Caeleb Dressel, Regan Smith take down world records in semifinals

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The U.S. swim team, struggling in the first few days of the world championships in Gwangju, South Korea, tore through the pool in the first few races Friday, following Simone Manuel‘s 100m freestyle win with two world records in semifinal races.

Caeleb Dressel, swimming a schedule akin to Michael Phelps‘ glory days, found enough speed Friday in the world championship 100m butterfly semifinals to beat a Phelps record that had stood for nearly a decade. Then 17-year-old Regan Smith shocked the field in the women’s 200m backstroke semifinals, beating Missy Franklin‘s world record.

Dressel was well ahead of the field and a couple of feet ahead of the record-marking red line throughout the semifinal, finishing in 49.50 seconds. Phelps set the previous record of 49.82 seconds on Aug. 1, 2009, also at the world championships.

Phelps’ 200m butterfly record fell earlier in the championships to Hungary’s Kristof Milak.

Dressel won seven gold medals in the 2017 world championships — four relays, 100m butterfly, 100m freestyle and 50m freestyle. This year in Gwangju, he has already defended his 100m freestyle world title and added two more golds in the 50m butterfly and the 4×100 mixed medley relay. He was back in the pool about 30 minutes after his world-record swim Friday, winning his 50m freestyle semifinal in 21.18.

“Both races hurt pretty bad,” Dressel said. “There’s a lot that I need to clean up going into tomorrow. These times mean nothing.”

READ: Dressel starts eight-gold quest after tough 2018

While Dressel’s assault on the record book was no surprise, no such performance was expected from Smith, a 17-year-old swimmer from Lakeville North (Minn.) High School who recently committed to Stanford.

Smith set a world junior record in the 200m backstroke in 2017 and did it again in the heats earlier Friday in Gwangju, finishing in 2:06.01. In the semifinal, she blasted her way to a time of 2:03.35, well under Franklin’s record of 2:04.06 from the 2012 Olympics.

“I’m in shock,” Smith said. “I really don’t believe it. I didn’t think I’d ever do that.”

Smith now has an unusual distinction of setting a world record before winning her first world title. She’ll aim for the 200m backstroke gold in the middle of Saturday evening’s session. She’s entered in no other individual events.

The U.S. team now has a selection dilemma for the 4x100m medley relay, the final event of the championships on Sunday. Aside from Smith, the other options would be world record-holder Kathleen Baker and Olivia Smoliga, who took bronze in the 100m backstroke and gold in the 50m backstroke earlier in the championships.

“We had a really good night tonight, especially with Regan,” Dressel said. “That was phenomenal. I thought that was one of the top three toughest world records on the women’s side, and she just crushed it.”

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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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