Caeleb Dressel, after some drama, shines at swim nationals

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IRVINE, Calif. — Caeleb Dressel had his worst experience in the pool on Wednesday in the four years Gregg Troy has coached him.

“Oh, by far,” Troy said.

Dressel, who tied Michael Phelps‘ record with seven gold medals at the 2017 World Championships, finished sixth in the 100m freestyle on the first night of the U.S. Championships on Wednesday.

“I started off really rough, there’s no doubt about it,” said Dressel, who went 1.33 seconds slower than when he won the 2017 World title in an American record time. “I was absolutely horrible.”

Dressel was beaten again in the 50m butterfly on Thursday, which put some pressure on the 21-year-old going into the 100m butterfly on Friday.

If Dressel swam poorly in the 100m fly, his hopes of qualifying for the two biggest international meets before the 2020 Olympics would lie solely in Sunday’s fickle splash-and-dash 50m free.

Dressel lined up for Friday night’s final as the fourth seed from the morning preliminary heats. He remembered advice from six-time Olympic medalist breaststroker Brendan Hansen, who stressed Dressel focus not day by day or race by race, but stroke by stroke.

“I know how much was on the line,” Dressel said. “It’s basically setting up the next two years for a race that lasted 50 seconds. I do enjoy that. I didn’t want to crumble under that.”

He didn’t. Dressel won the 100m fly in 50.50 seconds, the fastest time in the world since he won the 2017 World title in 49.86 seconds (just .04 off Michael Phelps‘ world record). Dressel knocked an old Phelps rival, Chad le Clos, off the top of the 2018 world rankings.

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“There’s a lot left in the tank for me,” Dressel said, “as you can see.”

It was a relief for Troy, too. Dressel said the two butted heads after the 100m free.

“We talked about it a lot,” Troy said. “No matter how good you are, there’s always confidence issues. Quite frankly, he’s had four years where nothing bad has happened. … So I think the mere fact of how well he handled it, that’s not chopped liver. That’s a pretty good swim. I think he just learned another skill that’s going to make him that much better.”

Dressel’s sixth-place finish in the 100m free was rendered a footnote by his win Friday.

That’s because Dressel can still enter the 100m free at this year’s major international meet — August’s Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo. Any swimmer that qualifies for Pan Pacs can enter as many events as he or she wants at the meet.

The 2019 Worlds team takes the top two swimmers per individual Olympic event using best times from nationals or Pan Pacs.

“I did what I needed to do, and right now I’m on the [Pan Pacs] team,” Dressel said. “That’s what this meet is for.”

Dressel won the 50m and 100m frees and 100m fly at the 2017 Worlds, along with four relay golds.

It was the international breakout many thought possible for the former jewel recruit out of rural Green Cove Springs, Fla.

Dressel almost didn’t go to college, taking a five-month break from the sport, citing mental demons. He did matriculate to the University of Florida, where he rewrote the NCAA sprint record book. He led off the gold-medal U.S. 4x100m free relay in Rio, eight years after watching Jason Lezak‘s memorable anchor leg from his parents’ bed as an 11-year-old.

The last year brought increased attention for the Phelpsian performance at the world championships and increased time demands turning professional after the NCAA Championships in March.

“I don’t want to say anything has changed, but it definitely affected me more than I know,” Dressel said of finding an agent and signing with Speedo. “It’s a new adventure, as my dad says.”

Nationals continue Saturday, headlined by Katie Ledecky in the 400m freestyle, with coverage on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA at 10 p.m. ET.

In other events Friday, world champion Chase Kalisz distanced the 400m individual medley field by 1.96 seconds. Kalisz clocked 4:08.25, the fastest time in the world this year (supplanting himself). The race lacked the suspended Ryan Lochte, who was ranked No. 2 in the nation in the event this year before nationals.

“The time wasn’t so great, but that’s not what it’s about,” Kalisz said on Olympic Channel. “It’s about making the team, setting yourself up, getting ready for Tokyo [in August].”

World bronze medalist Kelsi Dahlia similarly cruised in the women’s 100m fly, winning by .68 of a second in 56.83 ahead of Katie McLaughlin.

Ally McHugh upset Olympians Leah Smith and Melanie Margalis to win the women’s 400m IM in 4:34.80, a personal best by 4.87 seconds. The rising Penn State senior ranked sixth in the U.S. this year going into nationals.

Olympic and world 100m breaststroke champion Lilly King edged Molly Hannis in the non-Olympic 50m breast. The world-record holder King clocked 29.82 to Hannis’ 30.07. The 50m breast is swum at worlds but not Pan Pacs.

