Allison Schmitt continues swimming comeback with national title

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Allison Schmitt‘s bid for a fourth Olympics, after taking nearly two years off competition, is very much in play.

Schmitt, an eight-time Olympic medalist, won the 200m freestyle in 1:56.97 at the U.S. Championships in Palo Alto, Calif., on Thursday. The event lacked Olympic champion Katie Ledecky, who is resting after last week’s world championships.

Schmitt was satisfied by going 1.3 seconds faster than she did at worlds, where she placed 14th. Her time on Thursday would have put her ninth at worlds, still missing the final, but it marked her fastest 200m free since August 2018.

“Ever since I decided I was going to get back into the pool, eyes were set on 2020,”said Schmitt, who started her work outside the pool in the past year as a counselor at Arizona State, where she’s pursuing a master’s degree in social work. “It’s definitely still a day-by-day process, has its ups and downs. But, as a whole, it’s been a good journey, and like I said, I’m really looking forward to this upcoming year.”

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Schmitt, at 29, is the only female swimmer left from the 2008 U.S. Olympic team who is going for the Tokyo Games. Her American record from winning the 200m free at the 2012 London Games remains one of the few marks that Ledecky has chased but not broken.

Schmitt failed to qualify for the 2013 and 2015 Worlds but, after revealing her battle with depression, rallied to make the Rio Games in the 4x100m and 4x200m free relays. She returned to competition in April 2018.

Schmitt, ranked fourth in the U.S. this year in the 200m free, likely must improve on Thursday’s time come trials to become the oldest U.S. woman to race an individual event at an Olympics since 41-year-old Dara Torres in 2008. The top six in the event at trials in June are likely to make the Tokyo Olympic team in the relay, though.

In other events Thursday, Madisyn Cox took the women’s 200m breaststroke in 2:23.84, a personal best by 1.78 seconds. Her time, against a field lacking top Americans Lilly King and Annie Lazor, would have placed sixth at worlds.

Cox, the 2017 World bronze medalist in the 200m individual medley, missed last week’s worlds after a failing a drug test over what she said was a contaminated multivitamin. Her original two-year ban was reduced to six months, but she still had to miss last year’s nationals, which ruled her out of this year’s worlds.

Reece Whitley, at 6-foot-9, took his first national 200m breast title in a personal-best 2:09.69, delivering on promise as the 2015 Sports Illustrated SportsKid of the Year and cover star. Whitley, a rising Cal sophomore, ranks sixth in the U.S. this year in his best event. Thursday’s final lacked the top four.

Rising Texas junior Austin Katz captured the 200m backstroke in 1:55.72, which would have taken bronze at worlds. Katz, who did not make the world championships team, came into the meet ranked fifth in the world this year at 1:55.57.

Asia Seidt won the women’s 200m back in 2:08.90, which would have placed eighth at worlds. Regan Smith, the 17-year-old who broke the world record at worlds, opted not to race this event at nationals.

Australian 19-year-old Elijah Winnington took the 200m free in 1:46.19, a time that would not have made the final at worlds. The field lacked the top American freestylers like 2017 World silver medalist Townley Haas.

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s first Olympic track and field medalist, has coronavirus

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s lone Olympic track and field medalist, tested positive for the coronavirus, according to World Athletics and an Iranian news agency.

“We’ve received word from several Asian journalists that Iranian discus thrower Ehsan Hadadi has tested positive for coronavirus,” according to World Athletics. “[Hadadi] trains part of the year in the US, but was home in Tehran when he contracted the virus.”

Hadadi, 35, became the first Iranian to earn an Olympic track and field medal when he took silver in the discus at the 2012 London Games. Hadadi led through four of six rounds before being overtaken by German Robert Harting, who edged the Iranian by three and a half inches.

He was eliminated in qualifying at the Rio Olympics and placed seventh at last fall’s world championships in Doha.

Jordan Larson preps for her last Olympics, one year later than expected

Jordan Larson
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Whether the Tokyo Olympics would have been this summer or in 2021, Jordan Larson knew this: It will mark her final tournament with the U.S. volleyball team, should she make the roster.

“I’m just not getting any younger,” said Larson, a 33-year-old outside hitter. “I’ve been playing consistently overseas for 12 years straight with no real offseason.

“I also have other endeavors in my life that I want to see. Getting married, having children, those kinds of things. The older I get, the more challenging those become.”

Larson, who debuted on the national team in 2009, has been a leader the last two Olympic cycles. She succeeded Christa Harmotto Dietzen as captain after the Rio Games. Larson started every match at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

As long as Larson was in the building, the U.S. never had to worry about the outside hitter position, said two-time Olympian and NBC Olympics volleyball analyst Kevin Barnett.

“She played as if she belonged from the start,” he said. “They will miss her all-around capability. They’ll miss her ability to make everyone around her better. She’s almost like having a libero who can hit.”

Karch Kiraly, the Olympic indoor and beach champion who took over as head coach after the 2012 Olympics, gushed about her court vision.

“It’s a little dated now, but somebody like Wayne Gretzky just saw things that other people didn’t see on the hockey rink,” Kiraly said in 2018. “And I remember reading about him one time, and the quote from an opposing goalie was, oh my god, here he comes, what does he see that I don’t see right now? She sees things sooner than most people.”

Larson grew up in Hooper, Neb., (population 830) and starred at the University of Nebraska. She was a three-time All-American who helped the team win a national title as a sophomore. She had the opportunity to leave Nebraska and try out for the Olympics in 2008 but chose to remain at school for her final season.

She earned the nickname “Governor” as a Cornhusker State sports icon.

Larson helped the U.S. win its first major international title at the 2014 World Championship. She was also part of the program’s two stingers — defeats in the 2012 Olympic final and 2016 Olympic semifinals, both matches where the U.S. won the first set (and convincingly in 2012).

“It just gives me chills thinking about it now,” Larson said of the Rio Olympic semifinals, where Serbia beat the U.S. 15-13 in the fifth. “That team, we put in so much. Not just on the court but off the court working on culture and working on how are we best for each other. How can we be the best team? How can we out-team people? Certain teams have a better one player that’s a standout that we maybe didn’t have or don’t have. So how can we out-team the other teams? We had just put in so much work that was just heartbreaking.”

Larson and the Americans rebounded to win the bronze-medal match two days later.

“I don’t know anybody that didn’t have their heart ripped out. It was just a soul-crusher of a match,” Kiraly said of the semifinal. “More meaningful was what a great response everybody, including Jordan, mounted to the disappointment of that loss.”

The U.S. took fifth at worlds in 2018 and is now ranked second in the world behind China.

Larson spent the past club season in Shanghai. The campaign ended in mid-January. She hadn’t heard anything about the coronavirus when she took her scheduled flight back to California, learning days later that LAX started screening for it. Now, she’s working out from her garage.

Larson is in line to become the fifth-oldest U.S. Olympic women’s volleyball player in history, according Olympedia and the OlyMADMen.

Her decade of experience could go a long way to help the next generation of outside hitters, led by three-time NCAA champion and Sullivan Award winner Kathryn Plummer.

“If you’re coming into the USA program as an outside hitter, in the next year or the quad or the quad after that,” Barnett said, “the measuring stick is going to be Jordan Larson.”

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