Ryan Lochte sets US Open meet record in 200 IM

Ryan Lochte
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EAST MEADOW, N.Y. (AP) Ryan Lochte had a surprising reaction to his latest record-setting performance.

“A little disappointed,” Lochte said after breaking the meet record in the finals of the 200 meter individual medley Sunday at the U.S. Open.

Lochte’s time of 1:59.24 bested the previous mark of 1:59.26 set by Michael Phelps on Nov. 30, 2006. Xavier Mohammed finished second in 2:00.47, and Sam Stewart was third in 2:01.51.

“Whether I broke a world record or not, I always feel like I could go faster. No matter what the time was tonight, I knew I could faster,” Lochte said. “Overall, that was just not a good race.”

Lochte, who set the 200 IM world and American record (1:54:00) on July 28, 2011, started well in this race and was in second place at the first turn. After the second turn, the only question was how much Lochte would win by.

Yet, he was self-critical of his performance.

“The first part of the fly I felt fine and then I don’t know what happened,” Lochte said. “I think I tried too hard and it just backfired on me.”

The weeklong event at the Nassau County Aquatic Center was Lochte’s first USA Swimming-sanctioned meet after a 10-month suspension for his behavior during an incident at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

After a night out with teammates Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and James Feigen, Lochte had claimed in an interview with NBC that the taxi the swimmers were in had been pulled over and the athletes were robbed at gunpoint. In a subsequent interview with NBC, Lochte said he “over-exaggerated” the incident.

However, Brazilian authorities, citing videotape evidence, revealed the swimmers were confronted by security personnel after destroying a gas station bathroom.

Lochte eventually posted a mea culpa on his Twitter account.

Update: Lochte cleared of Rio incident charges

Following a fifth place finish in the 100 backstroke Saturday, Lochte said he viewed the 200 IM as an “indicator” of what he needed to work on in order to compete for a spot on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Swim Team. He went on to say that he only trained “once or twice a week” due to he and fiancee Kayla Rae Reid preparing for the birth of their infant son, Caiden.

When he spoke with reporters Sunday, Lochte reiterated his belief that he made the right decision to focus on his family life before stressing he was now planning on preparing for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

“It’s time for me to start doing my job. I’m not going to take a break after this. I’m just going to get back in and actually start training and start getting focused and start my swimming journey for 2020,” Lochte said. “I (have) three years. I need to get back to training and actually train. There’s only one way to go now and that’s up.”

Lochte, 33, would turn 36 during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Should he qualify for the team, it would mark Lochte’s fifth Games. He represented America in the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics. Of his 12 Olympic medals, three have come in the 200 IM – silvers in 2004 and 2012, and bronze in 2008.

Lochte qualified for the final with a time of 1:56.22 in the preliminaries, nearly three seconds faster than Michael Andrew (1:59.12). Mohammed (1:59.29), John Shebat (1.59.70) and Grant Sanders (2:01.26) rounded out the top five preliminary round finishers.

“It’s a starting point,” Lochte said.

More: Lochte’s suspension ends, marks competition return

Aryna Sabalenka wins Australian Open for first Grand Slam singles title

Aryna Sabalenka Australian Open 2023
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MELBOURNE, Australia — One point away from her first Grand Slam title, Aryna Sabalenka faulted. And then she faulted again. She grimaced. She yelled and turned her back to the court. She wiggled her shoulders and exhaled.

Clearly, this business of winning the Australian Open was not bound to happen without a bit of a struggle Saturday night. Sabalenka knew deep inside that would be the case. She also knew that all of the effort she put in, to overcome self-doubt and those dreaded double-faults, had to pay off eventually. Just had to.

And so, as she wasted a second match point by flubbing a forehand, and a third by again missing another, Sabalenka did her best to stay calm, something she used to find quite difficult. She hung in there until a fourth chance to close out Elena Rybakina presented itself — and this time, Sabalenka saw a forehand from her similarly powerful foe sail long. That was that. The championship belonged to Sabalenka via a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 comeback victory over Wimbledon winner Rybakina.

“The last game, yeah, of course, I was a little bit nervous. I (kept) telling myself, like, ’Nobody tells you that it’s going to be easy.′ You just have to work for it, work for it, ’til the last point,” said Sabalenka, a 24-year-old from Belarus who is now 11-0 with two titles in 2023 and will rise to No. 2 in the WTA rankings on Monday.

The only set she has dropped all season was the opener on Saturday against Rybakina, who eliminated No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the fourth round.

It was telling that Sabalenka’s remarks during the post-match ceremony were directed at her coach, Anton Dubrov, and her fitness trainer, Jason Stacy — she referred to them as “the craziest team on tour.”

“We’ve been through a lot of, I would say, downs last year,” said Sabalenka, who was appearing in her first major final and had been 0-3 in Slam semifinals until this week. “We worked so hard and you guys deserve this trophy. It’s more about you than it’s about me.”

