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Caeleb Dressel recalls summer tears in Golden Goggles speech

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Two weeks before the world championships, Caeleb Dressel was in tears after multiple practices going into the biggest meet of the year.

“Just because how bad I was doing,” Dressel said of his workouts. “I knew the pressure that was coming with it, what I expected of myself. So, it wasn’t an easy year, just the mental doubt I had coming into worlds.”

Four months later, Dressel stood at the podium of Sunday night’s Golden Goggles to receive two major awards — Male Race of the Year and Male Athlete of the Year, each for the second time.

Dressel earned a record eight medals at worlds in Gwangju, South Korea, including six golds and a world record in the 100m butterfly, taking Michael Phelps‘ mark off the books.

He reflected in his acceptance speech for Race of the Year for that 100m fly.

“If I can leave you with something, just don’t ever compare yourself to anyone,” Dressel said. “I’m not in this to beat one person in particular, which a lot of you can guess who I’ve been compared to. It’s not me. I don’t swim the same events. He’s a much better swimmer. I’m not in this to beat anybody’s medal count, records. I just want to see how far I can take this. I’m just a kid from Green Cove [Springs, Fla.] who has no business taking it as far as I have. I just want to see how far I can take it.”

Simone Manuel broke Katie Ledecky‘s six-year streak of winning Female Athlete of the Year. While Ledecky struggled at worlds with illness, her Stanford teammate Manuel earned seven medals, including four golds, and swept the 50m and 100m frees.

“When I first started in swimming, it was pretty difficult for me,” Manuel said. “It still is difficult to this day. But, often times, I didn’t feel like I fit in or it was the sport for me. Often times, people questioned why I was swimming because I’m not supposed to swim. And it’s really difficult. I never thought that I would see the day where I would stand up here and receive this award. What I’ve learned through this journey, even though it’s been very hard, is to follow your passion. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do anything.”

Regan Smith‘s incredible worlds performance — three world records in two races — was rewarded with Female Race of the Year (200m backstroke) and Breakout Performer of the Year.

“Before this summer, I was really just a little kid who had no idea what was going on in swimming,” said the 17-year-old from Minnesota. “I still am, but I feel like after this summer I really have a new perspective.”

Nathan Adrian, who came back from testicular cancer to be part of three relays at worlds, earned the Perseverance Award. He accepted while sporting a mustache for Movember.

“It’s a reminder to men out there, who actually on average live almost eight years less life than women, and one of the contributing factors to that is because they don’t see the doctor when they first notice something is wrong,” Adrian said. “To all you men out there, go see the doctor.”

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Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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Rafael Nadal advances at Australian Open; American back on Slam stage

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open third round, sweeping Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Thursday.

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, gets countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s third round. He could face No. 23 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in round four, but neither Federer nor Djokovic until the final.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedeva and No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Simona Halep were also winners Thursday. Friday’s third-round action is headlined by defending champion Naomi Osaka facing 15-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

The only top-20 seed to lose Thursday was No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. American CiCi Bellis bounced her 6-4, 6-4.

This was a big deal for Bellis: Two full years and four right arm operations have come and gone since she was last healthy enough to participate in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis was something of a teen prodigy. In her very first tour-level match, at age 15 at the 2014 U.S. Open, she stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an Australian Open runner-up, to become the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 28 years.

She reached No. 35 in the rankings at 17, when she won WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.

Then came the series of health problems, including for torn tendons in her wrist, to shorten a bone in her arm and for bone spurs in her elbow. All the time away from the tour has her at No. 600 in the rankings currently, but she was able to get into the draw in Australia via the protected ranking rule.

In other action, U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev  found himself seated in the nosebleed section at Margaret Court Arena, even though he was playing his second-round match there.

That’s because the No. 4-seeded Russian found himself dealing with something he said happens to him a couple of times each year: a nosebleed.

Medvedev blotted his nose with a towel and then was treated by a trainer while his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez was delayed for more than five minutes late in the second set.

“Can happen to me sometimes. Doesn’t usually happen during the match, so I had to stop (playing). Usually takes like four minutes — three, four minutes. … But it’s nothing,” Medvedev said.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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