Becca Meyers wants more Paralympic gold and an Olympic Trials spot

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Becca Meyers normally swims six days a week, totaling up to 50,000 meters. The coronavirus pandemic put a stop to that.

Meyers, the greatest distance swimmer in her Paralympic classification for visual impairment, spent three months out of the pool. Now, after moving from the D.C. area to her native Baltimore, she is back in the water twice a week, covering a fraction of her usual training distance.

She called it “starting from scratch.”

“I have confidence in myself,” Meyers said, “and with the help of Bruce, I know I can get back to where I need to be.”

That’s Bruce Gemmell, best known for coaching Katie Ledecky while she rewrote the distance-swimming record books in the Rio Olympic cycle. Gemmell began coaching Meyers last year, though she said it is now a virtual relationship due to her pandemic-forced relocation.

“I knew he could take me to the next level,” Meyers said.

Gemmell, who had never regularly trained a Paralympic hopeful, was convinced to add Meyers to his Nation’s Capital group after watching her swim for 20 minutes.

“She had this damn Olympic rings tattoo on the back of her rib cage,” he said. “I saw those damn rings going up and down the pool a couple of times, and I just almost immediately thought, I’ll do whatever I can do to help her out.”

They clicked right away. Meyers broke six world records in 2019 and earned four medals at the world championships across butterfly, freestyle and the individual medley.

“I don’t think I’m exaggerating it when I say she immediately reminded me of Katie,” Gemmell said. “The heck with any barriers. I don’t care what the hurdles are. This is what I want to do.

Meyers developed goals not only to earn four individual Tokyo Paralympic medals, but also to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials. USA Swimming does not have record of a Paralympian qualifying for previous Olympic Trials.

Meyers, who was born deaf with Usher syndrome, which also caused her to go blind, believes she had a great chance to become the first if the Tokyo Games had been held this summer.

Her personal bests are within three seconds of the Olympic Trials qualifying standard in the 400m freestyle, 13 seconds in the 800m free and 22 seconds in the 1500m free (a 16-minute race). The 800m and 1500m are not on the Paralympic program.

Before the pandemic, Meyers was scheduled to chase Olympic Trials qualifying times at meets in March, April, May and June.

“I feel like I was on the right track,” Meyers said.

Instead, she spent all or parts of each of those months not swimming at all. And without Gemmell after she relocated to Baltimore and re-registered as a Franklin and Marshall College history major. It’s unknown when she can return to normal training in D.C.

“[Olympic Trials] was a goal this past year, and I’m still holding onto that goal,” she said.

So much time off is not foreign to Meyers. After her Paralympic debut at age 17 in 2012, she suffered a severe concussion from a collision while circle swimming in a high school meet warm-up. She also tore all the ligaments in the back of her neck and was sidelined for two to three months.

Meyers came back to win double gold at the 2013 World Championships. At the Rio Paralympics, she earned three golds and one silver in individual events, plus broke three world records in arguably the best performance by any U.S. swimmer.

“The comparison I always made when I talked to anybody else, Becca was the Katie [Ledecky] of the Rio Paralympic Games,” Gemmell said. “That was the attitude, the dominance, the performances, the winning medals, sort of a parallel there.”

Meyers detailed the pandemic’s effect on her out of the pool in a July 5 Instagram post.

“As a deafblind person, the world has become pretty hard for me to navigate on my own,” she wrote, accompanying a photo with her guide dog, Birdie, a yellow lab/golden retriever mix. “With face coverings and physical distancing, I lose my ability to fully communicate with others and be independent. Birdie and I went on our first adventure to the store since COVID-19 changed the way we live. We have not been to a store or a public business together since the beginning of March because I was scared. Scared of the masks. Scared of the new ‘normal’ layout of the stores. Scared of not being able to hear or read someone’s lips when they communicated with me. Even though I am scared, it is a challenge that I am willing to take to own my independence.”

Meyers is searching, like many Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls forced to extend their Tokyo prep another year.

“I was in my prime,” she said. “I really am counting down the days until everything is back to normal, whatever that means.”

MORE: How the Olympics, Paralympics intersected over time

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Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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