Nathan Adrian

Alfred E. Neuman as swim spokesdude: What, Team USA worry?

Alfred E. Neuman as swim spokesdude: What, Team USA worry?

BUDAPEST — In the land before time, when there were no cellphones, those of us of a certain generation were sent out of the house by exasperated mothers who didn’t know the first thing about bicycle helmets and, truth be told, didn’t much care. They just wanted us out until it was dark.

So off we went, baseball cards in our spokes. It was a very exciting day when the new edition of certain magazines would show up in the racks at the Ben Franklin five-and-dime store. It was super-exciting when Mad magazine would show up, with stupid Alfred E. Neuman on the cover, grinning, “What, me worry?”

Now that these 2017 FINA world championships are in the history books, can we finally acknowledge Alfred E. Neuman as Team USA’s unofficial spokesdude?

No Michael Phelps, no Ryan Lochte, no Missy Franklin. No worries.

Phelps and the shark or, like, a great swim meet?

Phelps and the shark or, like, a great swim meet?

BUDAPEST — Did you know, my 18-year-old daughter said to me over FaceTime, she in California, me here in Budapest at the FINA world swim championships, that Michael Phelps raced a shark?

Did you also know, she went on, that it wasn’t really a real shark? And Michael had a monofin? And Michael went 38.1 seconds and the shark 36.1 seconds? He was close!

So, I said to the darling daughter, now that you have told me everything about Michael and, as it were, the ultimate example of jumping the shark, what can you tell me about what’s going on here? Because, I said, this is a great meet.

To switch animal gears, or something, here was her response: crickets.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the existential dilemma of Olympic sport in 2017.

Day One, two golds, Ledecky is ... 'incredible'

Day One, two golds, Ledecky is ... 'incredible'

BUDAPEST — It’s only Day One of the swim action of these 2017 FINA world championships, and here is the dilemma.

How many different ways are there to say Katie Ledecky is great?

In the first final in a meet she is expected to — strike that, absent something freaky, will — dominate, Ledecky set a new championship record in the women’s 400 freestyle, winning by more than three seconds.

A really good guy, back on the podium

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RIO de JANEIRO — If you had a son, you would want him to be just like Nathan Adrian.

The guy is smart, funny, respectful and humble. He is quiet, steady, a genuine leader.

After the men's 100 free: silver medalist Pieter Timmers, left, congratulates bronze medalist Nathan Adrian with winner Kyle Chalmers in the middle // Getty Images

Oh, he’s tall and handsome, too, the very picture of America’s best pluralistic and tolerant tendencies. His dad, James, is a retired nuclear engineer; his mom, Cecilia, who comes from Hong Kong, is a nurse.

Oh yeah — Nathan Adrian is an incredible athlete.

To read the rest of this column, please click through to NBCOlympics.com: http://bit.ly/2b9FSdv

The relay magic is back

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RIO de JANEIRO — Of all the images from Michael Phelps’ storied career, perhaps none is as visceral — as open and truthfully honest — as the shot from the finish of the men’s 4x100 freestyle relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a portrait of Phelps screaming to the heavens in raw, primal, triumphant victory.  

From left, Nathan Adrian, Ryan Held, Michael Phelps and Caeleb Dressel on the medals stand // Getty Images

The 2016 version of the 2008 Phelps victory roar, with Caeleb Dressel making like Garrett Weber-Gale // Getty Images

This was the race in which Jason Lezak somehow willed his way past France’s Alain Bernard. Lezak was behind when he dove in. He was behind at the turn. He was behind until the very end, when he out-touched Bernard in a moment that instantly became an Olympic classic.

Right there on the deck, Phelps, who had set the Americans to the lead in the first leg, roared. Right behind him, Garrett Weber-Gale, who had pulled the second leg in the relay, fists clenched, leaned back and screamed in jubilation. Both guys were in their star-spangled LZR suits.

This is the red, white and blue moment the U.S. swim team lives for.

--

To read the rest, please click through to NBCOlympics.com: bit.ly/2aFzUin

The way it is, and has to be

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OMAHA — So many clichés: Time waits for no one. To everything there is a season. Don’t be glad it’s over — smile because it happened. Perhaps there is wisdom to be found in all of these aphorisms. But at the U.S. swim Trials, sayings make for little, if any, consolation when the hard truth makes itself plain. When world-class swimmers and even better people, the likes of Matt Grevers, come up just short.

As a general rule, the math at the swim Trials is blunt but eminently fair: first two in any event go to the Games. At the track Trials, it’s top three. Swimming — only two.

Everyone else — thanks but, well, sorry.

Grevers took third in his best event, the men’s 100 backstroke.

As he said Thursday, “There’s no room for me.”

This is also the way it is, and has to be. The Trials are rough that way.

Matt Grevers before a heat in the 100 backstroke // Getty Images

Consider Missy Franklin. Seventh in the women’s 100 back — out. Second in the 200 free — in. Eleventh after Thursday's semis of the 100 free — out, not even in Friday's final.

