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U.S. female swimmers historically dominant in 2018 world rankings

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The U.S. has a female swimmer ranked in the top four of every Olympic event this year, which is the first time since 2007, according to FINA and USA Swimming databases.

The world’s fastest times came into focus following last week’s Asian Games, the biggest meet remaining on the 2018 senior international schedule. There are still opportunities remaining, particularly the Youth Olympics in October, but that has an age limit of 18 years old.

The biggest meet of the year for every swimming power has passed — the Commonwealth Games in April and the European Championships, Pan Pacific Championships and Asian Games this month.

This is the only year in the four-year cycle without an Olympics or a world championships. The best way to determine the world’s best swimmers is to compare best times from around the world throughout the year.

The U.S. women would earn medals in 12 of 14 individual Olympic events if awarded based on fastest times this year, matching their results from the 2016 Olympics and 2017 World Championships.

Katie Ledecky would take three golds (400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles) and a silver (200m freestyle). Kathleen Baker would earn 100m backstroke gold and silver in the 200m back and 200m individual medley, making her the most versatile swimmer in the country.

The notable improvement this year came in the U.S.’ traditionally weak events — the 200m breaststroke and 200m butterfly.

In 2016, the top-ranked U.S. women in the 200m breast was Katie Meili at No. 14, according to FINA. No Americans made the Olympic final. Now it’s arguably a deep event. Micah Sumrall (formerly Lawrence) is ranked No. 3 in 2018 despite taking all of 2017 off from competition. Bethany Galat and Lilly King finished second and fourth in the 200m breast at 2017 Worlds.

In 2017, Hali Flickinger was the top American in the 200m fly but No. 12 in the world. The U.S. hasn’t earned an Olympic women’s 200m fly medal since Misty Hyman‘s upset gold at Sydney 2000, its longest drought in any men’s or women’s Olympic pool event. In every other event, the U.S. has earned at least one medal between the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

But Flickinger, a 24-year-old veteran, took gold at Pan Pacs after lowering her personal best at nationals from 2:06.67 to 2:05.87. Flickinger was seventh in Rio and ninth at the 2017 Worlds. She’s No. 2 in the world this year.

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2018 Swimming World Rankings — Women
50m Freestyle
1. Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) — 23.74
2. Pernille Blume (DEN) — 23.75
3. Cate Campbell (AUS) — 23.78
4. Simone Manuel (USA) — 24.10
5. Maria Kameneva (RUS) — 24.21
5. Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED) — 24.21

100m Freestyle
1. Cate Campbell (AUS) — 52.03
2. Bronte Campbell (AUS) — 52.27
3. Simone Manuel (USA) — 52.54
4. Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) — 52.72
5. Taylor Ruck (CAN) — 52.72
5. Pernille Blume (DEN) — 52.72

200m Freestyle
1. Taylor Ruck (CAN) — 1:54.44
2. Katie Ledecky (USA) — 1:54.56
3. Ariarne Titmus (AUS) — 1:54.85
3. Rikako Ikee (JPN) — 1:54.85
5. Charlotte Bonnet (FRA) — 1:54.95

400m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky (USA) — 3:57.94
2. Ariarne Titmus (AUS) — 3:59.66
3. Leah Smith (USA) — 4:02.21
4. Wang Jianjiahe (CHN) — 4:03.14
5. Simona Quadrella (ITA) — 4:03.35

800m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky (USA) — 8:07.27
2. Simona Quadrella (ITA) — 8:16.45
3. Ariarne Titmus (AUS) — 8:17.07
4. Leah Smith (USA) — 8:17.27
5. Wang Jianjiahe (CHN) — 8:18.09

1500m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky (USA) — 15:20.48
2. Simona Quadrella (ITA) — 15:51.61
3. Wang Jianjiahe (CHN) — 15:53.01
4. Li Bingjie (CHN) — 15:53.80
5. Ashley Twichell (USA) — 15:55.68

100m Backstroke
1. Kathleen Baker (USA) — 58.00
2. Kylie Masse (CAN) — 58.54
3. Emily Seebohm (AUS) — 58.66
4. Olivia Smoliga (USA) — 58.75
5. Regan Smith (USA) — 58.83

200m Backstroke
1. Kylie Masse (CAN) — 2:05.98
2. Kathleen Baker (USA) — 2:06.14
3. Margherita Panziera (ITA) — 2:06.18
4. Taylor Ruck (CAN) — 2:06.36
5. Regan Smith (USA) — 2:06.43

100m Breaststroke
1. Yulia Efimova (RUS) — 1:04.98
2. Lilly King (USA) — 1:05.36
3. Molly Hannis (USA) — 1:05.78
4. Reona Aoki (JPN) — 1:05.90
5. Katie Meili (USA) — 1:06.19

200m Breaststroke
1. Yulia Efimova (RUS) — 2:20.72
2. Reona Aoki (JPN) — 2:21.85
3. Micah Sumrall (USA) — 2:21.88
4. Tatjana Schoenmaker (RSA) — 2:22.02
5. Lilly King (USA) — 2:22.12

100m Butterfly
1. Rikako Ikee (JPN) — 56.08
2. Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) — 56.23
3. Kelsi Dahlia (USA) — 56.44
4. Emma McKeon (AUS) — 56.54
5. Maddie Groves (AUS) — 57.19

200m Butterfly
1. Alys Thomas (GBR) — 2:05.45
2. Hali Flickinger (USA) — 2:05.87
3. Zhang Yufei (CHN) — 2:06.61
4. Laura Taylor (AUS) — 2:06.80
5. Mireia Belmonta (ESP) — 2:07.09

200m Individual Medley
1. Yui Ohashi (JPN) — 2:08.16
2. Kathleen Baker (USA) — 2:08.32
3. Kim Seoyeong (KOR) — 2:08.34
4. Sydney Pickrem (CAN) — 2:09.07
5. Melanie Margalis (USA) — 2:09.43

400m Individual Medley
1. Yui Ohashi (JPN) — 4:33.77
2. Fantine Lesaffre (FRA) — 4:34.17
3. Ilaria Cusinato (ITA) — 4:34.65
4. Ally McHugh (USA) — 4:34.80
5. Aimee Wilmott (GBR) — 4:34.90

Ginny Fuchs hopes to emerge from OCD, tearful Olympic experience

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None of the boxers at this week’s U.S. Olympic Trials competed at a prior Olympics, but flyweight Ginny Fuchs remembers the specifics of her one Olympic experience in Rio.

