Gregorio Paltrinieri

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U.S. men look to fill Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte void at swim worlds

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With Michael Phelps retired and Ryan Lochte suspended, the superstars at the world swimming championships clearly lie on the women’s side.

But the men’s events will include world-record chasers, a stinging rivalry and, perhaps, the emergence of Phelps and Lochte’s successor as leading U.S. man.

Caeleb Dressel came through in Rio under arguably the most pressure of any swimmer, starting off the U.S. 4x100m freestyle relay team in his very first Olympic splash with a personal-best time.

Dressel, a 20-year-old who nearly quit swimming three years ago as the No. 1 recruit in the nation, has nine events to choose from at worlds in Budapest starting Sunday.

He qualified in four individual events — 50m and 100m butterflies and freestyles — and is eligible for all five relays (two mixed-gender).

In the last 15 years, only two U.S. men have raced in four individual events at a single Olympics or world championships — Phelps and Lochte.

Dressel is in the medal mix in all of his individual events, ranking No. 1 in the world this year in the 100m fly, No. 3 in the 50m free, No. 4 in the 100m free and No. 5 in the 50m fly. He is also almost guaranteed medals in any relays that he enters given the unmatched U.S. depth.

Dressel has never been to a worlds and raced just one individual event in Rio. He’s the potential breakout star on a U.S. team, surrounded by more proven names.

SWIMMING WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Event Schedule

Ryan Murphy, who swam for the same Jacksonville, Fla., club team as Dressel, swept the backstrokes in Rio and broke the 100m back world record leading off the medley relay. That dominance has not quite carried over so far in 2017. Murphy ranks third in the world in the 100m and 200m backs this year.

Chase Kalisz, a longtime Phelps training partner in Baltimore, has followed up his Rio Olympic 400m individual medley silver medal well this year. He chopped two seconds off his personal best in the 200m IM and goes into Budapest ranked No. 1 in the world in the 400m IM by nearly a half-second.

The U.S. boasts more medal threats including Nathan Adrian (sprint freestyles), Townley Haas (200m free), Cody Miller and Kevin Cordes (breaststrokes), but nobody is a clear favorite.

The surest bets are world-record holders Adam Peaty and Ippei Watanabe in the breaststrokes and Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri in the 1500m free. Paltrinieri could challenge a five-year-old world record held by Sun Yang.

Speaking of Sun, the mercurial Chinese superstar is set to renew his rivalry with Australian Mack Horton. In Rio, Horton memorably called Sun “a drug cheat,” in reference to Sun’s three-month suspension in 2014 for using a banned stimulant.

Horton then went out and beat Sun in the 400m freestyle, dethroning the Olympic and world champion. Horton and Sun could face off in four individual events in Budapest.

Key men’s finals:

Sunday, July 23
400m freestyle — Sun has been two seconds faster than Horton this year
4x100m freestyle relay — Olympic silver medalist France won’t defend world title; U.S. favored

Monday, July 24
100m breaststroke — Peaty has the eight fastest times ever and fastest by .95 this year

Tuesday, July 25
200m freestyle — Haas the only man within .64 of Sun in 2017
100m backstroke — Rio silver medalist Xu Jiayu was .01 shy of Murphy’s WR in April

Wednesday, July 26
200m butterfly — Japan and Hungary lead the post-Phelps-era world; Chad le Clos ranks 8th in 2017
800m freestyle — Italian Gabriele Detti fastest in 2017 by six seconds, but slower than Sun’s winning times in 2011, 2013, 2015

Thursday, July 27
200m individual medley — Phelps, Lochte won the last 12 Olympic/world titles
100m freestyle — Reigning Olympic and world champions’ absences open door for Adrian, Dressel

Friday, July 28
200m backstroke — U.S. won 14 of the last 15 Olympic/world titles, including Murphy in Rio
200m breaststroke — Watanabe broke WR in January; surprise Olympic champ Dmitriy Balandin ranks No. 127 this year
4x200m freestyle relay — U.S., without Lochte, Phelps, looks to take world title back from Great Britain

Saturday, July 29
50m freestyle — Reigning Olympic and world champions’ absences open door for Adrian, Dressel
100m butterfly — Joseph Schooling eyes Phelps’ WR, but Dressel ranks No. 1 in 2017

Sunday, July 30
400m individual medley — Kalisz ranks No. 1 in 2017, but time is .94 slower than Kosuke Hagino in Rio
1500m freestyle — Sun holds WR of 14:31 but hasn’t broken 14:55 since 2014
4x100m medley relay — Great Britain will lean on Peaty to challenge U.S.

