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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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Watch Colin Kaepernick introduce Tommie Smith, John Carlos at USATF Night of Legends

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Twenty-four members of the 1968 U.S. Olympic track and field team appeared at the USATF Night of Legends. Two in particular received a standing ovation before an award presentation.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who earned 200m gold and bronze medals and then raised their black-gloved fists on the medal stand, were introduced via video by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a fellow athlete fighting for social justice.

“Fifty years ago, these two men shook the world,” Kaepernick said in the video. “Their selfless and courageous act had an impact on the heart and mind of millions and have been a huge inspiration to me, personally. They laid the foundation not only for what the conscience of an athlete should look like, but also the world.”

Smith and Carlos then walked on stage at the Night of Legends, which honored the top U.S. athletes and performances of 2018, along with Hall of Fame inductees. NBCSN will air the event on Saturday at 11 p.m. ET.

They presented the Jesse Owens Award, which goes annually to the top U.S. male athlete. Fellow 200m sprinter Noah Lyles earned the honor.

“If he would give you and I a two-day head start, I think we could beat him in the 200m,” Carlos joked to Smith. “We’ve got to lean,” Smith replied.

Lyles, 21, joined Usain Bolt as the only men to break 19.7 seconds in the 200m four times in one year. His best time — 19.65 — was the world’s fastest since Bolt’s last world title in 2015. Lyles also became the youngest U.S. men’s 100m champion in 34 years. He’s the second-youngest person to earn USATF Athlete of the Year after Allyson Felix.

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MORE: John Carlos, Tommie Smith remember 1968 Olympics on 50th anniversary

Surfer Stephanie Gilmore’s path to Olympics joined by Cathy Freeman

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Stephanie Gilmore, like many Australians of her generation, points to one iconic sports moment of her childhood — Cathy Freeman winning the 400m at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

“I remember just being so blown away by the pressure [that Freeman felt],” said Gilmore, who was 12 years old at the time, two years before signing her first sponsor deal with Rip Curl. Surfing wasn’t part of the Olympics then, but it got Gilmore thinking about her other sports, like field hockey, soccer and track and field.

“I could go to the Olympics and throw a javelin or a discus,” she thought.

Gilmore stuck to surfing. Wise move.

Seventeen years later, Gilmore met Freeman for the first time. With the sport added to the Olympics, Surfing Australia brought Freeman to speak to more than a dozen Tokyo 2020 hopefuls at a camp in New South Wales last January.

“I was basically in such awe of her,” Gilmore said while visiting New York City last week, fresh off her female record-tying seventh world title. “She was so genuine and just talking about how she would find her sacred place in that moment that every single [set of] eyes all over the world were on her.

“Now I’m an even bigger fan.”

It’s hard to imagine Gilmore’s 2019 or 2020 topping her 2018. She won her first world title in four years and saw the World Surf League announce equal prize money for men and women starting next season. That came after a difficult stretch.

“My motivation and inspiration had sort of waned,” Gilmore said of going two and a half years between WSL wins from 2014 to 2017, including missing most of the 2016 season with hairline fractures around her knee. “Traveling so much can get a little tiring. You lose confidence, too, as you’re going along.”

Gilmore says that in Australia, each little beach has its own surf club. That’s where she began competing against the boys while Freeman was fresh in the minds of the Australian public. By 17, Gilmore was entering top-level international events, even winning her home beach event in 2005, then earned her first of four straight world titles in 2007.

On Dec. 27, 2010, Gilmore was attacked outside her home by a man with a metal bar whom she didn’t know. He hit her in the head and wrist, drawing blood and tearing ligaments before fleeing and later being caught, according to reports at the time.

Gilmore competed in the season’s first contest two months later, won an event four months after that and finished third in the season standings.

Gilmore won the first and last events of the 10-stop season in 2017, placing second overall to countrywoman Tyler Wright and just ahead of another Aussie, Sally Fitzgibbons. It’s likely that no nation will qualify more than two Olympic surfing spots per gender. Gilmore is three years older than Fitzgibbons and six years older than Wright. Time may not be on her side. All three were invited to Surfing Australia’s January camp for Olympic hopefuls.

The 2019 World Surf League standings should determine the two Aussie women who go to Tokyo. Gilmore needs to set herself apart from the best in the world, since they’re also the best from her country.

She did just that in 2018. Gilmore won three of the season’s first six events and clinched the world title on the first day of the 10th and final contest in Maui two weeks ago. She was the lone Australian woman to win any event this year. Wright missed the second half of the season with the flu and chronic fatigue.

Gilmore said the sting of losing the season’s first event — a quarter-mile from her Coolangatta home — and the anticipation of leading the standings going into the last event were proof that the motivation was back.

She couldn’t sleep the night before the Maui contest, unusual for her.

“All the what-ifs and the fear of failure and all these sorts of things in my head,” Gilmore said. “Yeah, it was mine to lose.”

She chilled out upon tackling the first wave of round one. She clinched the title when American Lakey Peterson bowed out in an early round. Only good friend Kelly Slater has more titles than Gilmore’s seven. The 11-time world champion said he believes Gilmore can reach his tally.

The two FaceTimed shortly after Gilmore’s celebration, explaining the intricacies of how waves barrel to WSL owner Dirk Ziff. Gilmore and Slater also talk music. Both play the guitar.

“He’s always been there,” said Gilmore, who is on a Led Zeppelin kick and often buys a guitar while at contests and leaves it there when she departs.

Gilmore believes that over the last decade surfing has gained on swimming and rugby in popularity in a nation where a majority of the population lives within a short drive of the ocean.

“The Olympic swimmers have always been held in the highest regard,” she said. “Ian Thorpe is probably our greatest Olympian. The swimmers have always been the most recognized athletes in our country. We’re such a small population in our country, but I feel like everyone surfs.”

MORE: Will Kelly Slater go for Tokyo 2020?

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