Swimmer Shaine Casas missed the Olympics, then made a rare move

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Shaine Casas missed the Olympic team last year, then did something usually reserved for Olympians. He turned professional.

Casas, a 22-year-old former Texas A&M standout, has openly stated that his biggest motivation stems from last June’s Olympic Trials, when he finished third at a meet where the top two make the team.

He then took two months off from swimming, avoided watching the Olympics — “I didn’t want to relive my biggest failure,” he said. — and, after first entering the NCAA transfer portal, eventually turned professional instead, moving from College Station to Austin.

“Everybody probably assumes, how could he do this, he’s betraying the school, all this stuff,” Casas said on a SwimSwam podcast in January. “It’s not personal. This is business. If you want to be good in this sport, you’ve got to make the hard decision.”

The early 2022 returns back that up.

In two Pro Series meets this year, Casas owns wins in the 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly against fields that included Olympic gold medalist Caeleb Dressel. The latter came on Thursday, the first full night of finals at the San Antonio stop, the last top-level meet before the world championships trials in four weeks.

PRO SERIES: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

“I’m aware that they’re in the heat,” Casas, who clocked 51.09, said of Dressel, who touched in 51.79, and fellow national teamers Coleman Stewart and Michael Andrew, “but I just kind of zone out and do my thing.”

In his four best events, Casas must contend with a countryman who won the Olympic title in either 2016 or 2021. Casas now ranks No. 1 in the nation this year in the 100m fly and 100m free — Dressel’s territory — and second in the 100m and 200m backstrokes, his signature stroke. Only Ryan Murphy, who swept the backstroke golds at the 2016 Olympics, has been faster there.

“I understand that they’re still right above me,” Casas said on retired Australian Olympian and former Auburn coach Brett Hawke‘s podcast. “No matter how long it takes, I’ll try my best to beat them. I definitely respect their position, their excellence and their performance.”

USA Swimming believes Casas is the first American male swimmer to cut short an NCAA career to turn pro since fellow backstroke star Aaron Peirsol in 2004. Peirsol went to the University of Texas, where Casas now trains under the same coach, the legendary Eddie Reese.

Michael Phelps and Michael Andrew also turned pro since 2000, both doing so before enrolling in college.

Casas, who is 6-foot-4, has dunked and owns several Michael Jordan posters, said he didn’t take swimming seriously until college. Casas blossomed at Texas A&M under a staff that included Jason Calanog — Dressel’s prep coach.

But he said he was complacent going into the Olympic Trials, a mindset that manifested in bouncing off lane lines during races. Casas entered as the second-fastest American in the 200m backstroke for the year, then swam 1.85 seconds slower than his personal best. He said the meet felt like getting punched in the mouth.

“If people ask me, I have no problem telling them I just wasn’t prepared enough,” he said. “It was my fault.”

Then came the move, a two-hour drive west.

“Not that I wanted to go, I needed to go,” he said. “I had to leave to continue getting better.”

Casas is one of the swimmers most thankful that this year’s world championships, which were for a time postponed to summer 2023, were rescheduled for June in Budapest.

“It’s kind of the summer to prove yourself for the guys that didn’t make the team,” he said.

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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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