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U.S. men hold small edge in swimming world rankings

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The U.S. still reigns in men’s swimming, but the world rankings show the field is as diverse as ever and much tighter than on the women’s side, where there are U.S. medal contenders in every event.

U.S. men would earn four golds and eight medals overall from the 14 individual Olympic events based on fastest times from 2018 across all competitions. That’s one more gold and two more total medals than the second-place nations. It’s close.

Japan, ramping up to host the Olympics in two years, is second in the world in men ranked in the top three (six) and top five (11 to the U.S.’ 14) of Olympic events.

The biggest meet remaining on the calendar, the Asian Games, finished last week. Every swimming power has had its major international meet of the year among the Commonwealth Games in April and the European Championships, Pan Pacific Championships and Asian Games this month.

Gone for now are the days of the U.S. and Australia dominating and American superstars Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte collecting four or five individual gold medals in Olympic events.

Caeleb Dressel could succeed Phelps and Lochte. He did earn a Phelps record-tying seven golds at the 2017 Worlds, including three in individual Olympic events. This year, Dressel ranks Nos. 1, 8 and 12 in those events (100m butterfly, 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle), although he did his job in qualifying for all three for the 2019 Worlds after a whirlwind spring turning professional.

The other Americans on top of the rankings are Ryan Murphy (100m back), who swept the backstrokes in Rio, and Chase Kalisz, who leads both individual medleys after sweeping them at the 2017 Worlds. No doubt Kalisz is the world’s best all-around swimmer.

But look around the world.

Lithuania, which has never put a man in the top six of an Olympic swimming event, has the world’s fastest 200m freestyler. Germany, which last earned Olympic men’s swimming gold as West Germany, and Ukraine, with no Olympic golds, have world leaders in distance freestyles.

Great Britain has two individual men’s medals total from the last three Olympics. But on 2018 times, it would earn two golds and two silvers, shared among four different swimmers. Adam Peaty has company in the British camp.

Russia last earned an Olympic men’s swimming gold in 1996, but it now has men in three different strokes atop world rankings.

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2018 Swimming World Rankings — Men
50m Freestyle

1. Ben Proud (GBR) — 21.11
2. Bruno Fratus (BRA) — 21.35
3. Andrea Vergani (ITA) — 21.37
4. Kristian Gkolomeev (GRE) — 21.44
4. Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 21.44

100m Freestyle
1. Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 47.75
2. Katsumi Nakamura (JPN) — 47.87
3. Alessandro Miressi (ITA) — 47.92
4. Pedro Spajari (BRA) — 47.95
5. Gabriel Santos (BRA) — 47.98

200m Freestyle
1. Danas Rapsys (LTU) — 1:45.12
2. Duncan Scott (GBR) — 1:45.34
3. Sun Yang (CHN) — 1:45.43
4. Kyle Chalmers (AUS) — 1:45.56
5. Townley Haas (USA) — 1:45.56

400m Freestyle
1. Sun Yang (CHN) — 3:42.92
2. Mack Horton (AUS) — 3:43.76
2. Jack McLoughlin (AUS) — 3:44.20
4. Mykhailo Romanchuk (UKR) — 3:45.18
5. Zane Grothe (USA) — 3:45.32
5. James Guy (GBR) — 3:45.32

800m Freestyle
1. Mykhailo Romanchuk (UKR) — 7:42.96
2. Zane Grothe (USA) — 7:43.74
3. Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA) — 7:45.12
4. Jordan Wilimovsky (USA) — 7:45.19
5. Florian Wellbrock (GER) — 7:45.60

1500m Freestyle
1. Florian Wellbrock (GER) — 14:36.15
2. Mykhailo Romanchuk (UKR) — 14:36.88
3. Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA) — 14:42.85
4. Jordan Wilimovsky (USA) — 14:46.93
5. Jack McLoughlin (AUS) — 14:47.09

100m Backstroke
1. Ryan Murphy (USA) — 51.94
2. Xu Jiayu (CHN) — 52.34
3. Kliment Kolensikov (RUS) — 52.51
4. Ryosuke Irie (JPN) — 52.53
5. Matt Grevers (USA) — 52.55

200m Backstroke
1. Evgeny Rylov (RUS) — 1:53.36
2. Ryan Murphy (USA) — 1:53.57
3. Xu Jiayu (CHN) — 1:53.99
4. Ryosuke Irie (JPN) — 1:55.11
5. Mitch Larkin (AUS) — 1:55.40

