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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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WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics