Ryan Lochte
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Ryan Lochte’s suspension saddens U.S. swimmers, sends message to the world

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IRVINE, Calif. — Count Chase Kalisz, the world’s best all-around swimmer, among those who will miss Ryan Lochte at the U.S. Championships this week.

“It’s sad to see that Ryan’s not going to be here,” Kalisz, the 200m and 400m individual medley world champion, said Tuesday, one day before the meet begins (TV schedule here). “I feel bad for Ryan. He genuinely is a really good guy. … I couldn’t say one negative thing about Ryan.”

Except that, speaking solely for this case, he broke the rules.

The 12-time Olympic medalist was banned until July 2019 for an IV infusion. Lochte took a legal substance, but an amount greater than the legal limit via IV. He may not have been caught if not for posting photo evidence on social media in May. Lochte claimed he was simply unaware of the World Anti-Doping Agency rule, cooperated with a USADA investigation and accepted the punishment.

“Having a rule like that, while in this case I don’t think it caught a cheater, per se, I think in 99 percent of the cases, it would,” said Ryan Murphy, who swept the backstrokes in Rio.

Actually, two of the U.S.’ best all-around swimmers aren’t competing at the nationals. Neither Lochte nor Madisyn Cox can swim at any sanctioned meet in the next year because of doping-rules suspensions.

Lochte did not take a banned substance. Those who punished Cox believed she didn’t intentionally take the banned substance for which she tested positive. Yet both received suspensions longer than one year, stunting their progress toward the 2020 Olympics.

What kind of message does that send?

“We’re watching the American team be leaders in accountability right now,” five-time Olympic champion Nathan Adrian said. “I don’t think that [Lochte’s] punishment would have necessarily been as strict if he was part of certain other federations, to be totally honest. We have always come down harsh on that, as Team USA, [U.S. Anti-Doping Agency], saying, hey, where’s the accountability here. I think you’re seeing us stay true to our word.”

Fewer know about Cox, the top-ranked U.S. woman in the 200m individual medley, who is not competing in Irvine after failing a February drug test.

FINA, the international governing body for swimming, said it took a “highly unusual step” of accepting that Cox did not intentionally take a banned substance after she argued that she drank contaminated tap water. Cox reportedly said she had “a world-renowned biochemist” equate her level of the banned substance to “a pinch of salt in an Olympic size swimming pool.”

Cox’s ban was reduced from four years to two. She and Lochte will miss the two biggest international meets between now and the 2020 Olympics — August’s Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo and the 2019 World Championships in South Korea.

“It’s really hard to see that happen to a friend and teammate and someone that you’ve looked up to, but, then again, you can’t break the rules like that,” Lilly King, the Olympic 100m breaststroke champion who took a hard stance on doping in Rio, said of Lochte. “You have to follow the rules, and I appreciate that FINA, WADA and USADA and all the doping agencies are cracking down.”

In Rio, King said that anybody who had served a prior doping ban should not be at the Games. That included not only Russian rival Yuliya Efimova, but also U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin.

“Do I think people who have been caught for doping offenses should be on the team?” King said then. “No, they shouldn’t.”

King was asked Tuesday whether she agreed with Lochte being allowed back into competition in 2019 as he tries to make the 2020 Games at age 35.

“I don’t really know,” she said. “I’m not exactly in charge of handing out the sentences. I’m not going to lie, I’m not really that knowledgeable on substances and what they do to the body, just because I don’t take them, and I’m not going to. … But as far as them banning him, if you do something wrong, you should serve time. You should be punished.”

King said she’s never taken an IV infusion. Kalisz and Adrian said they were aware of the rule that Lochte broke. Both mentioned a USADA presentation that athletes visiting the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., can take advantage of.

“USA Swimming will be happy with me for [saying] this. I did sit in a USADA meeting at the USA Swimming building, I think it was three years ago, about it, when they announced that [rule],” Kalisz said. “I don’t know when it came out or what. I definitely know it’s one of the lesser-known rules apparently. Before that I actually didn’t really know about it.”

IV rules pertaining to Lochte’s ban have been on the WADA prohibited list since 2005, according to USADA, and modified in 2012 and 2018.

The prohibited list is updated annually and very detailed. Adrian, a national team member for more than a decade, said there are ambiguities in the doping code but they can easily be sorted out.

“You ask,” he said, noting USA Swimming officials and a direct line to USADA. “You have to ask a lot.”

Adrian was confident that other countries would not have been as strict in a case like Lochte’s (Cox was banned by FINA, not USADA, so that’s a bit different). Adrian did not name names, but recent examples come to mind.

In 2011, Brazilian Cesar Cielo tested positive for a banned diuretic but was not suspended by his national federation. Though FINA pushed for a penalty, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled Cielo was not at fault after he argued that he took a contaminated caffeine pill.

In 2014, China’s Sun Yang was suspended three months for testing positive for the same substance as Cox did this year. The ban was not announced until after Sun had served it and won three golds at the Asian Games, creating more skepticism.

