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Cullen Jones, last link to magic relay, wonders whether to swim on

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NEW YORK — Cullen Jones swam at one meet in the last year and none since April. Is the four-time Olympic medalist retired?

“I haven’t made a decision,” Jones said Monday at the Golden Goggle Awards, where he interviewed athletes for USA Swimming. “I know what I have to do to make the team, to give it another go. I feel great. It’s just whether I want to put in that effort again.”

At 34, Jones is older than all but one person who swam at the U.S. Championships in June. Anthony Ervin, 37, won the 50m freestyle at the 2000 and 2016 Olympics and wants to compete through 2020.

Jones is best known for being part of the U.S. 4x100m freestyle relay team that stunned France for gold in Beijing, behind Jason Lezak‘s anchor leg, and for earning 50m freestyle silver at London 2012. Jones is the only man from that 2008 relay who hasn’t retired.

He hasn’t made an Olympic or world championships team since the London Games, missing by one spot in the 50m freestyle for the 2015 Worlds, 2016 Olympics and 2017 Worlds. Jones, who nearly drowned after an amusement park water slide ride at age 5, is putting more effort into starting a swim school in North Carolina.

He turns 36 in 2020 and will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic male swimmer in an individual event since 1904. In Jones’ favor is his specialty, the sprint freestyles, which can favor experience.

There is Ervin, who in Rio became the oldest Olympic swimming gold medalist. Lezak snuck onto the 2012 Olympic team at age 36 as the last member of the 4x100m free relay (swimming just the preliminary heat). Dara Torres memorably came out of a second retirement to earn three silver medals, including in the 50m free, at age 41 at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Jones has time. Since the 2019 World Championships team was decided this summer, there is no major international meet for him to target until the Olympics.

“If I get the swim school up, and I feel content, I have time to make the decision to get ready again,” he said. “It usually only takes me about seven to eight months to be where I need to be. I know I’m a little older, so maybe I’ll give it nine. I’ll come to that decision when I need to.

“My finger is on the button.”

MORE: Katie Ledecky on her new suit, challenges for Tokyo 2020

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Asbel Kiprop, Olympic 1500m champ, banned four years

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Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, the 2008 Olympic 1500m champion and a three-time world champ, was banned four years after testing positive for EPO in November 2017, according to track and field’s doping watchdog organization.

The ban is backdated to Feb. 3, 2018, when the 29-year-old was provisionally suspended after the failed test.

Kiprop repeatedly denied doping since last May, when he first acknowledged the positive test. Most recently, a 3,000-word defense from his lawyer was posted on Kiprop’s Facebook page.

Kiprop’s defenses included saying he was a victim of extortion and that he was offered “a reward” of becoming an anti-doping ambassador if he admitted guilt. The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), the IAAF’s independent organization to monitor doping and corruption, denied the latter last May.

A disciplinary panel dismissed six defenses from exonerating him, including the possibility his sample was spiked, in handing out the four-year ban.

Kiprop, the pre-eminent 1500m runner of the last decade, can appeal the ban.

At 19, he finished second in the Beijing Olympic 1500m but was upgraded to gold a year later after Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi failed a drug test. He is the youngest Olympic 1500m medalist of all time, according to the OlyMADMen.

Kiprop went on to earn three straight world titles in the 1500m in 2011, 2013 and 2015, matching the feats of retired legends Noureddine Morceli and Hicham El Guerrouj.

He struggled in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, finishing last in the London final with a hamstring injury and sixth in the Rio final won by American rival Matthew Centrowitz.

Kiprop has targeted El Guerrouj’s world record of 3:26:00, missing the mark by .69 of a second in 2015.

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Maggie Nichols is second woman in 20 years to repeat as NCAA all-around champ

Maggie Nichols
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Oklahoma junior and world champion gymnast Maggie Nichols became the first woman to repeat as NCAA all-around champion in 12 years, returning from a heel injury to compete on all four events for the first time since January on Friday.

Nichols, a Rio Olympic hopeful before being beset by a torn meniscus in 2016, joined 2004 Olympic silver medalist Courtney Kupets as the only women to win back-to-back NCAA all-arounds in the 2000s.

A junior, Nichols can next year join Jenny Hansen as the only women to three-peat in NCAA history.

Oklahoma goes for a third team title in four years on Saturday night against UCLA (featuring Olympic champions Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross), LSU and Denver.

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NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships Individual Results
All-Around
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma) — 39.7125
2. Lexy Ramler (Minnesota) — 39.6625
2. Kyla Ross (UCLA) — 39.6625
4. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 39.65
5. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 39.6

Vault
1. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 9.95
1. Derrian Gobourne (Auburn)
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)

Uneven Bars
1. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 9.95

Balance Beam
1. Natalie Wojcik (Michigan) — 9.95

Floor Exercise
1. Alicia Boren (Florida) — 9.95
1. Lynnzee Brown (Denver)
1. Brenna Dowell (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)