Fuchs, who won the 2016 Olympic trials but failed to clinch a spot at the Games in international qualifiers, was nonetheless named team captain and brought to Rio as a sparring partner.

She had mixed feelings. Watching from the crowd as Claressa Shields repeated as Olympic champion on the final day of the Games was motivating. Fuchs had toyed with turning professional but, after talking to Shields, decided to forge another four years as an amateur for another chance to become an Olympian.

The Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony, two weeks before that Shields final, was too much for Fuchs to bear. She could not stay in the Athletes’ Village nor march with the U.S. delegation at the Maracana.

“I remember watching the Opening Ceremony at the place I was at with everybody,” she said. “I couldn’t watch. It was hard for me to watch. I went back to my room, cried and went to bed.”

Fuchs is favored to win the 51kg/112-pound division this week at Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Lake Charles, La., with finals streaming live on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday (4-7 p.m. ET). It’s one of five women’s Olympic weight classes, up from three in 2012 and 2016, the first two editions of the Games for female boxers.

No boxer can clinch an Olympic spot this week, but failing to make a final would all but end Tokyo hopes.

Fuchs’ toughest opponent in this Olympic cycle — which included an undefeated 2017 and a 2018 World bronze medal among more than 130 fights — may be herself. Fuchs has been open about struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It started in fifth grade.

“I can remember the first time I was on the school bus, and I was looking at the ground and looking at everybody’s backpacks on the floor,” said Fuchs, a 31-year-old from the Houston area. “And an instant thought came in mind, like, Oh my god. Everybody’s backpack is getting contaminated by this dirty floor on the bus.”

She cited a more recent example: spending up to 40 minutes washing her hands searching for that “perfect clean feeling.” Fuchs found boxing via a boyfriend after she was kicked off the LSU cross-country running team as a freshman walk-on for damaging school property in a prank.

She said the disorder hit her hardest this year. In January, she was driving to a Walmart three times a day to buy cleaning supplies, according to The New York Times.

She underwent intensive therapy and skipped October’s world championships, where she could have established herself as a clear Olympic gold-medal favorite.

“I still am going to probably do therapy for the rest of my life,” Fuchs said. “Maybe not as intense as I’m doing it right now, but it’s almost like training for boxing.

“You’ve got to keep training to keep winning in boxing. So I’ve got to keep training my OCD thoughts and how to handle and manage it. … Boxing is giving me hope almost. Like OK, outside the ring and in my room and the bathroom, I feel like [OCD] controls me and feel trapped. But I have this environment in this space in the gym, in the boxing ring, where I can be myself. And not let it attack me in a way where I can still enjoy life and not be trapped.”

Should Fuchs make the final of her division in Lake Charles, she will advance to a January camp and tournament, after which the U.S. roster for Olympic qualifying will be named.

If selected, Fuchs would head to a North and South American Olympic qualifying event in early spring in Buenos Aires to clinch the spot she could not secure four years ago. If necessary, she could get a second chance at a global qualifier in May in Paris.

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Yulia Efimova has lawyer ready if Russia ban affects her

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Yulia Efimova, the Russian swimmer who earned two Rio Olympic silver medals after initially being excluded from the Games for serving a prior doping ban, is bracing for another legal fight after the latest sanctions against her nation.

On Monday, Russia was banned from the 2020 and 2022 Olympics and the next four years of world championships in Olympic sports due to more recent anti-doping violations. However, its athletes can still compete as neutrals, if meeting specific anti-doping criteria, similar to how they did at the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Efimova was initially barred from the Rio Olympics under an IOC mandate that any Russian who previously served a doping ban would be ineligible due to the country’s anti-doping violations at that time.

Efimova appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which ruled that IOC stipulation unenforceable. She went on to earn 100m and 200m breaststroke silver medals and develop a rivalry with American Lilly King, who said Efimova should not have been eligible.

It’s unclear from Monday’s ruling whether Efimova will be allowed to compete as a neutral, should Russia accept the sanctions or any appeal to CAS by the nation be denied.

“I will behave in a similar way,” to 2016, Efimova said, according to RT.com. “I have already hired a lawyer. There is a rule that a person can’t be punished twice for the same offense. If you violate a driving code or instigated a brawl you will not be punished twice for that. I hope it will work, but I cannot be sure of [a positive outcome].

“Right after my race at the Rio Games, I said that this doping controversy was not over, it was just the beginning, and we would have problems in the future. It was quite clear. And with every new year the situation is only getting worse and worse.”

Efimova, 27 and the two-time reigning world 200m breast champion, was banned 16 months between 2013 and 2015 after testing positive for a steroid. A FINA panel ruled that Efimova was not intentionally trying to cheat but was negligent in failing to read the label of a GNC store supplement.

“Yes, long ago I made a doping violation,” Efimova said this week, according to RT. “But there are a great number of U.S. and European athletes who have a similar situation regarding doping, and they are competing without any restrictions. If you want to introduce those regulations, they must be equally applied to all athletes, not only Russian competitors.”

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