U.S. open-water swimmers concerned about Olympic venue

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ATLANTA (AP) — Haley Anderson has been through this before.

In the lead-up to the Rio Olympics, all the talk about open-water swimming focused on the conditions rather than the competition.

Now, it’s happening again with the Tokyo Games less than a year away.

This time, there is concern about the potentially dangerous heat.

For athletes such as Anderson and U.S. teammate Jordan Wilimovsky, it’s all rather frustrating. The Olympics is the one chance for their obscure sport to really shine. Instead, they’re being asked whether it should be moved to a cooler location.

“It’s been really frustrating,” Anderson said Thursday night after competing in the U.S. Open, which is being held at Georgia Tech. “No one wants to know how we’re doing, how we’re preparing. It’s all about the conditions.”

Not that she’s complaining about the focus on safety.

“We need to talk about it,” Anderson said. “I’m glad people are starting to speak out and hopefully it will get people moving, because there’s no Plan B. There should always be a Plan B for any race.”

Wilimovksy remembered the 2016 competition being overshadowed by the severe pollution at Rio’s Copacabana Beach.

“It’s a little annoying that it’s come up again four years later,” he said.

Anderson competed at a test event in Tokyo Bay this past August, when sweltering conditions provided a sobering preview of what the swimmers will face next summer.

She dropped out less than a quarter of a way through the 10km race, feeling it just wasn’t safe enough to press on.

“I wasn’t comfortable,” said Anderson, a silver medalist at the 2012 London Games who already has qualified for her third Olympics. “It was warm water, warm air. One of their solutions was moving it earlier (in the day), but it doesn’t cool off that much.”

Fearing Tokyo’s blistering summer heat, the International Olympic Committee already ordered the marathon and race-walking events moved to Sapporo in northern Japan. Local organizers bristled over the decision, saying it was forced on them by the IOC and deprived the city of one of its glamour events.

Now attention has turned to open water, especially in light of very warm water temperatures recorded this past summer at the course known as “Odaiba Marine Park.”

“We already have to deal with a lot of different conditions, which I like,” Anderson said. “That’s what makes open water interesting and fun. That’s what drew me to it. But there’s a point to where it’s dangerous.”

One day, the water temperature climbed to 86.9 Fahrenheit at the Olympic venue — just under the limit of 87.8 set by swimming’s world governing body FINA. The temperatures were consistently in the 84-86 range.

There also are concerns about water quality, most notably E. coli bacteria. There are filters to help deal with the issue, but heavy rainfall exacerbates the problem.

“Hopefully they’re able to figure it out at the venue that they have,” said Wilimovsky, who will be competing in his second Olympics after finishing fifth in Rio. “Odaiba looked really cool when we were there for the site visit.”

When Anderson was asked whether the open-water races should be moved to a different location, she didn’t hesitate.

“Yes,” Anderson said. “I would love to see some options. It’s hard, because as an athlete you don’t get to choose where you race. But I just want somewhere that’s safer.”

USA Swimming officials have quietly lobbied to move the Olympic events to a lake course at the base of Mount Fuji, which would provide a striking backdrop. But Tokyo organizers have been adamant that no more events be shifted out of the city. It seems highly unlikely the IOC would try to impose another venue change at this late date.

This figures to remain a contentious issue, especially for a U.S. team that hasn’t forgotten losing one of its own.

In 2010, hot water temperatures were linked to the death of American swimmer Fran Crippen during a distance swim in the United Arab Emirates. The autopsy concluded that he died from drowning and heat exhaustion, with the possibility of a heart abnormality.

It was the first competitive death in FINA’s history, putting severe pressure on the governing body to improve safety standards.

“It’s always on our minds,” Anderson said. “Fran was always the biggest supporter of athlete safety. The biggest. That’s what he instilled in us. It’s frustrating that we’re dealing with the same issues. There have been multiple races that I’ve pulled out of because I didn’t feel safe.”

In 2016, the open-water races went on as scheduled at Copacabana. No one reported any health issues afterward.

“Instead of showcasing what open-water swimming’s about, all the questions were, ‘How do you feel about racing in dirty water?’” Wilimovsky recalled. “It turned out fine. The race was awesome. It’s just annoying that (water quality) was kind of hanging over it.”

He is confident that no one will be in harm’s way at the next Olympics.

