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NCAA Track and Field Championships produce world leaders

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The U.S., already boasting its greatest bevy of young sprint talent in more than a decade, should anticipate another pair of new names on the international scene this summer.

LSU’s Sha’Carri Richardson and Florida’s Grant Holloway posted record-breaking performances at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Austin over the weekend.

Richardson, a 19-year-old freshman, won Saturday’s 100m in 10.75 seconds, making her the ninth-fastest woman in history. About 45 minutes later, Richardson broke Allyson Felix‘s 14-year-old world junior record in the 200m, finishing second in 22.17.

Richardson, MileSplit’s No. 1 high school female sprint recruit last year, took a half-second off her 100m personal best since May 24. She’s now the fastest woman in the world this year and the second-fastest for this Olympic cycle, trailing only Jamaican Olympic champion Elaine Thompson.

In the 200m, Richardson ranks second in the world this year behind the woman who beat her at NCAAs — USC junior Anglerne Annelus.

Richardson didn’t commit to racing at next month’s USATF Outdoor Championships in a Saturday night media session. But should she compete in Des Moines, she would be favored to make the world championships team in the 100m, if not both the 100m and the 200m.

Come next summer, Richardson will still be younger than any previous U.S. Olympic 100m sprinter since 1976.

The emergence of not only Richardson, but also 2018 NCAA 100m champion Aleia Hobbs (also of LSU) puts 2017 World champion Tori Bowie on notice. Bowie has a bye into this year’s world championships as defending champion, which is all the more key as she returns from a torn quad.

Holloway, the son of a retired Naval officer and school teacher, came to NCAAs already sharing the fastest 110m hurdles time in the world this year with Kentucky rival Daniel Roberts. But Holloway, who swept the 60m and 110m NCAA titles in 2017 and 2018, had his best night ever on Friday.

In a 150-minute span, Holloway was part of a collegiate-record-breaking 4x100m, broke Renaldo Nehemiah‘s 40-year-old NCAA record in the 110m hurdles (12.98) and posted the only sub-44 split in the 4x400m (43.75).

“Grant has become kind of the face of the sport,” distant cousin and Florida coach Mike Holloway told media afterward, adding that it was time for his pupil to turn pro.

Holloway became the first American to break 13 seconds in the hurdles in nearly four years, ending the once-dominant hurdles nation’s longest drought since 1995. Remember, the U.S. failed to earn a 110m hurdles medal in 2016 for the first time in Olympic history (boycotted 1980 Games aside).

Holloway also became the third man worldwide to break 13 in this Olympic cycle. The others are Rio gold medalist Omar McLeod of Jamaica and 2015 World champion Sergey Shubenkov of Russia.

Holloway and Roberts (who tied Nehemiah’s old record) will make it all the more challenging for 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder Aries Merritt to make another Olympic or world team.

Merritt, 33, missed the Rio Games by .01 at trials, 10 months after a kidney transplant. Merritt was the fastest American in 2017 but dropped to seventh last year and has raced just once since last July 22 due to knee surgery.

One other sprinter dazzled at NCAAs: Nigerian Divine Oduduru clocked 9.86 in the 100m and 19.73 in the 200m in a 45-minute span. Only Justin Gatlin has run faster 100m and 200m times on the same day.

Oduduru, the youngest of 10 children from a rural village, tied two of those young U.S. sprint stars, Noah Lyles and Christian Coleman, for the fastest 100m in the world this year. His 200m ranks behind only American Michael Norman and Lyles (who are both college age but turned pro).

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Caeleb Dressel shatters 50 freestyle record, goes sub-18 twice (video)

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Caeleb Dressel staked his claim as the world’s greatest swimmer last year. He’s off to a pretty good start this year, too.

Dressel, who matched Michael Phelps‘ record with seven gold medals at the 2017 World Championships, shattered his own NCAA and American records in the 50-yard freestyle at the NCAA Championships on Thursday night.

The University of Florida senior became the first swimmer to break 18 seconds in the event, which is contested in a 25-yard pool rather than the 50-meter pool used for major international meets like the Olympics.

Dressel came into Thursday with the 11 fastest times ever, holding the NCAA and American record with an 18.20.