100m Breaststroke
1. Adam Peaty (GBR) — 57.10
2. James Wilby (GBR) — 58.64
3. Yasuhiro Koseki (JPN) — 58.78
4. Anton Chupkov (RUS) — 59.06
5. Arno Kamminga (NED) — 59.14
5. Ross Murdoch (GBR) — 59.14

200m Breaststroke
1. Anton Chupkov (RUS) — 2:06.80
2. Josh Prenot (USA) — 2:07.28
3. Ippei Watanabe (JPN) — 2:07.56
4. Yasuhiro Koseki (JPN) — 2:07.81
5. Zac Stubblety-Cook (AUS) — 2:07.89

100m Butterfly
1. Caeleb Dressel (USA) — 50.50
2. Piero Codia (ITA) — 50.64
3. Chad le Clos (RSA) — 50.65
4. Jack Conger (USA) — 51.00
5. Joseph Schooling (SIN) — 51.04

200m Butterfly
1. Kristof Milak (HUN) — 1:52.71
2. Nao Horomura (JPN) — 1:53.79
3. Chad le Clos (RSA) — 1:54.00
4. Tamas Kenderesi (HUN) — 1:54.14
5. Daiya Seto (JPN) — 1:54.34

200m Individual Medley
1. Chase Kalisz (USA) — 1:55.40
2. Mitch Larkin (AUS) — 1:56.21
3. Kosuke Hagino (JPN) — 1:56.37
4. Wang Shun (CHN) — 1:56.52
5. Philip Heintz (GER) — 1:56.67

400m Individual Medley
1. Chase Kalisz (USA) — 4:07.95
2. Daiya Seto (JPN) — 4:08.79
3. Jay Litherland (USA) — 4:10.21
4. Kosuke Hagino (JPN) — 4:10.30
5. David Verraszto (HUN) — 4:10.65

Daniel Romanchuk’s ascent to marathon stardom accelerated at University of Illinois

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The rise of Daniel Romanchuk has been one of the major stories of this Paralympic cycle. The wheelchair racer was eliminated in the first round of all five of his races in Rio.

But now, he’s the world’s best marathoner with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, a world-record holder on the track and already qualified for the Tokyo Games.

Romanchuk, born with spina bifida, was profiled by NBC Sports Chicago as part of a series of NBC Sports Regional Networks pieces published this week — marking 150 days until the Tokyo Olympics and six months until the Tokyo Paralympics.

NBC RSN Olympic and Paralympic Profiles
NBC Sports Bay Area

Abbey Weitzeil (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Boston
Margaret Bertasi (Rowing) — LINK
Abbey D’Agostino Cooper (Track and Field) — LINK

NBC Sports Chicago
Ryan Murphy (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Northwest
Galen Rupp (Marathon) — LINK
Mariel Zagunis (Fencing) — LINK

NBC Sports Philadelphia
Vashti Cunningham (Track and Field) — LINK
Julie Ertz (Soccer) — LINK

NBC Sports Washington
Katie Ledecky (Swimming) — LINK
Kyle Snyder (Wrestling) — LINK

Romanchuk, 21, swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon titles in 2019. He attributes that success to his native Baltimore and his training residence of the University of Illinois.

At age 2, he was enrolled in Baltimore’s Bennett Blazers, an adaptive sports program for children with physical disabilities. Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist who dominated women’s wheelchair marathons, planted her athletic roots there.

“Their motto is to teach kids they can before they’re told they can’t,” Romanchuk said.

Things really blossomed for Romanchuk after he moved from Baltimore to the University of Illinois. Illinois was designated a U.S. Paralympic training site in 2014 and has produced McFadden, Jean Driscoll and other U.S. Paralympic stars.

“Without this program, I certainly would not be where I am,” Romanchuk said. “It’s a very unique combination of coaching and teammates.”

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Chloé Dygert wanted to be Steve Prefontaine. Then Larry Bird. Now, her coach.

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Chloé Dygert is the U.S.’ top cyclist, an Olympic medalist and world champion in line to race on the track and the road at the Tokyo Games.

To get to this point — leading the American contingent at the world track cycling championships this week — Dygert was kicked off a soccer team, bribed by her father and, when she thought her career was over, enrolled in 5 a.m. classes to get back on the bike.

“I had no interest in being a cyclist. I did not want to be a cyclist,” she said. “The funny thing is, my dad kept getting me bikes.”

It began in Brownsburg, Ind., a 25,000-person town 15 miles northwest of Indianapolis. Dygert had an older brother, younger brother and a BMX dirt bike track on a 4.5-acre property.

She played soccer, but was moved from the girls’ team to the boys. Dygert developed physically earlier than the other girls. And, “I was a little too mean and aggressive,” she said.