“I trust the U.S. is not going to make us race or put us in a position to race where the water’s unsafe,” he said.

If that’s not the case, Anderson isn’t sure what she’ll do.

It’s one thing to drop out of a test event. It’s a whole different issue when an Olympic medal is on the line.

“Swimming is once every four years. It’s not like the NBA and other sports, where you have a huge event every year,” Anderson said. “It’s hard to take your competitiveness and try to take a step back. I want to do well. I want to compete at the Olympics. But at what cost?”

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MORE: Dressel recalls summer tears in Golden Goggles speech

Katie Ledecky talks swimming legacy and life in Gainesville

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OlympicTalk recently caught up with Katie Ledecky to discuss life since moving from Stanford to Florida 15 months ago, her meticulous mindset, and the legacy she continues to build.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can also catch an encore presentation of Ledecky’s performance at the 2022 U.S. Open this Saturday at 4:30 pm ET on NBC.

What does a typical day look like for you Gainesville? Walk me through a full day starting from the minute your alarm clock goes off.

Ledecky: A typical day would be waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning and swimming from 6 to 8. Then I have weights from 8 to 9:15. I get breakfast, have lunch and then take a nap. Then I have practice again at 2 or 3 in the afternoon for another two hours.

Wow, that sounds incredibly busy! Have you had a chance to find any new favorite places to eat in Gainesville?

Ledecky: I’m still kind of finding my spots. There is a breakfast spot pretty close to campus that a lot of the swimmers like, so I go there quite a bit, but I’m still looking. I haven’t gone to very many places more than once.

What are you doing in your free time? Are you coaching?

Ledecky: Yes, I’m volunteering with the [University of Florida] team, but I think of myself more as a teammate. I have a lot of other things going on with sponsorships, but aside from that, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I have a piano and enjoy playing that!

How often do you get to see your family?

Ledecky: My parents, David and Mary, still live in the D.C. area, and then my brother, Michael, lives in New York, so I’m a lot closer to home [than at Stanford]. I see them around the holidays, and they come to a lot of my swim meets.

I know how much you love to stay academically engaged. Are you taking any classes at the University of Florida?

Ledecky: I’m not taking any classes right now. I’m taking a break, but I’m still trying to learn as much as I can just in other areas, reading a lot and watching the news, following different things that I’m interested in. I think at some point, I’ll probably go to grad school, but I’m still figuring out what area that would be in right now.

There’s a quote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I feel like that only scratches the surface of describing your work ethic and mindset. You demand excellence in every area of your life, not just from yourself, but from others around you. Can you talk about where that mindset comes from?

Ledecky: I’ve always had that kind of a mindset. I’m very driven, and I’m always setting new goals for myself no matter what I’ve achieved in the past. I’m always looking forward, I don’t take very many breaks, and so it’s always on to the next goal and making sure I’m doing the little things right and doing the things I need to do to reach my goals.

To be able to perform at the level that you do every single day takes a lot of mental toughness. What do Katie Ledecky’s inner thoughts look like? What do you tell yourself? Any affirmations? 

Ledecky: I try to stay positive no matter how well or how poorly a practice or a race is going. When I’m swimming, I give myself positive mental pep talks along the way throughout a race. I’ll say “keep it up,” “hold pace” or “hit this turn.”

I just want to read you a few tweets… 

You idolized Michael Phelps when you were younger, and now you’re that person for a lot of people. You’re the GOAT. You’re Katie Ledecky. Someone’s idol. What does that feel like?

Ledecky: It’s an honor to have young swimmers look up to me, and I don’t take that lightly. I try to be a good role model and reach out to young kids and sign autographs and take photos if people approach me at swim meets. I hope that there are some young swimmers out there that will grow up to be champions or maybe they’ll just continue to love the sport or find other things that they’re passionate about, but it’s an honor.

Have you had any memorable interactions with young swimmers?

Ledecky:  Yeah, actually the World Cup in Indianapolis [in November]. We were given those giant checks at the end of the meet that you really can’t travel with, so I was able to sign it and give it to one of the basket carriers at the meet. They were thrilled, and it was fun to be able to put a smile on their face.

Give me just one word to describe each of these milestones in your life, starting with the 2012 Olympics.

Ledecky: The first. It was my first international competition and my first gold medal, so that’s the one that’ll probably be the most special for me forever.

