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Chase Kalisz, among Floyd, swim stardom, Waffle House, at home in Athens

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While Chase Kalisz endured the decathlon of swimming last week, his English Bulldog, Floyd, enjoyed a life of luxury.

“He’s in one of our private suites,” said Stephen Garza, assistant kennel manager at Pawtropolis in Athens, Ga. “He gets play time with staff members.”

Kalisz is arguably the world’s best swimmer. He swept the individual medleys at the 2017 World Championships, then dominated the domestic Tyr Pro Swim Series in the spring before comfortably taking the 200m and 400m IMs at the U.S. Championships in Irvine, Calif., last week.

For years, the Kalisz story began with his association with Michael Phelps. Kalisz, a Bel Air, Md., native, began training at Phelps’ North Baltimore Aquatic Club in 2000 and, as workout partners leading up to Rio, described Phelps as an older brother.

When Kalisz was beaten in his Olympic debut in Rio — silver to Japan’s Kosuke Hagino in the 400m individual medley — it was a message from the never-forget-a-loss Phelps that motivated Kalisz to work harder en route to his world championships breakout.

That’s not all that fuels Kalisz. He moved back to his college town since spending the Rio Olympic year training with Phelps in Arizona.

Kalisz and Floyd are well known around campus. Perhaps nowhere is Kalisz more recognized than at the Waffle House across the street from his apartment. Restaurant manager Kathleen “Bobbi” Peek was asked how well the staff knows the swimmer.

“The All-Star,” she said, referring not to Kalisz’s talent but his regular order. “Triple scrambled [eggs], peanut butter waffle, hash browns smothered [with onions], covered [with cheese], capped [with mushrooms] and bacon.”

Kalisz estimated he eats at Waffle House “four times a week, at least.”

In February, Kalisz drove to Tennessee to pick up Floyd, a 10-week-old puppy of a Westminster Dog Show participant. Why an English Bulldog?

“I remember Herman when I was younger,” Kalisz said of Phelps’ longtime pet. “Mike would bring him to swim meets around Baltimore, and I was like, that’s the coolest dog in the world.”

Bulldogs are pretty beloved in Athens, too.

“[Floyd] is more popular than me,” Kalisz said (Floyd is up to 3,600 Instagram followers). “We go on campus, and I take him on walks. I literally have people pointing him out, ‘That’s Floyd the Bulldog.'”

It pained Kalisz to part with Floyd last month. Kalisz flew to California for the national championships, a training camp and then the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo (Aug. 9-12). Floyd trotted to Athens’ Pawtropolis, “The city that’s gone to the dogs … and cats, too.”

“He’s got a toddler bed. He’s got an area where he can go in and out, play time every single day,” Kalisz said. “They’re taking good care of him. I get three FaceTimes a week with him.”

Kalisz passed free time at nationals by going through photos of Floyd, easing the pain of separation. Floyd watched TV, a lot of it.

“Lady and the Tramp, Bolt, Cats & Dogs, Oliver & Company, Benji,” Garza said, reeling off Pawtropolis’ private suite listings.

Kalisz insisted life hasn’t changed much since Rio, even with moving back to Athens and becoming world champion.

“I promise you no one still knows who I am,” he said.

That’s quickly changing in Japan. Kalisz’s top rivals are Hagino and Daiya Seto, who are shaping up to be two of the 2020 Olympic host nation’s biggest stars across all sports.

Kosuke Kitajima, the greatest Japanese swimmer in history who swept the breaststrokes in 2004 and 2008, led a Japanese film crew that covered swimming nationals and recently spent a day with Kalisz in Athens.

“They’re promoting me over there,” Kalisz said. “It’s good exposure.”

Kitajima promised to recommend a sushi place for Kalisz in Tokyo this month. Seto’s coming to Athens this fall to get the UGA experience with Kalisz and fellow U.S. Olympic 400m IMer Jay Litherland, including a Bulldogs football game.

First, they must race. Kalisz, Hagino and Seto are all entered in the 200m and 400m IMs at Pan Pacs in Tokyo, making them the most anticipated men’s events of the meet.

Kalisz posted the fastest times in the world this year in both events at nationals. He supplanted Hagino’s top time in the 200m IM by .64 of a second. He bettered his own world-leading mark in the 400m IM, moving .73 ahead of second-ranked Seto.

Then Kalisz left Irvine with one more message for the Japanese.

“I’ll be better in Tokyo,” he said.

MORE: Five thoughts off swimming nationals

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Welcome to Athens @floydthebulldawg 🐶

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He’s sweet sometimes

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Lizzy Yarnold, double Olympic skeleton champion, retires

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Lizzy Yarnold, the 2014 and 2018 Olympic skeleton champion for Great Britain, has retired from the sport.

“I have lived out my dream and achieved far more than I ever thought possible in my 10 years in the sport,” Yarnold said, according to the Guardian. “but it’s time to move on. I am ready for a fresh challenge.”

Yarnold, 29, became the first Brit to earn multiple Olympic titles with her repeat gold in PyeongChang in February — and the first skeleton slider with two golds.

