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U.S. Olympic team qualifying, selection races to watch in 2020

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A look at some intriguing races for U.S. Olympic team spots as the final six months of qualifying begin …

Basketball
Men’s Guards

The last four seasons, every guard on every All-NBA team was an American. Thirteen different players combined to take up those spots. All 13 are part of USA Basketball’s national team pool. Maybe five will go to Tokyo. The group to choose from includes those with Olympic experience such as James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and Russell Westbrook. And those without, like Stephen CurryDamian Lillard and Kemba Walker.

Beach Volleyball
Kerri Walsh Jennings/Brooke Sweat vs. Kelly Claes/Sarah Sponcil

Two U.S. women’s beach teams will qualify for Tokyo. April Ross and Alix Klineman are comfortably in first place in the standings. The triple Olympic champion Walsh Jennings and new partner Sweat are second in Olympic qualifying more than halfway through, but third-place Claes and Sponcil are within striking distance. The race likely will not be decided before the last stretch of four- and five-star tournaments in late May and early June.

Equestrian
Women’s Jumping

Could this be Jessica Springsteen‘s year? The daughter of rocker Bruce Springsteen recently cracked the top four of the U.S. rider rankings for the first time in at least two and a half years, though she is seventh among Americans in the international rankings. The U.S. Olympic team of three riders (plus an alternate) will be chosen in June. The usual suspects — Kent Farrington, Beezie Madden and McLain Ward, all at least 10 years older than the 28-year-old Springsteen — remain at or near the top of the rankings.

Fencing
Men’s Foil

The U.S. boasts four of the world’s top 10 — Race Imboden (2), Gerek Meinhardt (6), Alexander Massialas (7) and Nick Itkin (10) — plus 2012 and 2016 Olympian Miles Chamley-Watson. But only three per nation can compete individually at the Olympics. The top three in national team point standings come April go to Tokyo. The U.S. is looking for its first men’s Olympic fencing title since 1904.

Golf
Tiger Woods vs. Dustin Johnson vs. Justin Thomas vs. Gary Woodland vs. Brooks Koepka vs. Others

The U.S. will qualify the maximum four men’s golfers for Tokyo, but the names are unknown to start 2020. The Official World Golf Ranking after the U.S. Open in June determines the Olympic field. The current OWGR (which includes results that aren’t part of Olympic qualification) has the top four as Koepka, Thomas, Johnson and Woods. But golf rankings guru @VC606’s projection, which excludes results before the Olympic qualifying window, has Woods in fifth place and Johnson in sixth, replaced by Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. Every result could be critical this winter and spring, making Woods’ decision to skip this week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions (with its limited field and guaranteed ranking points with no cut) even more noteworthy.

Gymnastics
Laurie Hernandez vs. Newcomers

Assuming Simone Biles leads the four-woman U.S. team (plus two women in individual events), there is one other returning Olympian hoping to join her. Hernandez hasn’t competed since taking balance beam silver in Rio but plans to make a late Tokyo run. Four years ago, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas became the first women to make back-to-back Olympic teams since 2000, but each of them came back a year earlier than Hernandez. Gymnasts in Hernandez’s way include members of the last two world championships teams (like Morgan Hurd and Sunisa Lee) and first-year seniors like Kayla DiCello, looking to repeat Hernandez’s feat in 2016 of making an Olympic team at age 16.

Shooting
Women’s Skeet

Four different U.S. women won the four world titles in this event between 2014-18, including a medals sweep in 2018. Five Americans make up the top 14 in the world right now, and a sixth, 18-year-old Austen Smith, won the first stage of the Olympic trials in September. Two women will qualify for Tokyo by the end of the trials process this spring. The biggest name is 40-year-old Kim Rhode, looking to become the first person to earn a medal at seven straight Olympics in any sport.

Soccer
Women’s Forwards

World Cup rosters are 23 players. Olympic rosters are 18. The U.S. must cut from its world champion team of last summer, putting stalwart goal-scorers at risk. Chief among them is Alex Morgan, who hopes to return from an April due date for a third Olympics. Then there’s Carli Lloyd, who at 37 is trying to become the oldest U.S. Olympic soccer player in history. Other thirtysomethings in the mix: Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Christen Press, plus Mallory Pugh, who made the Rio Olympics at age 18. The last two Olympic teams each had four forwards.

Swimming
Chase Kalisz vs. Ryan Lochte vs. Carson Foster

Lochte wants to make a fifth Olympic team, at age 35, in his patented 200m individual medley. To do that, he must take down either the 2017 World champion Kalisz or the 18-year-old Foster, who has been breaking Michael Phelps‘ national age-group records since he was 10. Two swimmers per individual event make the Olympic team at June’s trials. There are other potential spoilers in the 200m IM, including 2018 breakout star Michael Andrew and Abrahm Devine, who made the last two world teams. One thing’s for certain: There will be a new Olympic champion with the retirement of Michael Phelps, who won this event in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016.

Tennis
Madison Keys vs. Coco Gauff vs. Venus Williams vs. Sloane Stephens vs. Others

The U.S. gets four singles spots per gender at the Olympics. Qualifying is via ATP and WTA rankings with the cutoff after the French Open. More than halfway through, Serena Williams comfortably leads via Wimbledon and U.S. Open runners-up (3,185 points). She’s followed by Sofia Kenin (1,941), Alison Riske (1,713) and Madison Keys (1,537). Then comes another drop-off to the current alternates, led by Coco Gauff (709). Venus Williams, eyeing a fifth Olympics when she will be 40, is in ninth place (and just withdrew from her 2020 season opener). Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, is 11th. Any player who doesn’t make singles could still be chosen for doubles, where Venus is an intriguing option.