She played basketball but broke too many bones — her own and those of other girls. “Not on purpose,” she said, “but I was just so much bigger and naturally so much stronger.”

Dygert ran cross-country, too, but none of those sports worked out.

“I was going to be Steve Prefontaine,” she said of the fabled 1972 Olympian. “I had some injuries, and I started playing basketball. I was going to be Larry Bird. I had some more injuries, and cycling was just kind of my go-to.”

Dygert, at first reluctant, picked up cycling at the urging of her father, David, a mountain biker. She received bikes for Christmas and her New Year’s birthday, but it wasn’t until later, when she was 15, that her father’s words changed her life.

That summer, when Dygert needed a shoulder surgery from a basketball injury, she went for a ride at a local park with her father. David marveled.

“He said, ‘Chloe, I don’t think a girl your age should be able to put out the power that you’re putting out,'” Dygert remembered. “That kind of stuck with me and got me into wanting to ride a little bit more and seeing where I could go with it.”

David lured her: a pair of Oakleys if Dygert won at her first major competition. She entered junior nationals and grabbed a victory.

“That’s kind of what gave me the motivation to keep going,” she said. “It took me a while to actually love the sport. It definitely was not an interest that I had. But I thrive on winning. I love to win.”

Dygert pursued cycling, but she didn’t stop basketball. Everything changed when she tore an ACL on the court at age 17, a nine-month injury. She never returned to competitive basketball, but she also lost motivation to get back on the bike. Again, David urged her. One last time.

She joined the cycling team at Marian University, a private Catholic school in Indianapolis. David signed her up for 5 a.m. classes.

“I’m still not happy about it,” she said. “I got really disciplined.”

And reinvigorated. The freshman Dygert noticed in a power booster class that her wattage was impressive.

“If it wasn’t for that and the structure and the discipline that I had gotten from that and my dad, I would not be here,” she said. “There’s not a day that goes by, I’m just so thankful for that and for him.”

Dygert dropped out after that first fall semester to focus on a cycling career. That winter, she won a world title with the U.S. team pursuit and was named to become the youngest female U.S. Olympic track cyclist in history.

“I see myself being a Kristin Armstrong, following in her footsteps, being a good all-around rider and a very good time trialist,” Dygert said before earning team pursuit silver at the Rio Olympics, according to The Associated Press.

Armstrong earned her third Olympic road time trial title in Rio, a day before turning 43. She retired and transitioned from Dygert’s mentor to her coach. Dygert recently moved to Armstrong’s native Idaho.

On the eve of September’s world road cycling championships time trial, Armstrong told Dygert to make sure she hurt more than any other rider on the 18-mile course. Dygert obeyed. She went out and won by 92 seconds, the largest margin in history, to become the youngest world champion ever in the event. She collapsed onto the pavement getting off her bike.

“I didn’t race with a power meter,” Dygert said that day, “and I think that really helped not restricting myself, just kind of going as fast as I could the entire time and not really have anything to gauge it off of.”

It qualified Dygert for the Tokyo Olympics on the road. The track team hasn’t been named, but Dygert will surely anchor a new team pursuit quartet. The U.S. has never won an Olympic women’s track title, but the pursuit has been its trademark event — world titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Olympic silver medals in 2012 and 2016.

The only woman on both of those Olympic teams retired (Sarah Hammer).

The cycling community was floored when Kelly Catlin, on all three world title teams with Dygert, committed suicide last March at age 23.

“It’s definitely hard not having her there, but we will carry her legacy on,” Dygert said. “She will be with us every step of the way when we win gold in Tokyo.”

The U.S. women’s team pursuit finished seventh at last year’s worlds without Catlin and without Dygert, who sat out nearly a year after a May 2018 concussion from a road crash. Dygert wondered if she might not be able to come back from the head injury. Expectations were tempered when she and a new team entered a November World Cup in Belarus.

A coach predicted nothing faster than 4 minutes, 17 seconds. They clocked 4:13 and won in what Dygert believed was the U.S.’ second-fastest time since the Rio Games.

“We’ve never raced together before,” Dygert said. “We didn’t really know what we would be able to do.”

Dygert is bidding to race in three events in Tokyo — road race (July 26), road time trial (July 29) and team pursuit (Aug. 3-4). People compare combining the road and the track to training for both the sprints and the marathon. The plurality of the focus will be on the time trial and to follow the path set by Armstrong to the top of an Olympic podium. Hopefully, road and track podiums.

“We’re going to be smart about which event that we choose to be full gas for so my fitness is still there for all the other events,” Dygert said. “Being fit for the time trial will also correlate for the track.”

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