OLY-2012-SWIM

2016 Rio Olympics.

Ledecky: Consistency. I was swimming in multiple events at the Olympics for the first time and I just got into a really good rhythm and felt so comfortable in the pool deck. So confident. That was just a very unique feeling.

Tokyo Games.

Ledecky: Tokyo was different with all the COVID protocols. Nobody in the stands. No family there. But it was a lot of fun still, so a lot of great memories with my teammates there.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind at the end of your career? What do you want to be remembered for?

Ledecky: I’d like to be remembered as somebody that worked really hard and gave my best effort every time I got up on the blocks and represented Team USA. Hopefully, I can continue to inspire young kids to work hard in whatever it is that they are passionate about, whether that’s something academic, athletic, or something else. If you find something that you really love, you should go all in on it and try to be the best you can be at it.

You’ve achieved so much in life already personally and professionally, I just want to ask: Are you genuinely happy? Are you satisfied in this season of life right now?

Ledecky: Oh yeah, I’m very happy. I love the sport more and more every year. I get a little sad thinking about the day I will eventually retire–which isn’t anytime soon. I love the sport. I’m trying to just enjoy every day of training and racing and trying to be the best that I can be.

I say this all the time, I never imagined I would even make it to one Olympics and so to be training now to try to qualify for a fourth Olympics is it’s all just icing on the cake at this point and something that I truly enjoy. I enjoy doing it with my teammates, striving for similar goals, and getting to do it with really great people.

Knowing all that you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self — the little Palisades Porpoise?

Ledecky: I don’t have very many regrets or anything in my career, so I think I would just continue to tell myself to have fun and enjoy every moment. Maybe, write down a little bit more early on. I’ve done a better job of journaling and writing down different things so that I can remember them down the road, but I didn’t do as good of a job in 2012 and 2013.

Rapid-fire questions. Race day hype song? 

Ledecky: “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen.

Finish this sentence: I’m not ready for a meet without … 

Ledecky: My suit, cap and goggles.

Did you have AIM back in the day? What was your embarrassing screen name?

Ledecky: I didn’t. I didn’t even have a cell phone until before the London Olympics. I think I actually borrowed my brother’s phone for that, and then we went out and bought an iPad so that I could FaceTime my family from London. I didn’t have an email account either until high school.

Your life is on the line. You need to sing one karaoke song to save it. What are you picking?

Ledecky: Well, USA Swimming did carpool karaoke in 2016 before the Olympics. My car did “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, which is a great karaoke song because it’s like 10 minutes long so maybe I would choose that just as a fun memory. We also did “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen in 2012. Those are two fun songs with some fond memories.

Post-workout meal?

Ledecky: After morning practice, eggs and toast or veggies and eggs. I love breakfast. I could eat breakfast food for all three meals and I’d be satisfied.

Cheat meal? 

Ledecky: Either pizza or a burger.

If you had to choose another Olympic sport to compete in what would it be and why? 

Ledecky: Probably hockey. I’m not good on skates, but it’s my favorite sport to watch.

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Marie-Philip Poulin is first female hockey player to win Canada Athlete of the Year

Marie-Philip Poulin
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Marie-Philip Poulin became the first female hockey player to win Canada’s Athlete of the Year after captaining the national team at the Winter Olympics and winning her third gold medal.

Poulin, 31, scored twice and assisted once in Canada’s 3-2 win over the U.S. in the Olympic final on Feb. 17. She has scored seven of Canada’s 10 goals over the last four Olympic finals dating to the 2010 Vancouver Games — all against the U.S.

Nine different male hockey players won Canada Athlete of the Year — now called the Northern Star Award — since its inception in 1936, led by Wayne Gretzky‘s four titles. Sidney Crosby won it in 2007 and 2009, and Carey Price was the most recent in 2015.

Poulin is the fifth consecutive Olympic champion to win the award in an Olympic year after bobsledder Kaillie Humphries in 2014, swimmer Penny Oleksiak in 2016, moguls skier Mikaël Kingsbury in 2018 and decathlete Damian Warner in 2021.

Canada’s other gold medalists at February’s Olympics were snowboarder Max Parrot in slopestyle, plus teams in speed skating’s women’s team pursuit and short track’s men’s 5000m relay.

In men’s hockey, Cale Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in leading the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup and the Norris Trophy as the season’s best defenseman.

The Northern Star Award is annually decided by Canadian sports journalists.

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