanford via Maryland (Katie Ledecky) and Texas (Simone Manuel), Florida (Caeleb Dressel), Indiana (Lilly King) and Georgia via Maryland (Chase Kalisz).

The U.S. won all but one relay at worlds, its best total effort there since 1978. It put swimmers in every final save two. It won three open-water medals.

And it had zero combined medals from Michael PhelpsRyan Lochte and Missy Franklin, who not too long ago carried the program.

2. Katie Ledecky’s times were surprising; her medal haul was superlative

Ledecky’s performance in Budapest is not a simple dissection. Olympic sports are judged on medals above all else. In that sense, Ledecky had the meet of her life — five golds and one silver.

But in swimming, times are also newsworthy (world records, personal bests, relay splits, etc.). If you watched the USA Swimming National Championships last month, you saw Ledecky incredibly clock within a second of her combined pool time in finals at the 2016 Olympic Trials. Then you heard Ledecky say she was less tapered for nationals than she was for trials.

All this after what had to be the most exhausting year of her life, the Rio Games followed by enrolling at Stanford, changing coaches and completing a full NCAA season through March.

Overall, Ledecky was slightly slower at worlds than at nationals. Which was definitely a surprise and noteworthy. Swimmers train to peak for major international meets. Ledecky has a history of time drops at the Olympics and worlds, lowering world records multiple times in 2013, 2015 and 2016.

Did it matter that Ledecky broke no records in Budapest? No. She won all of her distance events easily and was part of two winning relay teams.

Then there’s the 200m freestyle. Ledecky suffered her first major loss there. However, she had the fastest 200m free time of the meet. It just so happened to come in the semifinals.

3. Caeleb Dressel is now on world-record watch

By now you know Dressel won seven golds in Budapest, including three on Saturday alone. Let’s take a closer look at his times.

In the 100m freestyle, Dressel lowered his personal best from 47.91 (Rio Olympics) to 47.17. In the 100m butterfly, from 50.87 (2017 Nationals) to 49.86. In the 50m freestyle, from 21.53 (2017 Nationals) to 21.15.

If Dressel can drop his times by about half as much in the next year (or by the end of his career), he will break all three world records. Those three records were set in the high-tech suit era to boot.

There’s little reason to think Dressel won’t get faster. He’s the same age as Ledecky (20) and, unlike Ledecky, races the shorter distances that more favor veterans. Cesar Cielo was 22 when he set the 50m and 100m free world records in 2009. Michael Phelps was 24 when he set the 100m fly mark.

As for the Phelps-medal-haul comparisons, keep in mind that one of Dressel’s golds came in a mixed relay that is not on the Olympic program. Dressel’s other individual event at worlds, where he finished fourth, was the 50m butterfly. Also not on the Olympic program. He could tack on another event in the 4x200m free relay, but the Phelpsian eight golds at an Olympics is not yet in Dressel’s range.

4. The world’s best swimmer is …

How about Sweden’s Sarah Sjöström? She won three events and broke the world record in a fourth, giving her four individual world records, the most of any male or female swimmer in the current record book.

Sjöström was one of three female headliners at this meet, and you could argue she had the best overall performance considering expectations. Ledecky also won three individual golds but had that 200m free defeat and no personal bests. Katinka Hosszu swept the individual medleys, but also no personal bests.

5. Looking ahead to 2018

Next year is the one year in the Olympic cycle where the world’s best swimmers are divided into two major international meets — the European Championships and, for all other nations, the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo in August. No Olympics. No worlds.

Ledecky will presumably not face her toughest international rivals at Pan Pacs — no Sjöström, no Federica Pellegrini, the Italian who beat her in Budapest. Maybe no Li Bingjie, the Chinese 15-year-old who cut five seconds off her personal best to finish two seconds behind Ledecky in the 800m free. China has a history of not sending its best swimmers to Pan Pacs.

At Pan Pacs, Dressel could face the 2016 Olympic 100m freestyle champion, Australian Kyle Chalmers, who missed worlds after heart surgery. In the 100m butterfly, Olympic champion Joseph Schooling of Singapore and 2013 and 2015 world champion Chad le Clos of South Africa are also eligible for Pan Pacs.

