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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U.S. junior champions crowned in ladies’ and men’s events

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Gabriella Izzo is the newest junior ladies’ national champion, crowned this week at the U.S. Championships in Detroit. Junior ladies’ national champions of the past include eventual Olympians Mirai Nagasu, Gracie Gold, Polina Edmunds and Bradie Tennell.

Izzo had a commanding lead after the short program, with 60.97 points, where she pulled off her first-ever triple Lutz, triple loop combination in competition. (However, it was deemed under-rotated.) Regardless, her 111.45 points in the free skate combined for 172.42 points and the gold medal.

Audrey Shin, who actually won the free skate by just over a point, earned the silver medal with 165.61 points. Emilia Murdock took home the bronze with 154.48 points.

On the junior men’s side, Ryan Dunk rebounded from second after the short program to win the event. His 132.85-point free skate was enough to crack the 200-point overall score, the only man in the field to do so, and win the gold.

Men’s junior champions include eventual world champion Nathan Chen (twice) as well as Olympians Vincent Zhou and Jason Brown.

Dinh Tran finished second with 196.03 points after a fourth-place short program. Joonsoo Kim, who lead after the short program on Tuesday, ended up with the bronze medal with 187.95 points.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream each junior competition and replays will also be available on-demand. Check out the full schedule and live streaming information here.

The junior rhythm dance took place earlier Wednesday. Siblings Caroline and Gordon Green lead the field with 70.82 points, while Avonley Nguyen and Vadym Kolesnik are second with 65.92 points. The brother-sister team of Oona and Gage Brown are in third with 63.34 heading into Friday’s junior free dance.

Also Wednesday, Laiken Lockley and Keenan Prochnow took the lead in the junior pairs’ short program. The junior pairs’ free skate is Thursday. Kate Finster and Balazs Nagy are second, followed by Isabelle Martins and Ryan Bedard in third.

MORE: Full streaming schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the junior and senior U.S. Championships 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.

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Chloe Kim, David Wise among X Games headliners

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The X Games return to Aspen, Colorado, this week at Buttermilk Mountain. A marquee event on the yearly snowboarding and freeskiing calendar, the X Games will feature a handful of Olympic gold medalists and notable names in action sports. Below are a few storylines to watch for this week:

Nearly full field of Olympic gold medalists will compete in Aspen

All four freestyle skiing gold medalists in X Games events (halfpipe, slopestyle) and five of six Olympic snowboarding champions (slopestyle, halfpipe, big air) are expected to compete in Aspen. Among them is Chloe Kim, who has not lost a contest since the Olympics. She finished last season with a win at the US Open, and has three victories already this season, including at the Dew Tour in December. Since the Olympics, Kim’s star has only grown: she’s thrown out the first pitch at a Dodgers game and become an awards show regular, but her ability to crush her competition on the pipe remains unchanged.

In addition to Kim, the three other U.S. gold medalists from 2018 should all contend: in men’s ski halfpipe, two-time defending Olympic gold medalist David Wise has continued to impress this season, but as in previous years, he’ll be challenged by his teammates, Aaron Blunck and Aspen native Alex Ferreira, who would skip school as a kid to watch the X Games in person. Snowboard slopestyle gold medalists Red Gerard and Jamie Anderson are both podium threats as well.

After missing Olympics, can Sildaru sweep in Aspen?

Three years ago, a quiet and unassuming Kelly Sildaru won her first X Games title at 13, becoming the youngest ever winner in a winter event. Pegged early as a star for the PyeongChang Games in both slopestyle and halfpipe, the Estonian teenager missed the Olympics with a torn left ACL. Sildaru, who hails from a country with no mountains, will attempt a rare triple in Aspen: she’ll compete in slopestyle, halfpipe, and big air. No winter sports athlete has ever won three gold medals at the same X Games contest. Sildaru missed last year’s event due to her knee injury and has looked sharp so far this season: she won the U.S. Grand Prix in halfpipe and the Dew Tour in slopestyle. Sildaru has four X Games medals in total: two in slopestyle and two in big air.

White’s protégé awaits his big moment

Toby Miller learned from the best: the 18-year-old was mentored by three-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, who brought Miller to PyeongChang as his guest. White hasn’t competed since the Olympics, focusing instead on skateboarding, while Miller is having a notable season of his own: he finished third at the Dew Tour and second at the U.S. Grand Prix. The U.S. halfpipe contingent remains deep: Olympians Jake Pates, Ben Ferguson and Chase Josey are all contenders on any given day, though PyeongChang bronze medalist Scotty James will likely be the favorite.

Big tricks

The X Games are often a staging point for new tricks: in 2017, Norway’s Marcus Kleveland became the first to land a quad in competition, only to be topped by Canadian Max Parrot, who won the event with a quad of his own. Chloe Kim and PyeongChang big air gold medalist Anna Gasser have been at the forefront of innovative tricks this season. Kim, a four-time X Games winner, is still far ahead of the field with back-to-back 1080s, which she used last weekend at a World Cup event in Laax. In October 2018, she became the first woman to land a frontside double cork 1080, though she has yet to execute it in competition. Kim can win easily with the arsenal of tricks she already has – but she’d make a bit of history if she decides to go for it.

In November, Gasser became the first woman to land a cab triple underflip, though like Kim, she has not done so in competition. Known for her progressive approach to the sport and impressive arsenal of difficult tricks, Gasser could attempt the triple at the X Games.