Well, she had a lot to do with it, of course. Those serves that produced 17 aces, helping erase the sting of seven double-faults. Those hammered groundstrokes and relentlessly aggressive style that produced 51 winners, 20 more than Rybakina’s total. And, despite her go-for-broke shotmaking, somehow Sabalenka limited her unforced error count to 28. One more key statistic: Sabalenka managed to accrue 13 break points, converting three, including the one at 4-3 in the last set that put her ahead for good.

“She played really well today,” said Rybakina, who has lost all four matches she’s played against Sabalenka, all in three sets. “She was strong mentally, physically.”

While the latter has long been a hallmark of her game, even Sabalenka acknowledges that the first has been an issue.

Her most glowing strength was also her most glaring shortfall: her serve. Capable of delivering aces, she also had a well-known problem with double-faulting, leading the tour in that category last year with nearly 400, including matches with more than 20.

After much prodding from her group, she agreed to undergo an overhaul of her mechanics last August. That, along with a commitment to trying to keep her emotions in check — she used to work with a sports psychologist but no longer, saying she relies on herself now — is really paying off.

“She didn’t have great serve last year, but now she was super strong and she served well,” said Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan. “For sure, I respect that. I know how much work it takes.”

With seagulls squawking loudly while flying overhead at Rod Laver Arena, Rybakina and Sabalenka traded serious racket swings for nearly 2 1/2 hours.

The serves were big. So big. Rybakina’s fastest arrived at 121 mph, Sabalenka’s at 119 mph.

The points were over quickly. So quickly: Seven of the first 13 were aces.

Sabalenka had been broken just six times in 55 service games through the course of these two weeks, but Rybakina did it twice in the opening set.

And never again. Sabalenka resolved to take the initiative even more, and the payoff for her high-risk, high-reward attitude was too much for Rybakina to withstand over the last two sets.

Sabalenka said ahead of time that she expected to feel some jitters. Which makes perfect sense for anyone: This was the most important match of her career.

At the end, when it mattered more than ever, Sabalenka was able to steady herself. After the final point, she dropped to her back on the court and stayed down for a bit, covering her face as her eyes welled with tears.

Quite a difference from a year ago at Melbourne Park, when Sabalenka departed after 15 double-faults in a fourth-round loss.

“I really feel right now that I really needed those tough losses to kind of understand myself a little bit better. It was like a preparation for me,” Sabalenka said at her post-match news conference, her new trophy nearby and a glass of bubbly in her hand. “I actually feel happy that I lost those matches, so right now I can be a different player and just a different Aryna, you know?”

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Matt Weston, Susanne Kreher win first world skeleton titles; Olympic champs struggle

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Great Britain’s Matt Weston and German Susanne Kreher consolidated breakout post-Olympic seasons by winning world skeleton titles in St. Moritz, Switzerland, on Friday.

Weston, 15th at last year’s Olympics, prevailed by 1.79 seconds combining times from four runs, the largest margin of victory at worlds for men or women since 2012.

Weston became the second British man to win a world skeleton title after Kristan Bromley in 2008. The 25-year-old from Surrey left taekwondo at age 17 due to a reported back injury and has three wins in six World Cups this season after considering quitting the sport over the summer, according to the BBC.

“What happened there [at Beijing 2022] hit us all really hard, and it took a while to get over,” he said, speaking of the whole British skeleton team that had no top-10 finishes after medals in the last five Olympics, according to the BBC.

Italian Amedeo Bagnis, whose best World Cup finish is eighth, took silver, a year after placing 11th at the Olympics. South Korean Jeong Seung-Gi earned bronze by one hundredth over Brit Chris Thompson, a year after placing 10th at the Olympics.

Kreher, a 24-year-old sprint convert in her first full World Cup season, won by one hundredth of a second over Olympic bronze medalist Kimberley Bos of the Netherlands. Mimi Rahneva took bronze for Canada’s first Olympic or world skeleton medal since 2015.

Kreher extended Germany’s streak to six consecutive women’s world titles. Kreher, last year’s world junior champion, has three World Cup podiums this season, but no wins on the circuit.

Germany’s reigning Olympic champions Christopher Grotheer and Hannah Neise were 10th and 15th, respectively. Tina Hermann, who won the last three women’s world titles, was fifth.

Two other Olympic champions were absent: 2014 gold medalist Aleksandr Tretiyakov is out due to the ban on Russians for the war in Ukraine. Yun Sung-Bin, a 2018 gold medalist, is taking this season off but is expected to come back, according to the South Korean federation.

The top Americans were Hallie Clarke in 10th for the women and Austin Florian in 19th for the men. The last U.S. medalist at worlds was Noelle Pikus-Pace, who took silver in 2013.

Katie Uhlaender, the top U.S. finisher at the last worlds and last Olympics (sixth both times), has not competed this season after rupturing a tendon in her right ankle two months ago.

Worlds continue with the women’s monobob and two-man bobsled events Saturday and Sunday.

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