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Aly Raisman shifts focus from 2020 Olympics to new role

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The people come forward to Aly Raisman almost daily now.

Random strangers. Men and women of various ages, races and backgrounds.

They see the six-time Olympic medal winning gymnast out in public and approach with a hug to give and a story to tell.

It was jarring at first, if Raisman is being honest.

When she pitched her autobiography “Fierce” to publishers last summer shortly after the 2016 Olympics, she intended to focus on her journey from tenacious prodigy to champion.

And while all of that is in there, the part of her experience that’s resonated the most since the book’s release earlier this month is the one she wasn’t sure she’d be able to share.

It’s Chapter 22, titled “The Survivors.”

In it, Raisman outlines how she was abused by former national team doctor Larry Nassar, how he “groomed” her by presenting himself as a friendly ear and how she feels he was empowered to continue over the course of years by those in charge at USA Gymnastics.

Raisman spent weeks working on the section, revisiting it again and again, trying to get it just right. Or at least as close to right as she can get.

“I put in a ton of thought whether how I wanted to come forward about this,” Raisman said. “What I realized at the end of the day is that I want change and I want people to understand what exactly abuse is. It’s very complicated. It’s very confusing. I didn’t know that I was being abused because I was manipulated so horribly.”

In the process, Raisman discovered the abuse Nassar committed against other female athletes — including allegations from Olympic teammates McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas — is a very small part of a much larger problem that extends far beyond the actions of just one man.

It’s why she took those painful memories and put them on paper, to share with the world that, as she said over and over again, “It’s not OK. It’s never OK.”

The 23-year-old’s new calling makes thinking about a return to competition in time for the 2020 Olympics seem trivial.

“This is the focus,” Raisman said.

A focus that has turned her into an unexpected symbol of strength for others who share their experiences.

“Unfortunately sexual abuse is far too common,” Raisman said. “I’ve realized how many people are affected by it and it’s disgusting. That’s why I want change.”

Raisman has become an increasingly outspoken critic of USA Gymnastics, blaming the governing body for a lack of oversight on Nassar’s conduct.

The 54-year-old spent nearly 20 years as the team doctor for the U.S. women’s elite program, often working with athletes one-on-one.

Raisman declined to get into specifics about the abuse she was subjected to but her experience falls in line with what many other have claimed against Nassar: that he touched them inappropriately while describing it as proper treatment.

Nassar pleaded guilty to multiple charges of sexual assault in Michigan on Wednesday and will face at least 25 years in prison.

He still faces additional criminal charges and has been named in more than 125 civil lawsuits filed by former athletes.

Nassar’s downfall began following reporting by the Indianapolis Star in 2016 that highlighted chronic mishandling of abuse allegations against coaches and staff at some of USA Gymnastics’ more than 3,500 clubs across the country.

Raisman has not taken any legal action yet against Nassar, though she’s not ruling it out.

Her larger concern is educating young athletes and their parents on the warning signs while also loudly clamoring for change.

She has seen a familiar pattern repeat itself over the last 18 months: another gymnast comes out claiming abuse by Nassar, and USA Gymnastics follows with a press release attributed to no specific individual that praises them for their courage.

One of the most decorated Olympic athletes of her generation doesn’t just want words. She wants action.

USA Gymnastics has taken several steps in recent months.

President and CEO Steve Penny resigned under pressure in March and was replaced by Kerry Perry, who takes over on Dec. 1.

The organization hired Toby Stark, a child welfare advocate, as its director of SafeSport over the summer.

Part of Stark’s mandate is educating members on rules, educational programs and reporting.

The federation also adopted over 70 recommendations by Deborah Daniels, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw an extensive independent review.

It’s not enough for Raisman.

She points out Penny wasn’t fired but instead forced out.

Though Nassar’s relationship with USA Gymnastics officially ended in 2015 after an athlete came forward about potential abuse, he was still allowed to continue working at Michigan State University while also volunteering at a USA Gymnastics-affiliated club.

“That is just unacceptable to me,” Raisman said. “(That gym) is a part of USA Gymnastics. USA Gymnastics is responsible for kids at that gym. Instead of doing their job, they let Larry keep working there.”

Raisman would like to see more extensive change in leadership at USA Gymnastics.

She never imagined being an agent for change as she dreamed of the Olympics while growing up in Needham, Mass., but she’s embracing the role as she comes to grips with her own victimhood.

