Ryan Lochte wins U.S. swimming title in return from suspension

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Ryan Lochte won the 200m individual medley on Sunday to close the U.S. Championships, his first meet back from a 14-month suspension over a social media blunder.

At 35, Lochte proved he has a chance to make a fifth Olympic team next year.

The 12-time Olympic medalist clocked 1:57.76 for his 27th national title, .12 faster than his time trial Thursday.

His time ranks 11th in the world this year and fourth among Americans (the top three — Chase Kalisz, Michael Andrew and Abrahm Devine — skipped nationals after competing at the world championships last week).

The top two at trials in June make the Olympic team.

“This was a lot easier 10 years ago,” Lochte, breathing heavily, told Tanith White on Olympic Channel moments after getting out of the pool. “I got a lot of ways to go for 2020.”

Lochte had to be satisfied, given he said he trained “maybe” four times per week in the seven weeks since the birth of his second child, daughter Liv.

“The time wasn’t that good … but it’s a good starting point,” he said. “I’m just kicking the rust off.”

Lochte was also banned from competition until late July. He was caught last year receiving an IV infusion of a legal substance that, after a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigation with Lochte’s cooperation, was deemed above the legal limit of 100 milliliters.

The probe was sparked by Lochte, for he posted a social-media image of the infusion in May 2018. Lochte had already served a 10-month ban for his Rio gas station incident.

“It’s pretty obvious now, I’m 100 percent family,” Lochte said. “That party-boy image that I used to have, I know it kind of messed me up, and it stuck with me, but that’s not me. I could care less about that lifestyle. My celebrations are picking up my son and my daughter and playing with them.”

Lochte, who went to rehab for alcohol addiction during his most recent ban, will turn 36 during the Tokyo Olympics. He will be older than all but two previous U.S. Olympic swimmers in individual events (Edgar Adams, 1904, and Dara Torres, 2008).

In other events Sunday, Madisyn Cox won the women’s 200m IM in 2:10.00, ranking her ninth in the world this year and second among Americans behind Melanie Margalis. Cox, the 2017 World bronze medalist, missed last week’s worlds after failing a 2018 drug test over what she said was a contaminated multivitamin.

Ryan Held won the 50m freestyle in 21.87, lowering his personal best twice Sunday. Held, a Rio Olympic 4x100m free champion, won the 100m free on Wednesday in a time that would have taken bronze at worlds. His 50m free was not quite as impressive but does rank him third among Americans this year behind Caeleb Dressel and Michael Andrew.

Erika Brown took the women’s 50m free in 24.71, ranking her third among Americans this year behind world champion Simone Manuel and Rio Olympian Abbey Weitzeil.

Ally McHugh completed a sweep of the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles by taking the longest distance in 16:05.98. The field lacked Katie Ledecky, whose world record is 15:20.48 in an event that debuts at the Olympics next year. McHugh ranks fourth among Americans in the 1500m this year.

Bobby Finke upset Zane Grothe in the 800m free, clocking 7:47.58, the fastest time by an American this year. Finke, who also won the 1500m free and 400m IM at nationals, would have placed eighth at worlds with that time.

The 2019-20 swimming season starts with a Tyr Pro Series stop in Greensboro, N.C., from Nov. 6-9.

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

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Beach volleyball player’s dog becomes social media sensation

Mathias Berntsen
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Norwegian beach volleyball player Mathias Berntsen‘s dog, Kiara, captivated social media this weekend.

A video of Kiara peppering with Berntsen and a pair across the net on a grass field spread from Berntsen’s Instagram across platforms. Kiara now has 12,000 Instagram followers, more than twice the total of Berntsen.

Berntsen, 24, is one half of Norway’s second-best beach volleyball team.

He and partner Hendrik Mol are ranked 45th in the world and well outside the Tokyo Olympic picture (24 teams go to the Games), but could get in the mix depending on how qualification is amended once sports resume.

Berntsen and his cousin Mol are part of a group called the Beach Volley Vikings. Mol’s younger brother, Anders, and family friend Christian Sorum are the world’s top-ranked team (profiled here).

MORE: Beach volleyball players fly to Australia, learn event is canceled

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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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