As swim nationals close, an Olympic champion prepares to pass the torch

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IRVINE, Calif. — Anthony Ervin met his goal at the U.S. Swimming Championships, but he did not make the national team.

Ervin, who in Rio shattered the record for oldest individual Olympic swimming gold medalist, was 17th in the 50m freestyle heats Sunday, his only event as the five-day meet ended. He also missed last year’s world team after placing sixth at nationals.

The 37-year-old Ervin will not be at the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo in two weeks or the 2019 World Championships, the two biggest international events before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Ervin isn’t the only big name missing; four-time 2012 Olympic champion Missy Franklin and Rio 100m breaststroke bronze medalist Cody Miller also did not make the cut.

Ervin’s goal Sunday was modest by his top standard, to break 23 seconds (which he did twice, 22.74 and 22.68 in a swim-off). Ervin clocked 21.98 and 21.40 for his Olympic titles in 2000 and 2016, but hasn’t competed much this year and said he’s at “the low bar” for focus.

“I’ve got a lot of things I’ve got to sort,” Ervin said, noting he has “debts to pay off.” “I’ve got to get my life in order.”

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The long-term goal is to make the eight-man final at the 2020 Olympic Trials.

By then, he will be older than all but one previous U.S. Olympic swimmer, all but one previous Olympic swimming medalist and all but one Olympic swimmer since 1928 (the exception in all three cases was Dara Torres, 41 in 2008).

“I want to make my way to the end of the quad, just so I can see those guys off,” Ervin said of the younger U.S. sprinters like 19-year-old Michael Andrew, who upset world champion Caeleb Dressel in Sunday’s 50m free final. “That’s a special thing if I can be in the final to shake their hand, whoever does go [to the Tokyo Olympics].”

The U.S. team now heads to Tokyo for Pan Pacs, a major international meet for non-European nations, including swim powers Australia, China and Japan.

Pan Pacs offer a competition within a competition because the meet determines the U.S. team for the 2019 World Championships. The top two Americans per individual Olympic event make worlds, based off each’s best time from either nationals or Pan Pacs. And swimmers can enter any event at Pan Pacs.

In Sunday’s finals at nationals, Ashley Twichell won a Katie Ledecky-less 1500m freestyle in 15:55.68, breaking 16 minutes for the first time. Ledecky skipped the 1500m free, an event where she has lowered the world record six times from 15:42.54 to 15:20.48.

Since Ledecky won the 200m, 400m and 800m frees earlier in the meet, she is eligible to swim any event at Pan Pacs and is expected to contest the 1500m free. That would match her individual-event program from the last two world championships and the 2014 Pan Pacs.

Simone Manuel recorded the fastest 50m free ever in a U.S. pool, winning in 24.10, a whopping .53 ahead of Abbey Weitzeil. Manuel, an Olympic and world medalist in the splash and dash, owns the American record of 23.97.

Kathleen Baker won the 200m IM in the fastest time ever in a U.S. pool, 2:08.32, one day after breaking the 100m backstroke world record. It’s the fastest time in the world this year and a personal best by 3.26 seconds.

Chase Kalisz completed a sweep of the individual medleys, as he did at 2017 Worlds, taking the 200m IM in 1:55.73, the fastest time in the world this year by .54. Kalisz credited his fast swimming in part to kale Caesar salads.

“I definitely would say I’m eating a lot healthier, but I do live across from a Waffle House,” he said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA.

Zane Grothe added the 800m free to his 400m free title, clocking 7:44.57. It’s a personal best, the fastest time ever in a U.S. pool and the fastest in the world this year.

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MORE: Ledecky faces unique challenge at Pan Pacs

Kelly Slater has an Olympic decision to make

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Surfing icon Kelly Slater is in great position to qualify for his sport’s Olympic debut in 2020, but he’s undecided about making a required event appearance this summer to stay eligible.

The top two U.S. male surfers in this season’s World Surf League final standings are in line to qualify for the Olympics.

Slater, a 47-year-old, 11-time world champion, is ranked third among Americans through six of 11 events, but the No. 2, two-time world champion John John Florence, is likely out for the rest of the season after an ACL tear.

If Slater keeps up his current pace of results, he will pass Florence’s point total by the end of the season in December.

“It appears as though I have to make a decision [on the Olympics] sooner than that,” Slater said after being eliminated from South Africa’s J-Bay Open in ninth place on Wednesday. “I’ve really got to figure out all the factors around that and make a decision in the next few weeks.”

Slater’s concern is the ISA World Surfing Games in Miyazaki, Japan, in September, an event that top Olympic hopefuls on the WSL tour are required to attend, barring illness or injury.

“I think I have to surf that event, and if I don’t, it may disqualify me,” he said (the International Surfing Association, the sport’s governing body, later confirmed it would disqualify him). “But I’m not sure if I want to go to Japan and compete right now.”

The ISA Games take place in the week between the next two WSL events, the latter hosted by Slater’s Surf Ranch wave pool in California.

“I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the Olympics right now, anyways,” said Slater, who last year said he was “50-50” on the Olympics when noting his differing thoughts on the qualification process and venue. “The point is, I’m not really focusing on it at this point. I’m trying to get myself back in the flow of the tour.”

Slater missed 13 tour stops between the 2017 and 2018 seasons after breaking a foot and having multiple surgeries.

He finished fifth, third, ninth, ninth and ninth in his five most recent events to get into Olympic qualifying position. He expected more after placing third in the two contests he entered healthy last season. Slater said he competed at J-Bay after straining his back “really bad” on Sunday, keeping him from surfing the three days before the contest.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, at 48, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, via the OlyMADMen.

“Right now in my head the focus is more on this tour than it is on the Olympics, but we’ll see,” he said. “I was starting this year with a lot of pressure on myself to try and make the Olympic team and think, maybe I’ll retire there next year and that will be the end for me. It put so much pressure on the start of the year for me that I didn’t feel like I could freely compete. It was putting too many things in my head. I needed to let that take a backseat and not worry about it. I’m just not really thinking about it a lot.”

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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China on brink of sweeping every gold medal at diving worlds

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Shi Tingmao joined Guo Jingjing as the only women to win three straight world titles in an individual diving event, giving China 11 gold medals in 11 events with two finals left in Gwangju, South Korea.

Shi, who swept the individual and synchronized springboard titles in Rio, claimed the 3m world title on Friday by 18.25 points with 391 total. Countrywoman Wang Han took silver, 5.8 points ahead of Australian Maddison Keeney.

Americans Sarah Bacon and Brooke Schultz missed the 12-woman final, placing 14th and 29th.

China, which has dominated the sport for two decades, is looking to sweep the golds at an Olympics or worlds for the second time after winning all 10 events in 2011. This year’s feat could be more impressive, should China win the last two events Saturday — a mixed-gender springboard and the men’s platform.

That’s because three mixed-gender events were added to the world program (but not the Olympic program) since 2011. And this year, China has not only won every gold but also taken every silver in the three individual Olympic program events thus far.

China is in strong position to go one-two in the men’s platform. Yang Jian and Yang Hao were nearly 70 points clear of the field in Friday’s semifinals.

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MORE: Diving Worlds TV Schedule