Chapter 22 wasn’t the end, only the beginning.

“I’m still, as you see, processing it,” she said. “I’m still at a loss for words. I’m having so many people come up to me, telling me they had similar experience, that they filed a complaint and it was ignored. I will do everything I can to make sure those people are heard.”

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MORE: Gabby Douglas: ‘We were abused by Larry Nassar’

Caeleb Dressel, after 7 golds in 2017, is on record watch at swim worlds

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For Caeleb Dressel, the comparisons began in earnest two years ago when he matched Michael Phelps‘ record seven gold medals at a single world championships (albeit two were in mixed-gender relays that weren’t on the program when Phelps swam).

They will likely spread at this summer’s worlds, which begin Sunday in Gwangju, South Korea (TV schedule here). And they likely won’t dissipate through the next year and the Tokyo Olympics.

For as Dressel endured new obstacles in and out of the pool last summer, winning two of seven individual races at the two major 2018 meets, he came back this May and June with his fastest times since 2017 Worlds.

“I personally think he’s going to break three world records,” next week, NBC Sports analyst Rowdy Gaines said. “I think he’s going to break two for sure, 50m and 100m freestyle. The only one that’s doubtful, to me, would be the 100m fly.”

Dressel, the former prep prodigy who left the sport for five months before joining the University of Florida team in 2014, is expected to swim no less than the same program next week that he did in 2017.

That would mean eight races — the 50m and 100m freestyles and butterflies, the 4x100m free, 4x100m medley and two mixed-gender relays. Two years ago, Dressel won seven of eight, surprisingly taking fourth in the 50m fly (which is not on the Olympic program).

His coach in Gainesville, Gregg Troy, did not rule out adding a ninth event as part of the 4x200m free. However, that would likely give Dressel three swims in one session next Friday and next Saturday, something Phelps never did in his prime when contesting eight events at the Olympics and worlds.

The 2020 question is whether Dressel will try to swim a Phelpsian eight events in Toyko. With no 50m fly and only one mixed-gender relay on the Olympic program, he must add two events to get to eight, perhaps the 200m free and 4x200m free relay.

“I’m not too sure,” Dressel said. “I just want to stay focused on this year. I’ve got the biggest meet of my year coming up in less than a week. I’ll get through this meet, and then me and Troy, we’ll start looking forward next year and maybe add some new events. But I’m not too sure at the moment.”

Dressel turned pro last spring after an unprecedented NCAA career, where his routine included carrying a blue bandana in his mouth on the pool deck. The demands on his time were new, from choosing an agent to signing with a swimwear company.

Troy, who coached Ryan Lochte in his prime to overtake Phelps as the world’s best swimmer in 2011, said he may have overtrained Dressel before last summer’s nationals and Pan Pacific Championships.

After Pan Pacs, Dressel revealed that an earlier motorcycle incident where he was forced off the road by another motorist, but didn’t suffer serious injury, maybe interfered with training.

Now, Dressel chalks that summer to uncharacteristically poor swimming at the wrong time. “I can put as many excuses as I want on that, but that’s really just what it was,” he said. “I mean, it happens to athletes all over the world.

“I’m glad it happened when it did. It can mess with you. It can turn into a downward spiral of self-doubt if you don’t just pick and choose what you want to learn from bad experiences like that. I don’t take it as all too negative. I certainly wouldn’t want it to happen again. Just a bad meet. Move on from it.”

Troy went further, noting the scrutiny on Dressel. Phelps is retired, Lochte suspended (and, at age 34, staving off Father Time), creating an opening for a male U.S. swim star to pair with Katie Ledecky. In 2017, Dressel became that alpha.

“It’s one thing being the guy coming up. It’s another thing being the guy that’s hunted,” Troy said this week. “He’s a little more mature to handle all the outside factors that we had to deal with last summer.”

In 2017, Dressel’s winning times in the 50m and 100m freestyles and the 100m butterfly were a combined .56 shy of three world records. This year, he’s ranked Nos. 1, 3 and 5 in the world in those events.

His 2019 times are a combined .64 faster than his best pre-worlds times in 2017, which is why some believe he’s in for a special week in South Korea. But not everyone buys that logic.

“The meets leading up to it don’t really mean too much,” Dressel demurred.