“At PyeongChang I didn’t want to go into the race thinking about retiring, and then afterwards I didn’t want to make the decision for the wrong reason, in rash emotion,” Yarnold said, according to the Telegraph. “So now when I’ve gone through all this rehab for the past six months [plus July back surgery], I’m retiring for the right reasons — not through injury, not for a bad competition, or any other reason but because I love the sport, and I’ve loved 10 years of it, but I think I’m ready.”

Yarnold bowing out further boosts 23-year-old German Jacqueline Lölling‘s hopes for a third straight World Cup season title and repeat world title this winter. Lölling and 30-year-old Brit Laura Deas took silver and bronze in South Korea behind Yarnold, who erased a .02 deficit to Austrian Janine Flock with a track record on her fourth and final run.

Yarnold’s chief rival leading into her first Olympics in Sochi in 2014 was the now-retired Noelle Pikus-Pace, one of the great American stories of those Games.

Yarnold dominated in Russia with the fastest run all four times down the track. Pikus-Pace, a mother of two, came out of a two-year retirement in 2012 and grabbed silver, four years after missing bronze in Vancouver by one tenth of a second.

Yarnold also earned a World Cup season title in 2014 and a world championship in 2015.

Great Britain, not a winter sports power, earned at least one medal in evrey Olympic women’s skeleton competition — Alex Coomber took bronze in 2002, Shelley Rudman silver in 2006 and Amy Williams gold in 2010.

“That feeling when you leave the changing room, walk out to the start block, with your jacket done up and your salopettes on and crash helmet in hand — a feeling of almost growing two inches taller because of being empowered, feeling in control,” Yarnold said, according to the Telegraph, “there’s something so magical about that, so I will miss that. But it’s also really tiring.”

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MORE: U.S. Olympic luge medalist to run NYC Marathon

Loena Hendrickx on the rise, making Grand Prix debut at Skate America

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Belgian teenager Loena Hendrickx made her Winter Olympic debut in PyeongChang, and began her short program with the aim of becoming the first from her country to qualify for a ladies’ singles free skate since Katrien Pauwels in 1988.

Fresh off a 14th place finish in the men’s event, brother Jorik sat in the stands. He looked away as the music – a cool arrangement of Madonna’s “Frozen” – began, and covered his eyes as the 18-year-old set up for a planned triple lutz, triple toe combination.

Eight years younger than her two-time Olympian elder brother, Hendrickx knew the feeling.

“I get nervous when he competes, too,” she explained after winning a bronze medal at the Nebelhorn Trophy, an ISU Challenger Series event. “I might be even more nervous watching him than when I have to skate myself, because I don’t know how he’s feeling on the ice, and I can’t control his skate.”

She ultimately landed the combination – albeit under-rotated – and bested Pauwels’ result from Calgary by one place, finishing 16th overall. Even stronger skates were to come at the world championships in Milan, where she beat reigning Olympic champion Alina Zagitova in the free skate to earn a Top 10 total score and qualify for her first-ever Grand Prix events in the upcoming season.

“I’m very excited because that’s something you wish for. The first one is immediately in Skate America, so it’s very exciting. I’ve never been to the States before!”

Jorik was initially scheduled to skate alongside his sister at the Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, Wash., but opted to withdraw and spend the start of the season working with other athletes, including Loena.

“He is working with me sometimes. I really can learn a lot from him because he has the knowledge and experience. I think he can teach me a lot.”

While the siblings work primarily with coach Carine Herrygers, Jorik assisted Loena in selecting her “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” short program music, another ’90s hit by Céline Dion.

“I really liked my program [“The Prayer” by Dion and Josh Groban] from two years ago, and so I think I chose the same style. I researched more of her music, and it was my brother who found this song. I didn’t like it at the beginning because I had another song I liked more.

“In the end, Jorik convinced me to take this one because it’s more powerful and I can skate better to powerful music.”

Hendrickx debuted the program in Oberstdorf, earning personal best scores to make the podium alongside Zagitova and Mai Mihara. More importantly, she achieved her pre-season goal of landing the lutz-toe combination – with positive Grades of Execution – in both phases of the competition.

While most of her competitors made waves as juniors, the Belgian struggled with multiple injuries – a 2016 stress fracture in her back, later a bone bruise on her landing knee – that kept her from eliciting the buzz many top skaters get on the Junior Grand Prix.

“After I healed, I was very happy to begin building back up again. For a long time, I worked on my fitness to make my back and body stronger. That made my jumps stronger and helped me perform better, more consistently.”

In a field that includes two-time world medalist Satoko Miyahara and U.S. national champion Bradie Tennell, Hendrickx heads to Skate America armed with a competitive technical arsenal, and a dose of inspiration imparted by her brother on the ice.

“In Belgium, there are fewer opportunities to be successful when you’re younger because it’s very difficult to combine skating with school. Jorik taught me that you never have to give up on your dreams. If you work hard, you’ll see where you can go.”

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series 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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