Five thoughts off U.S. Swimming Championships

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IRVINE, Calif. — Five thoughts off the U.S. Swimming Championships, the biggest domestic meet between now and the 2020 Olympic Trials, which decided the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships team and began deciding the 2019 World Championships team …

1. Michael Andrew was the male swimmer of the meet
Andrew, who made national news turning professional at age 14 in 2013, won his first senior national titles (four of them) and made his first senior major international meet team (two of them). He became the first man to win four finals at a nationals since Michael Phelps at the 2008 Olympic Trials and capped the meet by beating seven-time 2017 World champion Caeleb Dressel in the 50m freestyle.

“It’s been a long road,” Andrew said after his first victory. “We went through a lot of interesting feedback from the swimming world.”

Andrew was referencing his unorthodox training setup. His typical session is 2,500 to 3,000 meters, about one-third the amount of typical elite swimmers. It’s called race-paced training, “coding our brain … creating those neuropatterns,” Andrew said. He has no training partners and is taught by his father, a former college swimmer and Navy diver in South Africa who is not on the U.S. coaching staff for Pan Pacs.

Two of Andrew’s wins came in non-Olympic events (50m breaststroke, 50m butterfly), but he went from boy to man this week, at least domestically.

2. Kathleen Baker was the female swimmer of the meet
Andrew was a big surprise. Baker, a mild one. She earned 100m backstroke silver in Rio. In 2017, she bagged world silver and bronze backstroke medals. This past week, Baker became best in the world this year in the 200m individual medley (with a 3.26-second personal best) and the fastest in history in the 100m back.

If Ledecky is the most dominant swimmer in the world, Baker may be the best all-arounder (until we see something from Katinka Hosszu this year). The backstrokes at Pan Pacs are now marquee events, with Baker taking on now-former world-record holder Kylie Masse of Canada.

SWIM NATIONALS: Full Results | Race Videos | Pan Pacs Roster

3. Katie Ledecky is right on track
None of Ledecky’s fastest swims this season came in Irvine, but the focus is to peak in two weeks in Tokyo anyway. Plus Ledecky didn’t need to be in top form this week. All she needed was to finish in the top three in one event, and she could swim anything she wanted at Pan Pacs.

Of course, Ledecky comfortably won the 200m free (by 1.22 seconds), the 400m free (by 3.12 seconds) and the 800m free (by 10.81 seconds) before scratching the 1500m (as she did at nationals four years ago). The new professional already proved in the spring that she’s on form, breaking her first world record since Rio and setting the fastest times in the world this year in her four events.

If Ledecky has a questionable event, it’s the 200m, but her two closest rivals in recent years are both Europeans and thus will not be in Tokyo. Keep an eye on Canadian Taylor Ruck, though.

4. Mixed fortunes for Caeleb Dressel, Chase Kalisz
A concerning week for the seven-time 2017 World champ Dressel. Dominant in the 100m butterfly, but beaten in the 50m free and sixth in the 100m free. Again, there was no need to peak for this meet, and coach Gregg Troy shouldered some of the burden saying he may have overtrained Dressel following NCAA Championships in the spring. Give him a pass, but he can’t afford another horrible (his description) 100m free in Tokyo.

Kalisz, who swept the individual medleys at 2017 Worlds, posted the fastest times in the world this year in both the 200m and 400m IMs. Japanese media on hand, including four-time Olympic breaststroke champion Kosuke Kitajima, can relay that back home to Kalisz’s biggest rivals, Kosuke Hagino and Daiya Seto. Kalisz is already planning to host Seto in Athens, Ga., this fall for a University of Georgia football game.

5. Early look at Pan Pacs
The showdowns in Tokyo will come in the women’s backstrokes (Baker-Masse-Ruck), men’s individual medleys (Kalisz-Hagino-Seto) and, maybe most interesting, among the U.S. swimmers battling each other for two world championships spots per individual Olympic event.

Those world champs spots go to the swimmers with the best times between nationals A finals and Pan Pacs A and B finals.

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MORE: Ledecky faces unique challenge at Pan Pacs

David Boudia adjusts diving event, goal for world championships

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David Boudia earned diving medals at his last three world championships and the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, but that was on the platform. He competes on the global stage on the springboard for the first time at worlds this week.

“I don’t have a lot of high hopes,” Boudia, who is still learning the springboard after switching to it in the last year, said in a phone interview from South Korea, where he begins competition Wednesday (TV schedule here). “But I think my biggest goal is to walk away with an Olympic spot.”

An Olympic spot not necessarily for himself, but for the U.S.

Boudia, a 30-year-old father of three, and any other American will clinch 2020 Olympic quota spots by placing in the top 12 in their respective individual events this week. Those spots, and any others earned at later competitions in the next year, will be filled at trials in June in Indianapolis.

NBC Sports analyst Cynthia Potter believes Boudia, who left the sport to sell homes in 2017 and came back and suffered a concussion off the platform in 2018, can meet his goal of making Friday’s 12-man final in Gwangju.

“He would have to dive well, but not better than he’s been diving,” she said. “His springboard is really well-timed, rhythmic, and he’s for a long time known how to go into the water without making a splash.”

But challenging Rio Olympic gold and silver medalists Cao Yuan of China and Jack Laugher of Great Britain, plus defending world champion Xie Siyi of China would be very tough.

Boudia lacks their degrees of difficulty, for now. He hopes to switch out two of his six dives before his first competition of 2020, though he could insert one of them should he make the world final.

“I need a good six months, so from August to December is when we’re kind of really drilling the fundamentals of learning those new dives and getting them perfected,” he said.

Boudia rallied to beat Rio Olympic springboard diver Michael Hixon for the title in May at nationals, where the top two per event earned world berths. But Boudia competed there with about a month of competition dive practice, about half as long as he would prefer.

“Hix and I are going to have a lot of training to do if we want to be even close to cracking that top five,” at worlds, Boudia said in May, according to TeamUSA.org.

Boudia is the lone U.S. diver to earn an individual world medal in an Olympic diving event since 2009.

The U.S. produced breakthroughs at worlds so far. Sarah Bacon became the first American woman to earn a world title since 2005, taking the non-Olympic 1m springboard event. Murphy Bromberg and Katrina Young bagged bronze in synchronized platform, ending a decade-long medal drought in any synchro event.

But Boudia’s goal must be shared among the whole team — as many top-12 finishes individually and top three in synchro events to gobble up Tokyo 2020 quota spots. The U.S. failed to qualify full teams for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

“Getting in the top 12 in the four individual Olympic events is the big deal right now,” Potter said. “Whether you are on the awards stand or not, that would be icing on the cake for a lot of these divers.”

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Anita Wlodarczyk, one of track and field’s most dominant, sidelined

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Poland hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk, the only woman to win the last five combined Olympic and world titles in a track and field event, will not go for a fourth straight world championship this fall.

Wlodarczyk had season-ending, arthroscopic left knee surgery on Monday, according to Polish media citing her coach.

Wlodarczyk, 33, has the top 15 throws on the IAAF’s all-time list, and 27 of the top 29. Her world record of 82.98 meters (scribbled on her leg pre-op) is 11 and a half feet farther the second-best woman in history. She originally took silver at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds but was upgraded to gold after Russian Tatyana Lysenko was stripped for doping.

Wlodarczyk won a reported 42 straight finals between 2014 and 2017, then suffered three losses in 2018 and two so far this year in three lower-level meets before the operation.

Americans DeAnna Price and Brooke Anderson rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year. A U.S. woman has never finished in the top five of an Olympic or world championships hammer throw, which debuted at worlds in 1999 and the Olympics in 2000.

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