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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French Open: Karolina Pliskova, top player sans Slam, again exits early

Karolina Pliskova
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No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova exited yet another Grand Slam in the early stages, falling to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Ostapenko, whose only match wins at the French Open before this week came in her title run three years ago, bounced the big-serving Czech 6-4, 6-2.

Pliskova put fewer than half of her first serves in play, while Ostapenko fired 27 winners to 19 unforced errors. Pliskova was on the ropes in her first round, too, needing three sets to get past an Egyptian qualifier.

“Maybe same level as the match before, but of course [Ostapenko] is much better player,” Pliskova said. “Not much to say about this match.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Later Thursday, top-ranked Novak Djokovic had a second straight win ceding just five games, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 over Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis. Djokovic undefeated in 2020 save his U.S. Open default for smacking a ball that inadvertently struck a linesperson, next gets Colombian lucky loser Daniel Elahi Galán.

Nobody else in Djokovic’s half of the draw at the start of the tournament made a French Open semifinal before.

Pliskova is the highest-ranked player of either gender (No. 4) without a Grand Slam title, yet hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a major since the 2019 Australian Open.

She’s played six Slams as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, one shy of Caroline Wozniacki‘s total before she broke through at the 2018 Australian Open and two shy of Simona Halep‘s total before she won the 2018 French Open.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, is having a very different career.

She won the 2017 Roland Garros title, two days after turning 20, while ranked 47th. She hasn’t gotten past the third round of a major since 2018 Wimbledon, including first-round French Open exits the last two years, and is back down to No. 43 in the WTA rankings.

“It’s hard to compare with 2017. As I said, it was like three years ago, and I was much younger, and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me,” Ostapenko said. “The world doesn’t stop with winning only one Grand Slam. Of course I want to achieve more, and I want to be back in top five, top 10.”

She dropped just nine games in four sets this week.

Ostapenko gets 87th-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa in third round. Badosa dispatched 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

MORE: Serena Williams ‘struggling to walk’

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix fields look very different this season

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Before Nathan Chen is expected to go for a historic fifth straight U.S. figure skating title in January, he will, in a first, compete against most of his top countrymen later this month.

Fields for the Grand Prix Series, figure skating’s autumn international circuit, were published Thursday. As expected, every top skater entered will compete in his or her home country, or nearest to where he or she trains, and in one of the six events.

Traditionally, skaters compete in two of the six events and are scattered among competitions in the U.S., Canada, France, Russia, China and Japan based on world rankings.

But the International Skating Union restricted travel this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Skaters are limited to compete locally. And the Grand Prix Final at the conclusion of the Grand Prix Series has been postponed from its scheduled December setting in Beijing.

That means that Chen vies for a record-tying fourth straight Skate America crown in Las Vegas in three weeks against a field mostly made up of countrymen, including Olympic teammate Vincent Zhou and U.S. bronze medalist Tomoki Hiwatashi.

In all, there are eight U.S. men entered in Skate America, 11 women (including past national champions Bradie Tennell and Gracie Gold), six pairs and nine ice dance couples (including U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue), plus some skaters from other nations who train in the U.S.

Traditionally, a country has no more than three entries per discipline at a Grand Prix event.

GRAND PRIX FIELDS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Sochi Olympian Jason Brown, who trains in Toronto, is entered in Skate Canada the week after Skate America.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix Series until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

All of the reigning Olympic champions are absent from the series.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan previously announced he wouldn’t compete due to virus-related travel risks. Russian Alina Zagitova extended her indefinite break from competition dating to last autumn, rather choosing to participate in a skating-themed TV series.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada retired. The German pairs’ team of Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot last competed in the 2018 Olympic season.

Instead, the headliners include Chen, the two-time world champion undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang. And a deep crop of Russian teenage women, all of course entered in the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in November.

MORE: Brian Orser reacts to Yevgenia Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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