“These are what we’ve been told since we were junior team athletes, that if you mess up, and it’s accidental, you can still get banned for years,” Adrian said. “Those are the messages that have been pounded in our head. This is a message we are sending to the world that we take clean sport seriously.”

Kalisz lamented not being able to race Lochte in individual medleys this week. Both he and Murphy praised Lochte’s character.

“That guy’s an idol for me,” Murphy said.

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WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships pairs’, women’s short programs

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Alysa Liu begins defense of her national title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, live on NBC Sports on Thursday evening.

The women’s short program headlines the first day of senior competition in Greensboro, N.C.

Action starts with the pairs’ short program at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:30 on Gold, with NBCSN TV coverage starting at 9.

LIVE STREAM: Pairs’ short program — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s short program — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order

Liu, who last year became the youngest U.S. champion in history at age 13, seeks to become the first repeat women’s champion since Ashley Wagner in 2012 and 2013. She has the ability to land a triple Axel and a quadruple Lutz, jumps no other active U.S. woman has thrown in competition.

Liu is too young for senior international competition, meaning 2018 U.S. champion Bradie Tennell and two-time U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell are the favorites to earn the two world championships spots this weekend.

Pairs is harder to predict. The last four years produced four different champions, all of whom are in Greensboro competing for national medals and two world team spots.

Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc are defending champions and have the highest total score this season among U.S. pairs.

Key Skate Times
6:08 p.m. — Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim
6:14 — Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier
6:34 — Ashley Cain-Gribble/Timothy LeDuc
6:41 — Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea
9:13 — Karen Chen
9:20 — Gracie Gold
9:33 — Bradie Tennell
10:29 — Alysa Liu
10:36 — Mariah Bell

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NATIONALS PREVIEWS: Nathan Chen | Alysa Liu | Vincent Zhou | Pairs | Dance | TV Schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Kitzbuehel hosts Hahnenkamm weekend; Mikaela Shiffrin speeds up; Alpine World Cup TV, live stream info

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The world’s most daring Alpine skiers descend the most famous annual race this weekend, while Mikaela Shiffrin tackles her own challenge, live on NBC Sports.

The men’s World Cup stops in Kitzbuehel, Austria, for the Hahnenkamm. The granddaddy is Saturday’s downhill, sandwiched between Friday’s super-G and Sunday’s slalom.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has been among the celebrity attendees in the finish area. Lindsey Vonn will be on hand this weekend, inspecting the course.

The Streif downhill track is a two-minute, two-mile test of guts: a 3,000-foot drop at an average 65 miles per hour (and maxing out much faster than that). Crashes are commonplace. A helicopter is at the ready to airlift skiers to the nearest hospital.

“You go into the starting gate, and it’s intimidating,” said American Ryan Cochran-Siegle, who makes his Kitzbuehel downhill debut on Saturday. “You don’t really know how it’s going to go. You think it’s just going to be kind of chaos.”

Cochran-Siegle, whose uncle Bob Cochran was the first American to earn a World Cup podium in the race in 1973, used two words to describe the Streif: fun … and fear.

The only American to win the Hahnenkamm downhill was Daron Rahlves in 2003. The last podium finisher was Bode Miller in 2014. The best U.S. finish the last four years was 10th.

Bryce Bennett took confidence from finishing seventh at a World Cup downhill in Wengen, Switzerland, last Saturday. That’s the best U.S. downhill finish this season outside of the home snow of Beaver Creek, Colo.

“Team morale is good, and it’s been great all season long,” said Steven Nyman, who was fifth in 2015. “We’re looking for those top-tier performances. Bryce’s seventh is a good step forward. We all know we can ski well, and it’s cool as a team we’re pushing toward the top, but we’re not there yet.”

Over in Bansko, Bulgaria, Shiffrin is expected to race downhills Friday and Saturday and a super-G on Sunday. They would mark the slalom ace’s first downhills outside of Lake Louise and Cortina d’Ampezzo, which she’s contested a combined 10 times.

Shiffrin made the podium of her last super-G in St. Moritz and her last downhill in Lake Louise, both in December. She’s coming off surprising results in slaloms and giant slaloms, not having won in her last five starts overall.

Still, Shiffrin leads the World Cup overall standings by a substantial 199 points with a tour-leading four outright victories this season.

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MORE: Alpine skiing season TV schedule

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 3:30 a.m. Women’s Downhill Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Men’s Super-G NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 3:30 a.m. Women’s Downhill Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Men’s Downhill NBC Sports Gold
9 a.m.* Women’s Downhill NBCSN
Sunday 3:30 a.m. Women’s Super-G Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
4:30 a.m. Men’s Slalom Run 1 NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Men’s Slalom Run 2 NBC Sports Gold
12:30 p.m.* Women’s Super-G NBCSN
Monday 1 p.m.* Kitzbuehel Highlights NBCSN

*Delayed broadcast