Michael Andrew, after tough 2019, swims faster than ever to start 2020

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Michael Andrew, the breakthrough U.S. swimmer of 2018, summed his 2019 in an Instagram caption.

“Super cool to be the first man in history to final in all four 50s [50m events] at a world Champs,” he posted last summer, “but unfortunately no individual medals.”

Andrew, who made national news turning professional at age 14 in 2013, made waves in his first Tyr Pro Series final of the Olympic year.

He won the 100m breaststroke in 59.14 seconds, lowering his personal best by .24 in Des Moines on Thursday. He beat a field including every other American to make an Olympic or world team in the event dating to 2013.

Andrew put the domestic swim scene on notice, three months before the Olympic Trials, where the top two per individual event qualify for the Tokyo Games.

“That was huge,” Andrew said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “As an elite athlete, we always want more, so I’m already thinking about all the things I did wrong.”

What he did right recently: studying the stroke of Adam Peaty, the Brit who owns the 17 fastest times in history.

“Just trying to figure out how to maximize my body for all it’s worth in the pool, and I think we’re getting close to it,” said Andrew, who won the 100m breast at 2018 Nationals but was 19th at 2019 Worlds. “I think that 58 [-second barrier] is going to be an easy one to break.”

The Pro Series stop continues with more finals Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. Full results are here.

In other Thursday events, Katie Ledecky won the 400m free by 7.15 seconds in 3:59.66. Ledecky is one of three women to ever break four minutes in the event, which she has now done 19 times.

“I’m really locked in right now,” said Ledecky, whose world record from the Rio Olympics is 3:56.46.

World silver medalist Hali Flickinger won the 200m butterfly in 2:06.11, her third-fastest time ever. Regan Smith, the 18-year-old who broke both backstroke world records at the 2019 Worlds, took second in 2:06.39, taking .87 off her personal best. Smith improved to second-fastest in the world since the start of 2019, trailing only Flickinger.

The women’s 200m fly is the only Olympic pool swimming event where the U.S. did not earn a medal in at least one of the last two Games. In fact, its last medal was Misty Hyman‘s gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. But with Flickinger, Smith and Katie Drabot, the U.S. now has the world’s three fastest in the event since the start of 2019.

Olympic and world champion Lilly King won the 100m breast in 1:05.74, a time bettered since the start of 2018 by only herself and Russian rival Yuliya Efimova.

Olympic and world champion Simone Manuel was upset by Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey in the 100m freestyle. Haughey clocked a national record 53.30, edging Manuel by .25. Manuel won last year’s world title in 52.04, an American record.

Zach Apple won the men’s 100m free after Nathan Adrian and Caeleb Dressel failed to qualify for the eight-man A final out of the morning heats. Apple touched in 48.59, edging Adrian’s winning time from the B final.

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Salwa Eid Naser, world 400m champion, provisionally banned

Salwa Eid Naser
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Salwa Eid Naser, the world 400m champion of Bahrain, was provisionally suspended for missing three drug tests in a 12-month span.

“I’ve never been a cheat. I will never be,” Naser, 22, said in an Instagram live video. “I only missed three drug tests, which is normal. It happens. It can happen to anybody. I don’t want people to get confused in all this because I would never cheat.”

Naser said “the missed tests” came before last autumn’s world championships, where she ran the third-fastest time in history (48.14 seconds) and the fastest in 34 years.

“This year I have not been drug tested,” she said. “We are still talking about the ones of last season before the world championships.”

The Athletics Integrity Unit, which handles doping cases for track and field, did not announce whether Naser’s gold medal could be stripped.

“Hopefully, it’ll get resolved because I don’t really like the image, but it has happened,” she said. “It’s going to be fine. It’s very hard to have this little stain on my name.”

Naser, the 2017 World silver medalist, upset Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas for the world title in Doha on Oct. 3.

The only women who have run faster than Naser, who was born Ebelechukwu Agbapuonwu in Nigeria to a Nigerian mother who sprinted and a Bahraini father, were dubious — East German Marita Koch (47.60) and Czechoslovakia’s Jarmila Kratochvilova (47.99).

“I would never take performance-enhancing drugs,” Naser said. “I believe in talent, and I know I have the talent.”

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When Laurie Hernandez winked at the Olympics

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Blink, and you may have missed one of the social-media-sensation moments of the Rio Olympics.

Laurie Hernandez, then 16, was the youngest woman on the U.S. Olympic team across all sports. She was about to start arguably the most important floor exercise routine of her life.

So, she winked.

“The amazing thing about the Olympics is that you feel so many different emotions in the span of a few days, and they are all intense,” she wrote in her 2017 book, “I Got This,” a nod to what she told herself before her balance beam routine earlier that night. “So it was nice to have at least one totally playful moment.”

The U.S., on its fourth and final rotation, already had the team gold all but locked up. Knowing she was nervous, Hernandez’s teammates confirmed to her that they were a few points ahead.

Then Hernandez heard the beep, and it was time to go. She was in the view of an out-of-bounds judge at the Rio Olympic Arena.

“Well, I looked straight at her and suddenly felt this surge of confidence to wink,” she wrote. “Later, a woman came up to me while I was watching Simone [Biles] and Aly [Raisman] compete in their all-around finals and she said, ‘Wow, I just want you to know that when you winked at the judge, it really worked.’ I didn’t know how to respond, so I just said, ‘Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.’ That’s when she told me she was the out-of-bounds judge! All I could say was ‘Oh my goodness.'”

Hernandez, a New Jersey native, finished the Olympics with a team gold and balance beam silver.

She took more than two years off before making a comeback in earnest last year, announcing she planned to return to competition this spring under new coaches in California. Now that’s on hold given the coronavirus pandemic, which pushed the Tokyo Olympics to 2021.

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