Ryan Held

Ryan Lochte wins U.S. swimming title in return from suspension

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Ryan Lochte won the 200m individual medley on Sunday to close the U.S. Championships, his first meet back from a 14-month suspension over a social media blunder.

At 35, Lochte proved he has a chance to make a fifth Olympic team next year.

The 12-time Olympic medalist clocked 1:57.76 for his 27th national title, .12 faster than his time trial Thursday.

His time ranks 11th in the world this year and fourth among Americans (the top three — Chase Kalisz, Michael Andrew and Abrahm Devine — skipped nationals after competing at the world championships last week).

The top two at trials in June make the Olympic team.

“This was a lot easier 10 years ago,” Lochte, breathing heavily, told Tanith White on Olympic Channel moments after getting out of the pool. “I got a lot of ways to go for 2020.”

Lochte had to be satisfied, given he said he trained “maybe” four times per week in the seven weeks since the birth of his second child, daughter Liv.

“The time wasn’t that good … but it’s a good starting point,” he said. “I’m just kicking the rust off.”

Lochte was also banned from competition until late July. He was caught last year receiving an IV infusion of a legal substance that, after a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigation with Lochte’s cooperation, was deemed above the legal limit of 100 milliliters.

The probe was sparked by Lochte, for he posted a social-media image of the infusion in May 2018. Lochte had already served a 10-month ban for his Rio gas station incident.

“It’s pretty obvious now, I’m 100 percent family,” Lochte said. “That party-boy image that I used to have, I know it kind of messed me up, and it stuck with me, but that’s not me. I could care less about that lifestyle. My celebrations are picking up my son and my daughter and playing with them.”

Lochte, who went to rehab for alcohol addiction during his most recent ban, will turn 36 during the Tokyo Olympics. He will be older than all but two previous U.S. Olympic swimmers in individual events (Edgar Adams, 1904, and Dara Torres, 2008).

In other events Sunday, Madisyn Cox won the women’s 200m IM in 2:10.00, ranking her ninth in the world this year and second among Americans behind Melanie Margalis. Cox, the 2017 World bronze medalist, missed last week’s worlds after failing a 2018 drug test over what she said was a contaminated multivitamin.

Ryan Held won the 50m freestyle in 21.87, lowering his personal best twice Sunday. Held, a Rio Olympic 4x100m free champion, won the 100m free on Wednesday in a time that would have taken bronze at worlds. His 50m free was not quite as impressive but does rank him third among Americans this year behind Caeleb Dressel and Michael Andrew.

Erika Brown took the women’s 50m free in 24.71, ranking her third among Americans this year behind world champion Simone Manuel and Rio Olympian Abbey Weitzeil.

Ally McHugh completed a sweep of the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles by taking the longest distance in 16:05.98. The field lacked Katie Ledecky, whose world record is 15:20.48 in an event that debuts at the Olympics next year. McHugh ranks fourth among Americans in the 1500m this year.

Bobby Finke upset Zane Grothe in the 800m free, clocking 7:47.58, the fastest time by an American this year. Finke, who also won the 1500m free and 400m IM at nationals, would have placed eighth at worlds with that time.

The 2019-20 swimming season starts with a Tyr Pro Series stop in Greensboro, N.C., from Nov. 6-9.

MORE: Reece Whitley, long a standout swimmer, breaks through at nationals

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Ryan Held, after lean years post Rio, now among world’s fastest swimmers

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Ryan Held had been a missing man since his viral Rio Olympic podium experience, when he broke down into tears and was consoled by Michael Phelps. He re-emerged Wednesday with the fastest-ever 100m freestyles in a U.S. pool.

Held won the 100m free at the U.S. Championships in Palo Alto, Calif., in 47.39 seconds, ranking him third in the world this year. Only American Caeleb Dressel and Australian Kyle Chalmers, who went one-two at last week’s world championships, have been faster in 2019.

Held swam 47.43 in the morning prelims, which also went under the previous fastest time in a U.S. pool set by Nathan Adrian at the 2016 Olympic Trials. Now, only Dressel and David Walters rank ahead of Held on the U.S. all-time 100m free list in any pool worldwide.

Quite a turnaround for Held. He was a surprise third in the 100m free at the 2016 trials to earn a spot on the 4x100m free relay that took gold in Rio. He then finished sixth and eighth in the 100m free at the last two national championships. Held lowered his personal best from 48.26.

“Those two races, this morning and afternoon, had like two years of disappointment, bad summers built up,” Held told Tanith White on NBCSN, adding later that he was sick and burnout from swimming last summer before making a coaching change. “This was finally the summer that it all came together.”

Dressel was originally entered in the 100m free but scratched after a busy world championships last week in South Korea where he earned six gold medals and eight total medals.

Held attributed to Dressel the motivation for other U.S. sprinters to improve going toward the Olympic year. Dressel has lowered Walters’ 2009 American record three times from 47.33 to 46.96, just .05 off the world record.

“A single tide raises all ships,” Held said on USA Swimming’s Deck Pass Live. “Caeleb just pushing the bar that much further. It was like, well, I’ve got to beat him. I’ve got to put the pedal to the metal.”

MORE: U.S. Swimming Champs TV Schedule

In other events, 17-year-old Regan Smith won the women’s 200m butterfly in 2:07.26.

Smith, who broke the 100m and 200m backstroke world records at last week’s world championships, swam an off-stroke but still topped a field that included world 200m fly bronze medalist Katie Drabot. Smith’s time ranks her No. 6 in the world this year and third among Americans behind world silver medalist Hali Flickinger and Drabot.

Luca Urlando took the men’s 200m fly, as expected, in 1:54.92. The 17-year-old ranks third in the world this year with a 1:53.84 from June, when he broke Phelps’ national age-group record.

But Urlando was not at last week’s worlds as that team was decided in 2018. Last summer, Urlando was the highest-ranking U.S. swimmer not to make the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships team, though it was initially announced that he did make it.

Had Urlando made Pan Pacs and then swum .17 faster there than he did at nationals, he would have made the team for July’s world championships. Urlando went to Junior Pan Pacs instead last summer and did not swim faster than at nationals.

Should Urlando, the grandson of an Italian Olympic hammer thrower, make the Tokyo Games, he is in line to be the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Phelps made his Olympic debut.

Olympian Abbey Weitzeil took a women’s 100m free that lacked Olympic and world champion Simone Manuel. Weitzeil, who was seventh at the Rio Games, swam a personal-best 53.18, which ranks her ninth in the world this year.

MORE: Dana Vollmer details swimming retirement

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