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WORLDS: Full Results | Race Videos

Bianca Andreescu to miss U.S. Open

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Bianca Andreescu withdrew from the U.S. Open, citing “unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic” compromising her ability to prepare to defend her Grand Slam title.

“I have taken this step in order to focus on my match fitness and ensure that I return ready to play at my highest level,” Andreescu, a 20-year-old Canadian, posted on social media. “The US Open victory last year has been the high point of my career thus far and I will miss not being there. However, I realize that the unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic, have compromised my ability to prepare and compete to the degree necessary to play at my highest level.”

Andreescu’s absence means the U.S. Open, the first Grand Slam tournament since tennis resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic, will be without both 2019 male and female singles champions.

Rafael Nadal previously announced he would not defend his title, saying he would rather not travel given the global situation. Roger Federer is also out after knee surgery. Women’s No. 1 Ash Barty didn’t enter, either, citing travel concerns.

Last year, Andreescu made her U.S. Open title run as the 15th seed, sweeping Serena Williams in the final. Ranked 208th a year earlier, she became the first player born in the 2000s to win a Slam and the first teen Slam winner since Maria Sharapova at the 2006 U.S. Open.

Andreescu then missed the Australian Open in January due to rehab from a knee injury that forced her to retire during a match at the WTA Finals on Oct. 30. She also missed the French Open and Wimbledon in 2019 following a rotator cuff tear.

MORE: Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis competition

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Noah, Josephus Lyles, after years of supporting each other, meet on track’s highest level

Noah Lyles, Josephus Lyles
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When Noah and Josephus Lyles first talked about turning professional out of high school — Josephus brought it up before their junior year — the goal was, of course, to sprint on the sport’s highest international level — together.

They will do that in Monaco on Friday (2 p.m. ET, Olympic Channel and NBC Sports Gold).

The Lyles brothers will compete in the same Diamond League meet for the first time, and in the same race to boot. Though Noah has long focused on the 200m and Josephus the 400m, they will both contest the shorter distance at Stade Louis II.

“This is going to be really special,” Noah said.

“It makes me more comfortable, just knowing me and my brother are in the same race,” said Josephus, at his first Diamond League meet since 2018.

Noah, when asked the significance of the race that’s coming more than four years after they turned pro, suggested a reporter ask their mom.

“She’s probably over the moon right now,” he said.

Josephus remembered their mom, Keisha Caine Bishop, screaming in excitement upon learning last week that he earned a lane in Monaco. Noah, the reigning world 200m champion, was already in the field.

“It is definitely harder to watch,” when they’re in the same race, Bishop said, “but not because you’re worried about who’s going to win and who’s going to lose, because I don’t look at track like that.

“My nervousness more comes from I just want them both to do their best, so that we can all celebrate as a family. Because if one has a great race and the other one doesn’t have a great race, then it’s kind of hard for everybody to celebrate. You have to compartmentalize your emotions a little more.”

Bishop, an NCAA 4x400m champion at Seton Hall in the 1990s, is familiar with the balance. Even though her two sons born one year and four days apart last raced against each other in January 2017 at their first professional meet.

“The only reason I run track is because of Noah, honestly,” Josephus, who is younger, said while sitting next to Noah in 2017, days before their pro debut. “When I first started track, I quit because I didn’t like it.”

Josephus, a 400m/800m runner before giving it up, returned to the sport in eighth grade. He had planned to try out for the basketball team. Noah, originally a high jumper, was still doing track and field at the time, so Josephus went out for it, too. This time, he focused on races one lap and shorter.

“Turns out I was really good,” Josephus said. (The Lyles’ sister, Abby, ran one track race around age 6 and didn’t care for it, later finding her passion in biochemistry.)

Throughout high school, the brothers tore up tracks while attending T.C. Williams in Alexandria, Va., best known for the film “Remember the Titans.”

