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Ryan Lochte, after rehab for alcohol addiction, says he’s a better man

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Ryan Lochte ends his longest break between competitions of his career at the U.S. Championships this week. The last three years since the Rio Olympics have been a roller coaster, he said, and the last year in particular has made him “a better man.”

Lochte said he spent six weeks in rehab for alcohol addiction during a 14-month ban for a May 2018 IV infusion of an illegal amount of a legal substance.

In October, Lochte’s attorney said that the 12-time Olympic medalist had been battling the “disease” of alcohol addiction for many years, and that it had become a destructive pattern for him.

Those comments came after TMZ reported that Lochte was involved in an early morning California hotel incident.

When asked if he still drinks alcohol, Lochte said he had a glass of wine last month to celebrate the birth of his daughter, Liv, but that he doesn’t care for it.

“I’m glad that I went to rehab and got checked out just because it helped me out,” Lochte said Wednesday after swimming a time trial in the 200m individual medley, an event he won at four straight world championships from 2009 through 2015. “It helped put things in perspective in my life. What is really more important than going out to a bar and getting hammered or doing anything like that, I go home and I get to play with my kids and kiss and hold my wife. That, to me, is everything.”

Lochte said he’s been “spotchy” in training the last two months because he wants to be “the dad that’s always there” for wife Kayla Rae Reid, 2-year-old son Caiden ad Liv.

“Swimming has been my second priority,” said Lochte, who turns 35 on Saturday. “This nationals for me is a stepping stone. I’m back in swimming. I just wanted to see where I’m at the swimming world. I have a long journey in the next year.”

MORE: U.S. Swimming Champs TV Schedule

Lochte, who is entered in several events this week, said he does not know whether he will focus on longer events, such as the 400m individual medley, or drop down to shorter distances for what should be his fifth and final Olympic run.

On Wednesday, he clocked a reported 1:57.88 in the 200m IM trial. The time would have qualified for last week’s world championships final (and placed last in that final) and ranks him fourth among Americans this year.

It’s his fastest 200m IM since the Rio Olympics, swimming sparingly outside of separate 10-month and 14-month bans, the former for his Brazil gas-station incident.

Lochte will turn 36 years old during the Tokyo Olympics, when he will be older than all but two previous U.S. Olympic swimmers in individual events (Edgar Adams, 1904, and Dara Torres, 2008).

“When kids that I race against, after practice they can go home and rest,” he said. “After a hard workout, I have to go home and I have to pull some kind of energy out of me and be that loving, playful dad and that great husband that I am. I have no rest. There’s no recovery for me.”

Asked what he would say to those who have lost faith in him, Lochte said it’s understandable.

“I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone,” he said. “I’m doing this for me and my family. I want to go — definitely one of my biggest goals is going to the 2020 Olympics, making my fifth Olympics, and hopefully getting on the podium there. I just want to do this — anything I do from here in the pool and outside the pool is for my family.”

MORE: Dana Vollmer details swimming retirement

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”