Then Dressel clocked 18.11 in Thursday morning’s preliminary session.

In the evening finals, he led off UF’s 200-yard free relay team with a 17.81, igniting a roar from the crowd at the University of Minnesota. About 50 minutes later, Dressel clocked 17.63 to win the individual 50 free, hitting his pre-meet goal time.

“There needs to be a fine line between goal setting and laughter,” said Dressel, who kneels, says a prayer and talks to himself before races to stay calm. “I don’t think you should sell yourself short. This meet, I think 17.6 was a perfect swim. There’s still room to improve. I think both of my breakouts were still pretty bad.”

In eight hours, Dressel chopped more than a half-second off the world record in the shortest race in swimming. He won the 50 free final by 1.01 seconds over Olympic 4x100m free relay teammate Ryan Held.

In comparison, the difference between NCAA women’s 50 free winner Simone Manuel and 11th place was .96.

Dressel is .84 faster than anyone else in history in this event (second place is 50m and 100m freestyle world-record holder Cesar Cielo of Brazil from his college days at Auburn), granted it’s not swum on the major international level.

Still, in comparison, the gap between the women’s 50-yard free record holder (Manuel) and the No. 63 woman on the all-time list is also .84, according to USA Swimming’s online records.

“I know probably everybody in the world of swimming expected 17.9, but I don’t really care about other people’s expectations,” Dressel said. “I want to set my own and put my own pressure on myself. I actually deleted all my social media, so I don’t know what people are saying. I don’t have a clue. It’s kind of nice actually, you guys should try it. I don’t have any apps on my phone. It’s very freeing.”

Dressel’s time drops in the last year have been astounding. At 2017 Worlds, he lowered his 100m free personal best from 47.91 (Rio Olympics) to 47.17. In the 100m butterfly, from 50.87 (2017 Nationals) to 49.86. In the 50m freestyle, from 21.53 (2017 Nationals) to 21.15.

“It’s not a shock. He’s incredible,” Lochte, who was in attendance in Minnesota, said on Thursday night, according to FloridaGators.com. “He is the next ‘you name it.’ He is the face of swimming from now on.”

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Bridget Sloan eyes final NCAA season, 8 years after Olympic silver

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In 2012, Bridget Sloan‘s eyes welled as she came to grips with the end of her elite gymnastics career, speaking about withdrawing shortly before competition began at the U.S. Olympic trials in San Jose.

“Everything happens for a reason, so this was just kind of my time,” said Sloan, the youngest member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team who had just ended her bid to make back-to-back Olympic teams due to an elbow injury.

Sloan breathed deeply. Then came another question — are you optimistic that you’ll compete for the University of Florida in 2013?

Sloan smiled.

“Oh, heck yeah,” she said, swatting her right hand. “I do not like to go down without a fight. … I’ll head down to Florida, have a great time, and I will win NCAAs. I plan on going down to school and taking names.”

Sloan did just that in her first three years in Gainesville and is beginning the final season of one of the most decorated careers in the sport’s history.

No other gymnast comes close to Sloan’s résumé — an Olympic medal (silver with the U.S. in Beijing), a World all-around title (in 2009), an NCAA all-around title (2013) and three NCAA team titles (2013, 2014, 2015).

And it’s hard to believe many Olympians in any sports taking part in NCAA competition more than seven years after an Olympic appearance. Tasha Schwikert, the youngest member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, competed for UCLA through 2008.

The UF gymnastics season began with an intrasquad meet on Thursday. Full-fledged competition starts Jan. 8. Sloan, 23, who started elite-level gymnastics at age 10, will perform her last routine no later than the NCAA Championships in mid-April.

“I don’t really know if I’ll be that emotional,” Sloan said recently, sitting on a couch outside of an indoor UF practice facility with her image decorating the walls in no fewer than seven places. “I kind of have already been through this with elite. Once that elite career is over, I was like peace out I’m going to college. So many people were like, ‘Are you going to be sad that your [elite] career ended the way it did?’ Obviously it could have ended a little differently, but I am very good at putting all of my memories in little compartments in my brain.”

Sloan verbally committed to Florida in 2011, but she first chose college gymnastics over turning professional soon after winning the 2009 World all-around title.