Track and Field
Women’s Marathon

One of the hardest U.S. Olympic track and field event teams to make will be one of the first to be decided. Six of the nine fastest Americans in history are expected to start the marathon trials on Feb. 29 in Atlanta. Headliners include 2018 Boston Marathon winner Des Linden and American 10,000m record holder Molly Huddle. Only three get to go to Tokyo, while the rest likely crowd the 10,000m field at the track trials four months later in Oregon.

Wrestling
Jordan Burroughs vs. Kyle Dake

Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic 74kg champion, and Dake, the 2018 and 2019 World champion at the non-Olympic 79kg weight class, are expected to make up the most intense final of the Olympic wrestling trials from April 4-5 at Penn State. Only one wrestler per weight class qualifies for Tokyo. Burroughs has made every Olympic and world team at 74kg since 2011. But Dake, who avoided Burroughs by moving up in weight in 2016, represents his toughest challenger yet.

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Ryan Lochte edged by swimmer half his age in Olympic trials preview

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If Ryan Lochte is to make a fifth Olympic team in his trademark event at nearly age 36, he will likely have to go through 18-year-old Carson Foster at the June Olympic trials.

But Foster scored a psychological victory on Saturday, relegating Lochte to second place in the 200m individual medley at a Pro Series meet in Greensboro, N.C.

Foster, the world junior champion, touched the wall in 1:58.93. Lochte, the four-time world champion and world-record holder in the event, registered 2:00.65. Both were off their fastest times of the year, unsurprising at a November meet where top swimmers are usually not at their peaks.

“I grew up idolizing Ryan,” Foster, who was 2 years old when Lochte competed at his first Olympics in 2004, said on NBCSN. “It’s an honor to be able to race him. I look forward to racing him more.”

That will surely happen. Foster and Lochte are two of the leading contenders in the 200m IM, though trials are still eight months away. Chase Kalisz, who earned gold and bronze at the last two worlds, is fastest among Americans this year by a comfortable .71 at 1:56.78.

Lochte and Foster rank Nos. 4 and 5, both within a second of the No. 2 swimmer Michael Andrew. The top two at trials make the Olympic team.

Lochte is trying to become the oldest U.S. Olympic male swimmer in an individual event since 1904. And doing so after a pair of suspensions — 10 months in 2016 and 2017 for his Rio Olympic gas station incident and 14 months for a May 2018 IV infusion of an illegal amount of a legal substance.

He also spent six weeks in rehab for alcohol addiction after a reported early morning California hotel incident in October 2018.

Foster, meanwhile, is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

The Pro Series moves to Knoxville, Tenn., for the next stop in January. Top swimmers are also expected at the U.S. Open in Atlanta in early December.

In other events Saturday, Katie Ledecky won the 800m free by 15.93 seconds in 8:14.95. She has broken 8:15 a total of 25 times in her career, according to USA Swimming’s database. Her world record is 8:04.79, and no other woman has broken 8:14.

Ledecky finished the meet, her first on the Pro Series since struggling through the summer world championships with an illness, with her trademark sweep of the 200m, 400m and 800m frees.

“That felt about a thousand times better than it did at worlds,” Ledecky said Saturday. “I know I’m in a good spot right now.”

Simone Manuel also won her signature events, following her Thursday victory in the 100m freestyle with a 50m free title on Saturday. She clocked 24.96 seconds, beating Catie DeLoof by .16.

Manuel is the American record holder and world champion in both sprints and shaping for a possible six-event lineup at the Tokyo Games when including four relays.

MORE: Ryan Lochte says Michael Phelps helped him in comeback

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Katie Ledecky wins freestyle duel with Simone Manuel, takes third in medley

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At the shortest distance Katie Ledecky usually races and a longer distance than Simone Manuel normally attempts, Ledecky took a comfortable victory over her training partner Friday in the 200m freestyle at a TYR Pro Swim Series meet in Greensboro, N.C.

Ledecky took the lead immediately, finishing her first length in 27.34 seconds on her way to a final time of 1:55.58. Manuel finished in 1:57.46, just ahead of four-time Olympic gold medalist Allison Schmitt (1:57.63).

Several swimmers took on races outside their comfort zones. Ledecky finished third in the 400m medley behind Ally McHugh (4:40.09), who won the NCAA 1,650-yard freestyle championship in March, and Hali Flickinger, the 2019 world silver medalist in the 200m butterfly who swam in all three finals Friday.

Ryan Lochte swam in two finals Thursday and again on Friday but was not in the 400m medley, one of his strongest events. He finished third in the 200m backstroke behind South African Olympian Christopher Reid and Jacob Pebley, the bronze medalist in the 200m back in the 2017 world championships.

Luca Urlando, 17, won his second event of the meet, edging Zane Grothe by 0.05 seconds in the 200m freestyle. Urlando finished in 1:48.40.

Isabelle Stadden won the 200m backstroke ahead of Kathleen Baker, a bronze medalist in the event in 2017.

World silver medalist Jay Litherland won the 400m medley in 4:20.09.

Meet results are available here.

WEDNESDAY: Twichell, Grothe win 1,500m

THURSDAY: Manuel wins 100m; Ledecky wins 400m

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