Bishop recalled the times one brother supported the other through adversity. Such as when Noah prayed for Josephus’ success in 2014, when Josephus was on crutches with a twisted ankle. Josephus came back that season to win the 400m at the New Balance Nationals, where Lyles took second in the 200m.

“When they race, they are more concerned about the other person than they are themselves,” Bishop said.

Or in 2016. Josephus suffered a season-ending torn right hip flexor two months before the Olympic Trials. A year before, as a high school junior, Josephus ran a 400m time that would have made the Olympic Trials final, where the top six of eight men would qualify for the Olympics.

Josephus still watched his brother race at trials, in the 200m, from the Hayward Field stands.

“He was trying to be strong,” Bishop said, “but I knew, as a mom, that it was very painful.”

Josephus excitedly detailed the experience on camera after Noah broke the national high school record and nearly pulled off the incredible, coming .09 shy of the Olympic 200m team of three men.

“Sometimes it can get a little hard. If one of us is doing well and the other one is not doing well, it can be rough,” Josephus said. “On the other hand, it can be really good because it’s a lot of support. It’s almost like an accountabili-buddy.”

The brothers achieved their goal by signing with Adidas shortly after trials.

Then in 2017, Noah strained his right hamstring and withdrew from the USATF Outdoor Championships before the 200m final. The family gathered before leaving the stadium in Sacramento.

“I said, ‘OK guys, we have to walk out of this warm-up area, and we have to do it as a team,'” Bishop said. “‘At the end of the day, the only people left will be the three of us. And it’s not just the end of today. It’s going to be the end of your careers. When all the newspapers are gone, television cameras, nobody’s writing about us, we are still a family, and that is all that matters.”

Josephus continued to battle the hip injury, yet lowered his 400m personal best in 2017 (making his Diamond League debut during Noah’s absence) and 2018. At the 2018 USATF Outdoors, Noah won the 100m and Josephus placed sixth in the 400m.

If it had been an Olympic or world championships year, both would have made the U.S. team. Instead, they looked to qualify for their first biennial world outdoor championships in 2019.

That spring, Josephus began throwing up every time he ate. He left a European swing after just one race. He saw several doctors leading into nationals, where he was eliminated in the semifinals. He got an endoscopy and learned his diaphragm was restricted, affecting his eating and breathing. It was fixed after the meet.

“A rough year,” Josephus said.

Noah won the U.S. 200m title two days after Josephus’ 400m semifinal. Noah took gold at the world championships in Doha, after which his most meaningful interaction came by phone with his brother, who was back home in the States after dealing with those chest problems.

Support flowed from both ends of the line — congratulations from an inspired Josephus and excitement from Noah, amped for the upcoming Olympic year and the prospect of a Lyles in every flat sprint and men’s relay in Tokyo.

“I never try to forget that I can be in that same position of being injured, and he could be the one doing well,” Noah said last fall. “So I want to always be able to bring good support to him.”

Noah and Josephus live together in a house near their training base in Clermont, Fla.

The pandemic relegated them to grass fields when tracks were closed for nearly two months. When they returned to more normal training, their coach, Lance Brauman, started putting Josephus in groups with 100m and 200m sprinters, including his brother, regularly for the first time.

Josephus, who beat Noah and world 110m hurdles champion Grant Holloway for a Virginia high school indoor 55m title in 2016, raced a pair of 200m in July. He lowered a five-year-old personal best from 20.74 to 20.41 and then 20.24, which helped book the spot in Monaco.

“When I run 19 [seconds], that’ll be that next level,” said Josephus, while noting the 400m remains his primary event. “I still have a little bit ways to go. Hopefully, this weekend will be a game-changer.”

Here they are, the week after what would have been their first Olympics this summer. Noah and Josephus Lyles are in the same race at the most anticipated track meet of the year.

The Olympic cycle has been bittersweet, said Bishop, reminded of what she stressed to her sons through the ups and downs.

“Life comes in seasons, and your season might not come when you wanted it to come,” she said. “The lesson might not be the lesson you thought it would be, but your season will come.”

MORE: Four years later, life changes for runners who shared Olympic moment

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