Ryan Murphy broke a nine-year-old American record in the 50m backstroke, winning in 24.24.

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MORE: Mental health on swimmers’ minds at nationals

Alysa Liu, attempting unprecedented jump list, takes silver at Junior Grand Prix Final

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Alysa Liu took silver at the biggest international competition of her young career, attempting a historic set of jumps at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy.

Liu, the 14-year-old who in January became the youngest U.S. senior champion in history, attempted two triple Axels and two quadruple Lutzes in her free skate Friday. She fell on the first Axel, and the other three landings were judged as under-rotated.

Earlier this season, Liu became the first woman to land both a triple Axel and a quad of any kind. She was attempting Friday to become the first woman to land two triple Axels and two quads in one program.

Liu, the leader after Thursday’s short program, was overtaken in the free skate by Russian Kamila Valieva, who was not alive when Turin hosted the 2006 Olympics. Valieva is the latest star pupil of coach Eteri Tutberidze, who guided Olympic and world champions Alina Zagitova and Yevgenia Medvedeva.

Valieva, who has a quad in her arsenal, was recently injured, according to the ISU broadcast, and did not attempt a four-revolution jump. She relied on artistry and other elements, tallying 207.47 points. She beat Liu by 2.82 points to become the 10th straight Russian to win the event.

Liu became the first U.S. woman to earn a Junior Grand Prix Final medal since Hannah Miller took silver in 2012.

Liu, previously undefeated in her first junior international season, appears likeliest to disrupt the Russians come the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. First, she must compete at the junior international level through next season. She is expected to defend her senior national title in January.

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Caroline Wozniacki sets tennis retirement

Caroline Wozniacki
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Former No. 1 and 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki will retire from professional tennis after competing in Melbourne next year.

The 29-year-old from Denmark wrote in an Instagram post on Friday that she wants to start a family with her husband, former NBA player David Lee, and work to raise awareness about rheumatoid arthritis.

Wozniacki said her decision to stop playing “has nothing to do with my health.” She announced in October 2018 that she has rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition that can cause pain and swelling in the wrist and other joints.

“I’ve always told myself, when the time comes, that there are things away from tennis that I want to do more, then it’s time to be done,” Wozniacki wrote. “In recent months, I’ve realized that there is a lot more in life that I’d like to accomplish off the court.”

She is currently ranked No. 37 after going 20-15 without a singles title in 2019.

Coached for much of her career by her father, Piotr, a former professional soccer player, Wozniacki used tremendous court coverage — she ran in the New York City Marathon — and uncanny ability to get back shot after shot from opponents in a counter-punching style to win 30 WTA titles, including the season-ending tour championships in 2017.

She also reached three Grand Slam finals.

At just 19, Wozniacki was the runner-up to Kim Clijsters at the 2009 U.S. Open, then again was the runner-up at Flushing Meadows in 2014 to her good friend Serena Williams.

Wozniacki claimed her first major championship in her third such final, and 43rd appearance in a Grand Slam tournament, at last year’s Australian Open. She beat Simona Halep in a three-set final to return to the top of the rankings after a six-year absence, a record.

As someone who had played so well, for so long, without ever quite claiming one of her sport’s most important trophies until then, Wozniacki was thrilled to set aside all of the questions about whether she ever would win a major title.

She has earned more than $35 million in prize money — along with millions more in endorsements — and owns a win-loss record of 630-262. She spent 71 weeks at No. 1 and competed in three Olympics, carrying the flag for Denmark at the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony.

“I’ve accomplished everything I could ever dream of on the court,” she wrote.

The Australian Open begins on Jan. 20.

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I’ve played professionally since I was 15 years old. In that time I’ve experienced an amazing first chapter of my life. With 30 WTA singles titles, a world #1 ranking for 71 weeks, a WTA Finals victory, 3 Olympics, including carrying the flag for my native Denmark, and winning the 2018 Australian Open Grand slam championship, I’ve accomplished everything I could ever dream of on the court. I’ve always told myself, when the time comes, that there are things away from tennis that I want to do more, then it’s time to be done. In recent months, I’ve realized that there is a lot more in life that I’d like to accomplish off the court. Getting married to David was one of those goals and starting a family with him while continuing to travel the world and helping raise awareness about rheumatoid arthritis (project upcoming) are all passions of mine moving forward. So with that, today I am announcing that I will be retiring from professional tennis after the Australian Open in January. This has nothing to do with my health and this isn’t a goodbye, I look forward to sharing my exciting journey ahead with all of you! Finally, I want to thank with all my heart, the fans, my friends, my sponsors, my team, especially my father as my coach, my husband, and my family for decades of support! Without all of you I could have never have done this!

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