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Ryan Lochte’s comeback motivated by new life, another swimmer’s goal

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You could say Ryan Lochte‘s comeback to competitive swimming begins in earnest on Friday, when he plans to race the 100m butterfly, 200m freestyle and 400m individual medley at the Atlanta Classic.

It is Lochte’s lone day of action at the three-day meet (he said he has a charity event Saturday), but it is the first of three meets in four weeks for the 33-year-old, 12-time Olympic medalist.

The finale is a Tyr Pro Swim Series stop in Santa Clara, Calif., which will mark Lochte’s first meet on USA Swimming’s domestic tour since the infamy of the Rio Olympics and resulting 10-month suspension. He has competed in smaller meets since last April.

It’s all in preparation for July’s national championships, a meet that will largely determine the U.S. roster for the 2019 World Championships. If Lochte, the most decorated active Olympian in any sport, does not perform well at nationals, he will fail to qualify for worlds for the first time in 16 years (not counting last year’s ban).

“It is very important,” Lochte said by phone Tuesday. “I definitely want to be back on the USA team and competing against the fastest athletes in the world.”

That said, Lochte stressed what his coach, Gregg Troy, told him when Lochte relocated from Southern California to Gainesville, Fla., last fall.

It’s going to be hell, said the 67-year-old whom pupils call Papi. It’s not going to be a quick fix, but trust the process, and you’ll be fine.

Under Troy’s guidance from 2002-2013, Lochte rose from a team joker to the world’s best all-around swimmer (but never shedding that personality). Lochte surprisingly left Troy in 2013. He said he needed a change of environment.

Lochte faded the next four years as he entered his 30s, set back by injuries while trying different training techniques (but not always giving it his all). He bottomed out by making the Rio Olympic team in just one individual event, injured at trials, and finished fifth in Brazil. Then came that gas-station incident. Lochte went about eight months without training during the ban — including a “Dancing with the Stars” stint — and another four last spring and summer without real dedication.

“I trained for a day or two, then take a week off,” he said. “I was in California, just enjoying the California sun. I was like, man, if I really want to do something in the sport, I’ve got to go back to where it started.”

Lochte asked Troy to take him back.

“I know I messed up,” Lochte said. “I know I kind of took, like, six years off since 2012, really. I want to go back, and I really want to give it everything I have for the next couple of years. I have a different purpose for swimming. I’m hungry again. I want to come back and train where I started swimming.

“[Troy] said, yes, we would love to have you. You’re great for the program. You train hard. Just know that I’m not going to let up on you. It’s going to be hard. Now that you’re way older than you were before, your recovery, everything, you’re just going to have to start taking care of your body. No more partying.”

All that sounded fine to Lochte. His motivation had crescendoed June 8, holding son Caiden for the first time. Lochte remembers staring at him.

“I want to show him about dedication, hard work and commitment,” said Lochte, who married Kayla Rae Reid in a small January ceremony but plans a larger September wedding.

There is little time for partying. Lochte recently put up for sale a chunk of his well-known shoe collection of more than 130 pairs. 

“[My wife said] get these out of there,” Lochte said of their new home in Gainesville, in a subdivision with “doctors and professors” off campus. “We don’t need them. You don’t wear them. They just sit in a box.”

Lochte is down to one sponsor — Tyr, a swimwear company.

Even being back with Troy, with a fresh mindset and extra closet space, Lochte faces a tougher climb than he when he moved from Daytona Beach and enrolled at UF in 2002.

Few make national teams at this age. Lochte, who is a year older than Michael Phelps, will turn 36 during the Tokyo Olympics, making him older than all but two previous U.S. Olympic swimmers in individual events (Edgar Adams, 1904, and Dara Torres, 2008).

Then there is his concerning injury history, a mountain of stories that just seem to fit Lochte. A torn MCL and sprained ACL when a female fan ran toward him, he caught her and fell onto a curb. An MCL strain reaching for his cellphone in the backseat of his car. A torn meniscus from breakdancing in his apartment. A concussion from playing manhunt and falling out of a tree. A hairline fracture in his right foot after losing control of his scooter, flying 47 feet and landing in bushes. Lochte came back every time to win at least one individual gold medal at every Olympics and worlds between 2007 and 2015.

The latest setback came in early November. Lochte posted a Snapchat selfie of him frowning and the text, “Up next….. MRI.”

Soon after moving back to Gainesville, Lochte overstrided in a weight-room sprint and completely tore his right hamstring. He wasn’t able to do a full-on dive off starting blocks until a month ago, though he did race at small meets in Florida in March.

“I guess you could say I’m a 33-year-old that feels like he’s turning 100,” Lochte said. “I’m all beat up, especially the practices that we’ve had earlier this week already.”

Lochte has few pieces of Olympic memorabilia in the open at his new house. They’re all in the movie room — four framed flags signed by every member of the U.S. swim team at his Olympics, starting in 2004.

His 12 medals are all in a sock drawer, including one relay gold from Rio. He said that medal conjures no memories of an Olympics you would think he would like to forget. He said he thinks of it the same way he does the other 11 — not very often.

“I can’t always think about the past,” he said, “or else I’ll never get to where I want to be in the future.”

On March 9, Lochte drove 20 minutes from a small South Florida swim meet to Parkland. He had asked Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School swim and water polo coaches if he could meet the boys and girls teams, three weeks after 17 people were killed in a shooting at the school.

Lochte learned about Nicholas Dworet, one of the 14 students killed, who had been a captain of the swim team. Lochte met Dworet’s parents and saw this piece of paper. Dworet had written down a goal to make the 2020 Olympic team for Sweden. Lochte decided then to dedicate his own 2020 Olympic swims to Dworet, should he defy convention and make it to a fifth Games.

Every day, Lochte wakes in Gainesville, which evokes memories of his best swimming and reminders of how much his life has changed since he previously called it home. Lochte makes his way out of his house to swim on campus. He passes a Marjory Stoneman Douglas swim team cap that he positioned to see daily.

Lochte said Troy’s refrain in practice is “trust the process.” Nationals, the meet that determines his fate in 2019, is in 10 weeks. The Olympics are in two years.

“I’m definitely the underdog, been out of the sport for a long time,” he said. “I’m just trying to get back into it.”

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Today I had one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I'm in Plantation, Florida this weekend swimming in a meet. In between events, I took the 20 minute trip to Parkland for an unannounced visit to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. With the help of Assistant Athletic Director and Swim Coach Lauren Rubenstein, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to speak to and meet with the swim and water polo teams. I also had the privilege and honor of meeting the parents of Nicholas Dworet. Nicholas was the Swim Captain at MSD and he tragically lost his life along with 16 others during the senseless high school shooting. Words cannot describe the emotions that I felt while at the school and how grateful I am that I was able to meet with those incredible students. In honor of Nicholas, I committed to his parents that I would swim on his behalf tonight and I did. I proudly wore an MSD cap and won for Nicholas and the entire Parkland community. I also told his parents that I will dedicate my swims in the 2020 Olympics to Nicholas. One of his goals was to swim in the Olympics and now he will with me!! #msdstrong #parkland #marjorystonemandouglas #broward #17 #swimming #swim4nick #neveragain #neverforget #olympics #japan2020 @tyrsport #teamtyr

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Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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