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

Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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