Reece Whitley, long a standout swimmer, breaks through at nationals

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Reece Whitley long had the pedigree, and the backstory, to portend swimming success. He realized it at the U.S. Championships this week.

The 6-foot-9 19-year-old made his first career summer nationals finals in Palo Alto, Calif. He won the 200m breaststroke and finished third in the 100m breast with personal-best times to establish himself as a contender for the 2020 Olympic team.

“I haven’t been as fast as I wanted to be the past couple of years,” said Whitley, who broke 23 national age-group records through high school before matriculating at Cal last year. “I feel like I’ve always been on the outside looking in.”

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Whitley always stood out — a towering African-American coached by a woman while at a 300-year-old Quaker school in Pennsylvania. As a rising high school junior at the 2016 Olympic Trials, he made the semifinals of both breaststrokes, a discipline dominated by men at least six inches shorter.

But, two years later, the transition to college on the other side of the country proved difficult.

“I went from a small club team who couldn’t find any long-course pool time, six lanes, 25-yard pool to training next to Josh Prenot, Ryan Murphy, Nathan Adrian a couple of lanes over every day,” Whitley, naming individual Olympic medalists who also train under Dave Durden at Cal, said on USA Swimming’s Deck Pass Live after winning the 200m breast on Thursday. “Am I good? Should I be here? But fast swimming, it’s amazing how contagious it can be.”

In 2018, Whitley failed to record a personal best in either breaststroke for the first time over a calendar year. This past March, he placed fourth and fifth as a freshman at the NCAA Championships, helping Cal to its first team title in five years.

“From day one, it was like, all right, we’ve got this team goal of winning a national title,” Whitley said. “What are you going to do to help us get there? It was super intimidating at first.”

In Palo Alto, Whitley shaved 1.13 seconds off his personal best in Thursday’s 200m breast, moving to sixth-fastest among Americans this year. The top four didn’t enter nationals, which take place a week after the world championships.

He moved closer to breaking the separating-men-from-boys one-minute barrier in the 100m breast, clocking 1:00.05 to rank ninth in the U.S. this year. Devon Nowicki won in 59.69.

“It’s going to take a lot faster than that to make the team next year, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Whitley said Thursday. “That’s all I can ask for right now. This summer doesn’t need to be perfect. It’s great to drop time, but everybody’s focused on next summer.”

In other Saturday events, 2012 Olympian Breeja Larson took the women’s 100m breast in 1:06.78, her best time since 2014 and failing to make the 2016 Olympic team. Larson, 27, ranks third among Americans this year behind Olympic champion Lilly King and Annie Lazor, who are not at nationals.

Shaine Casas followed his runner-up in the 200m backstroke by winning the 100m back in 52.72, ranking him fifth in the world this year. His time would have taken bronze at the world championships.

Amy Bilquist won the women’s 100m back in 59.64 to rank sixth in the U.S. this year. Regan Smith, who lowered the world record to 57.57 at worlds, did not swim the event at nationals.

Ally McHugh won the 400m freestyle in 4:07.08 against a field lacking Olympic gold and bronze medalists Katie Ledecky and Leah Smith. McHugh’s time ranks her fifth in the U.S. this year. She also won the Ledecky- and Smith-less 800m free on Wednesday.

To no surprise, Australian Elijah Winnington captured the men’s 400m free in 3:47.39. The U.S. has no men in the top 10 in the world this year and just one in the top 20 (No. 11 Zane Grothe, who scratched the event at nationals).

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

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Conseslus Kipruto tests positive for coronavirus, canceling world-record bid

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Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion, tested positive for the coronavirus without symptoms, which will keep him from a world-record chase on Friday, according to his social media.

The Kenyan was to race in the first in-person Diamond League meet of the year in Monaco on Friday.

“Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities,” was posted. “Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League.

“I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well.”

Kipruto, 25, is the 14th-fastest steepler in history with a personal best of 8:00.12. The world record is 7:53.63, set by Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2004.

Last year, Kipruto won the world title by .01, extending a streak of a Kenyan or Kenyan-born man winning every Olympic or world title in the event since the 1988 Seoul Games. He was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot until opening his season extremely late on Aug. 24.

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Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities. Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League on August 14th. I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well. Wish to thank Monaco for all the work they have done and I wish them and my colleagues a wonderful competition. Athletics is back and I will be back as well. Anyone willing to organise a steeple once I can be cleared? @diamondleaguemonaco #nike #quarantine #WR #Kenya

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