Dressel didn’t have to peak this year for an NCAA Championships or a nationals (the world team was decided last summer) like in 2017. He had the luxury of putting all his focus the last several months on Gwangju.

“My gut feeling,” Gaines said, “I think he’s going to destroy ’em.”

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MORE: Katie Ledecky faces toughest tests yet at swim worlds

World’s fastest mom leads London Diamond League fields; stream schedule

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Jamaican sprinters headline this weekend’s Diamond League meet in London, while most American stars rest up for next week’s USATF Outdoor Championships.

Olympic champions Shelly-Ann Fraser-PryceElaine Thompson and Yohan Blake dot the two-day meet at the 2012 Olympic Stadium. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage each morning at 8:15 and 8:50 ET.

Fraser-Pryce and Thompson, who combined to win the last three Olympic 100m and share the fastest time in the world this year of 10.73 seconds, are in separate events in London.

Fraser-Pryce goes in the 100m against the fastest women from Europe and Africa. Thompson faces a less daunting field in the 200m; she’s the only entrant who has run sub-22.3. They could both double up in the 100m and 200m at the world championships in Doha in two months.

As for Blake, he races after being called out by former training partner Usain Bolt for leaving their shared coach of several years, Glen Mills. Blake is the second-fastest man in history but hasn’t been within two tenths of his personal-best 9.69 in nearly seven years.

Here are the London entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

Saturday
8:15 a.m. — Men’s Long Jump
9:04 — Women’s 400m
9:09 — Women’s Pole Vault
9:13 — Men’s 5000m
9:20 — Women’s Javelin
9:40 — Men’s Triple Jump
9:55 — Men’s 800m
10:06 — Women’s 200m
10:17 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
10:29 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
10:39 — Women’s 1500m
10:50 — Men’s 100m

Sunday
8:50 a.m. — Men’s Discus
9:04 — Men’s 400m
9:20 — Men’s High Jump
9:35 — Women’s 800m
9:40 — Women’s Long Jump
9:45 — Men’s Mile
9:56 — Women’s 5000m
10:19 — Men’s 200m
10:29 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
10:39 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
10:50 — Women’s 100m

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s 800m — Saturday, 9:55 a.m. ET
Perhaps the greatest race in history came on this track at the 2012 London Games — the men’s 800m final won by David Rudisha in a world record. Botswana’s Nijel Amos took silver that day at age 18 to become the fourth-fastest man ever. Amos has not earned a global championship medal since, but last Friday he clocked his fastest 800m since that evening in London. Here, he faces the next-fastest man in the world this year, Kenyan Ferguson Rotich, and the fastest man of 2017 and 2018, Kenyan Emmanuel Korir.

Men’s 100m — Saturday, 10:50 a.m. ET
Blake hasn’t raced a Diamond League this season and last won on this stage in 2017. Here, he gets an opportunity with the world’s fastest men — all Americans — sitting out. Andre De Grasse, who like Blake has been slowed by leg injuries, is the other marquee name, but he hasn’t broken 10 seconds in 13 tries since taking bronze in Rio, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Men’s Discus — Sunday, 8:50 a.m. ET
Perhaps the deepest field of the meet with the Olympic and world gold and silver medalists and the top three in the world this year. The favorite has to be Swede Daniel Ståhl, who takes up nine of the first 11 spots on the 2019 top list. Ståhl broke the Swedish record three weeks ago with the world’s top throw in 11 years.

Women’s 5000m — Sunday, 9:56 a.m. ET
Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan follows up her world record in the mile (4:12.33) from the last Diamond League stop in Monaco. Hassan was primarily a 1500m runner through the Rio Olympics (where she was fifth) but since added 5000m work. She faces the ultimate test here in world champion Hellen Obiri, the only woman who has been faster over the last two years.

Women’s 100m — Sunday, 10:50 a.m. ET
Fraser-Pryce owns fond memories at this track, though she missed the 2017 World Championships in London due to childbirth. She won her second Olympic 100m in London in 2012 and scored her first post-baby Diamond League win here last summer. Fraser-Pryce has a chance to become the third woman to break 10.75 three times in one year, joining Florence Griffith-Joyner (1988) and Marion Jones (1998). She could get the necessary push from Ivorian Marie-Josee Ta Lou and Brit Dina Asher-Smith, the fastest in the world in 2018.

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MORE: Olympic champions, world-record holder to miss USATF Outdoor Champs