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Sun Yang afraid of losing to me, Gregorio Paltrinieri says

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ROME (AP) — Gregorio Paltrinieri won’t be surprised again by Sun Yang.

The Italian swimmer recovered from his initial shock over his Chinese rival’s last-minute no-show to win the longest race in the pool at this year’s World Championships.

For next year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Paltrinieri is already considering the possibility that Sun won’t enter the 1500m freestyle at all.

“It would be great if for once I could really race him stroke for stroke. I’m not afraid of a showdown with him. In fact I would relish that,” Paltrinieri said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

“But I’ve also got to realize that he might not enter,” Paltrinieri added. “I’ve got to keep the option open in my mind that if he doesn’t race I’m going to be the favorite in an Olympic final and all eyes are going to be on me just like everyone was watching Sun Yang before.”

At the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, in August, Sun created chaos in the ready room when he failed to show up for the final of an event that he had dominated for five years.

Sun attributed the no-show to a heart problem but he also got into an altercation with a Brazilian swimmer in the warmup pool on the day of the final.

There were already questions over Sun’s form since he served a three-month doping suspension last year for a banned stimulant. And he didn’t dominate as usual in the 800 free, coming from behind over the last two laps to narrowly edge Paltrinieri for gold.

Three months later, Paltrinieri suspects Sun was afraid of losing.

“It could have been that he was ill. I’m not doubting that. But he was definitely tense and nervous. I had finished this close to him in the 800,” Paltrinieri said, holding his hands less than a meter (yard) apart. “And in the 1500 heats I had beat him by a lot. So I think he just wasn’t so sure anymore that he could win the 1500. And that must have been a factor.”

Since neither Sun nor the Chinese team told organizers that he wasn’t racing, his lane remained empty for the final and reserve Pal Joensen of the Faeroe Islands was denied a chance to compete.

“I still don’t understand what happened and I don’t think we ever will,” said Stefano Morini, Paltrinieri’s coach. “The Chinese are a fairly enigmatic people and they don’t really express themselves too much. And that can be a good thing. We Italians talk too much.”

The talk about the 21-year-old Paltrinieri is that he’s one of Italy’s biggest medal hopefuls for Rio.

Since the 800m is not an Olympic event for men, the 1500m will be Paltrinieri’s only race in Rio. It will be his second Olympics, having finished fifth in the 1500m as a 17-year-old at the 2012 London Games.

Paltrinieri’s grueling workout regimen consists of 14 to 18 kilometers (9 to 11 miles) of swimming per day. His training group includes another medal hopeful, Gabriele Detti, who missed worlds due to a urinary infection.

It’s easy to spot Paltrinieri, though, because he’s the one with the frenetic stroke style.

In an Olympic-sized 50-meter pool, Paltrinieri often requires more than 40 strokes per lap. To an untrained eye, that might appear like a big waste of energy compared to Sun’s more fluid and long strokes which usually total less than 30 per lap.

But the much smaller Paltrinieri is able to produce speed by rapidly rotating the trunk of his body, much like how American standout Katie Ledecky has come to dominate the women’s events in freestyle.

“It’s like a surfer who’s always on top of the wave,” Paltrinieri said.

Another comparison could be made to the way Tour de France winner Chris Froome pedals much more rapidly up mountains than traditional climbers.

“Everyone has their own style. Mine is an extreme one and so is Froome’s. But they’re effective,” Paltrinieri said. “The more you swim above the water the faster you go. It’s like when you’re on a motor boat bouncing up and down. Sun Yang swims underwater more than anybody else, like [Ian] Thorpe. He has enormous strength. It’s great to watch but it’s not the most effective way to swim.”

Still, Morini is working on lengthening Paltrinieri’s strokes, and they have plenty of time to discuss their plans since both coach and athlete sleep at the Italian federation’s training facility in Ostia, the Roman seaside, from Monday to Friday.

On the weekends, Paltrinieri usually goes home to Carpi, a town near Modena that was also the hometown of Dorando Pietri, the runner who was denied victory in the marathon at the 1908 London Games because officials helped him up when he collapsed just before the finish.

A century later, a statue of Pietri was erected in Carpi.

Depending on how things go for Paltrinieri in Rio, another statue might be in order – whether or not Sun races.

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