“I really had to think about, did I want to do college, or did I want to take money?” Sloan said of possibly giving up the opportunity for a Division I scholarship. “And it was actually a really hard decision for me simply because the money was there, I thought it was a lot of money, but in my parents’ eyes, it wasn’t enough to pay for college and have a good amount left over after college.

“So it kind of came down to all right, do I want gymnastics to be a job, or do I want to continue to compete, graduate [from high school in Indiana], figure out if I want to try for 2012 and then go off to college? … If I would’ve taken money in 2009, I would not be a three-time national [team] champion, I would not be a Florida Gator, I’d be living with my parents at home, because I would have no money, because after 2009 was when my injuries started.”

Sloan couldn’t defend her U.S. all-around title in 2010 due to an ankle injury and a torn pectoral but made it back for the 2011 Pan American Games, which proved to be her final international competition.

She enrolled at Florida after the teary withdrawal from the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials, transitioned to college gymnastics (generally less difficult routines but a much busier competition schedule) and won the NCAA all-around title as a freshman.

Sloan’s biggest setback at UF came Jan. 11, when she suffered a severe right ankle sprain on her final tumbling pass at a meet at Ball State, about 70 miles east of her Pittsboro, Ind., hometown.

She was fitted with a walking boot and crutches yet returned to compete Feb. 20. Then, on March 13, Sloan scored a perfect 10 on uneven bars to become the eighth gymnast to record a “GymSlam,” recording 10s on all four events in her NCAA career.

Other Olympians like Schwikert and 2004 team members Courtney Kupets, Terin Humphrey and Courtney McCool went on to compete in college.

But more recent U.S. Olympic women’s gymnasts are bypassing NCAA by turning pro — such as four of the five 2012 team members — and, already, top 2016 hopeful Simone Biles.

“There are way more professional than there were in my time,” Sloan said. “Growing up, you had a select few. I remember [2004 Olympic all-around champion] Carly Patterson was a professional gymnast, it just blew my mind. I can’t even imagine getting paid for doing gymnastics. Again, it turns into your job. I didn’t want to take the fun out of gymnastics. College has been a way for me to put the fun back into gymnastics.

“There are some girls that took the money, and it’s done amazing things for them, which I applaud them in that, but it’s very difficult to get that.”

Such as Jordyn Wieber, who won the 2011 World all-around title, turned pro and then missed the 2012 Olympic all-around final.

Wieber enrolled at UCLA and helps as a team manager as she’s not allowed to compete.

“I’ve spoken to Jordyn,” Sloan said. “She’s so happy where she’s at. I think she’s very content at getting this amazing college experience. 

“There are some girls that you never even knew took money. Those are the girls that I feel for a little bit because I wish they would have gotten that college experience.”

Sloan said she may want to continue in the sport in a non-competitive capacity after she graduates from UF. A communications major who has learned from the likes of Chad Ochocinco, she’d like to work for Nike or commentate for the SEC Network.

But first is one more season.

It comes after Marvin Sharp, her longtime Indiana coach until Sloan left for UF, was found dead in his jail cell in September, less than a month after being arrested on child molestation charges.

“All the happenings involving Marvin this fall was stunning,” Sloan said, according to the University of Florida Athletic Association. “Marvin was my coach. He helped me reach my goals. Marvin also helped me set goals I perhaps didn’t realize were in my reach, like the Olympics or World Championships. What happened this fall with Marvin is probably something I’ll never fully understand.”

Sloan’s drive, when she could rest on her unequaled accolades, is evident in her attempts to upgrade difficulty in her routines in practice this fall.

It’s left an impression on UF coach Jenny Rowland, hired in May after Rhonda Faehn left Gainesville to become the senior vice president of USA Gymnastics’ women’s program.

Rowland said she was a judge at Sloan’s first international competition at age 12.

“The athlete that Bridget was in Beijing, really, I would say she still has that exact same competitive nature today,” Rowland said“She’s very vocal that she’s the grandma of the group, but at the same time she never complains about it.”

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*Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated Sloan was the seventh gymnast to complete a “GymSlam.”

*Clarification: A reference to a change in Sloan’s USA Gymnastics biography page in an earlier version of this post has been deleted as the change was computer-generated, according to USA Gymnastics.