U.S. swimming trials: Races to watch with world champs spots at stake

Lydia Jacoby, Lilly King
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Five standout races at this week’s U.S. swimming international team trials in Greensboro, N.C., where the top two in most individual events make the world championships in Budapest this summer …

Women’s 200m Freestyle (Wednesday)
Katie Ledecky carries an eight-year undefeated streak in domestic freestyle races of 200 meters or longer. It doesn’t figure to be snapped in Greensboro, but usually the 200m free is the closest of her four primary events (200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees).

Allison Schmitt, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist and American record holder, was the last woman to beat Ledecky in the U.S. back in 2014. She was also second at the Olympic Trials last year, 1.68 seconds behind, but hasn’t raced since Tokyo and isn’t entered in world championships trials.

Paige Madden, 23, is the new top challenger. At Olympic Trials, she was one hundredth behind Schmitt in the 200m free and runner-up to Ledecky in the 400m free, 3.59 seconds back. This year, Madden is second-fastest in the country, 2.46 seconds behind Ledecky.

Other notables: Erin Gemmell, 17 and the daughter of Ledecky’s former D.C. area coach, and Leah Smith, the 2016 Olympic 400m free bronze medalist.

Women’s 100m Butterfly (Thursday)
Last year, an 18-year-old Torri Huske broke the American record. A 16-year-old Claire Curzan became the third-fastest American in history in this event. They went one-two at Olympic Trials, but repeating that in Greensboro may prove more difficult.

Kate Douglass, the Olympic 200m individual medley bronze medalist, beat Huske and Olympic gold medalist Maggie Mac Neil at the NCAA Championships last month, breaking the American record in short-course yards.

Then there’s Kelsi Dahlia, the fastest American butterflier in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. She was fourth at Olympic Trials and ranks second in the nation this year behind Curzan. That’s not surprising given Huske and Douglass have focused on short-course yards racing.

MORE: U.S. Swimming Trials Broadcast Schedule

Men’s 100m Butterfly (Thursday)
The most loaded of Caeleb Dressel‘s three Olympic gold medal events. Like Ledecky, Dressel is favored to leave no doubt and win his primary races (50m and 100m frees and 100m fly), but unlike Ledecky, Dressel is not known for fast times outside of major meets. So he doesn’t enter trials as the fastest American this year in any event. In the 100m fly, he ranks third in 2022.

Shaine Casas, best known for his backstroke, has been the most impressive U.S. man so far this year across all events. He has the fastest 100m fly time in the nation in 2022, though it is 1.64 seconds off Dressel’s world record from Tokyo.

If Dressel is in top form, Casas figures to fight Michael Andrew for the second spot on the world team. Andrew didn’t swim the 100m fly at Olympic Trials but ranks second in the nation this year.

Women’s 100m Breaststroke (Friday)
Lydia JacobyLilly King and Annie Lazor all won breaststroke medals in Tokyo. They’re all entered in both the 100m and 200m breast events at world championships trials, but of course only two of them can make the world team per event.

After King won Olympic Trials over Jacoby, the Alaskan high schooler took surprise gold in Tokyo. King earned 100m breast bronze and 200m breast silver at the Olympics. Lazor took bronze in the 200m breast.

This year, King has been the fastest American in the 100m by a significant 1.16 seconds over training partner Lazor, with Jacoby in third.

Men’s 200m Individual Medley (Saturday)
The top five from the Olympic Trials are entered, but Casas, who didn’t swim it in Omaha, has been faster than all of them in 2022. He could race this event after contesting the 200m back, 100m fly and 100m back the preceding three days in Greensboro, bringing stamina into the equation.

Chase Kalisz, the Olympic 400m IM champion, hasn’t raced that longer distance since Tokyo, so he could be putting all of his IM eggs in the 200m basket.

Andrew, who distanced Kalisz by 1.53 seconds at Olympic Trials, ranks third in the nation this year behind Casas and Kalisz. But he’s questionable to race the 200m IM at the end of what could be a busy week in shorter events.

Carson Foster, a University of Texas sophomore, missed the Tokyo Olympic team, then swam a 400m IM time the day before the Olympic final that would have won gold by nearly a second. He’s favored to make the team in the longer distance, but in the 200m IM, he’s among a pack of contenders.

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IOC looks for ways for Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ to compete as neutrals

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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with older veterans — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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