“My 100’s just — that speed just doesn’t feel like it’s quite there this meet,” Franklin said Thursday evening. “No idea why. It’s super-disappointing but, you know, I really feel like my endurance is there so it gives me a lot of hope for my [200] back,” with prelims in that event getting underway Friday.

Josh Prenot won the men’s 200 breaststroke Thursday evening, in an American-record 2:07.17, the best time in that event in the world in 2016. Earlier in the week, he had finished third in the 100 breast.

“Yeah,” he said after that 200, “I mean this is my last [Trials] race, my last chance to make the team. I didn’t feel like waiting another four years, so the pressure was on.”

Three guys in that 200 breast went 2:08.14 or better — Prenot, Kevin Cordes and Will Licon. Only four guys in the world have gone that fast this year.

Licon, third, missed out by 14-hundredths of a second.

When you win, it's all good. You maybe even earn the right to try stand-up comedy.

Prenot said, “So it’s pretty cool to see the progression,” the uptick in American breaststroking,  following that up with an indirect reference to British standout Adam Peaty, “I guess we’re becoming more like England, where we’re pretty good at breaststroking and pretty bad at soccer.”

Josh Prenot, left, and Kevin Cordes at the 200 breaststroke victory ceremony // Getty Images

Prenot, left, and Cordes // Getty Images

Lilly King just finished her freshman year at Indiana. She won the women’s 100 breaststroke earlier in the meet and on Thursday put up the fastest time in the 200 breast semifinals. She observed, “It’s sad to see those faces go in so many events — but nice to see new faces come up.”

Absolutely true all around.

Which doesn’t make it any easier for Grevers, or the many people who have come to appreciate him, and others, who for years have been mainstays on the U.S. team but won’t be going to Rio.

Or maybe still will — time will tell.

Tyler Clary won gold in the London in the men’s 200 backstroke. Here, he finished seventh in the 200 free. On Thursday, in the semifinals of the 200 back, he put up the third-best time. The final is Friday.

“At this point,” Clary said Thursday evening, “every swim that I get now I’m treating it like my last swing, because it certainly could be, and swimming has given me a whole different perspective.”

Tyler Clary swimming the 200 back // Getty Images

In London four years ago, Grevers won the 100 back.

All in, across the 2012 and 2008 Games, he has six Olympic medals, four gold, two silver.

He has seven long-course world championships medals. Two came at last summer's world championships in Kazan, Russia.

Here on Tuesday, in the 100 back Trials, Ryan Murphy won, in 52.26 seconds. David Plummer took second, two-hundredths behind.

Grevers touched third, in 52.76, a half-second back of Murphy.

In the 100 free, Grevers managed 15th in the semifinals. The top eight go on to the final, which Nathan Adrian, the London 2012 champ, won Thursday in 47.72.

In that 100 free, another great guy, Anthony Ervin, made the team — and this is the caveat to the top-two rule. Top four in certain events make the relays. Time apparently does wait for some people: the 35-year-old Ervin took fourth.

“If we’re not here to inspire the next generation,” Ervin told the crowd at Century Link arena, “I don’t know what we’re doing.”

Left to right: Nathan Adrian, Caeleb Dressel, Ryan Held, Anthony Ervin, 1-2-3-4 in the men's 100 free

In the 200 back prelims Thursday morning, Grevers put up the 14th-best time. That qualified him for Thursday night’s semifinals. But recognizing it was hardly his best event, he scratched out. Murphy posted the top semi time, 1:55.04.

Murphy, who turns 21 Saturday, said after the 100 back:

“Well, I mean, my heart goes out to Matt.

Ryan Murphy at the 100 back victory ceremony // Getty Images

"He's a super-nice guy. I have a great relationship with Matt. He was born in Chicago, I was born in Chicago, so I feel like we kinda got that Midwestern-upbringing connection, and he's been someone I've gotten along with really well, and he's definitely been a role model of mine and someone I've looked up to. So it was super-cool to be in the race with him, just as it is any other time.

“You know, it just turned out in my favor tonight."

After Tuesday’s 100 back final, Grevers stuck around Century Link arena to sign autographs. For, like, more than an hour.

He was amazed, he would say in remarks published Thursday at the Washington Post website, at the affection fans had for him, and he for them.

“Feeling the love from these fans … I actually feel more loved than ever, and I’m really high again. It was awesome. They were all so thankful and happy. I don’t know if people feel that much love in one night. And I didn’t even do well. That was pretty awesome, [to] get that sort of feeling even after you think you’re disappointing people.”

No one needs to cry for Matt Grevers.

Just, like the fans here the other night, appreciate him.

Grevers is 31. His wife, Annie, herself a standout American swimmer, is pregnant.

The two became a social media sensation when, in February 2012, he proposed to her at the end of a meet in Missouri — while he was on the medals stand.

Grevers — who has been training for the past several years in Arizona — is from Lake Forest, Illinois, north of Chicago. He is without question the best swimmer to have ever come out of Northwestern. A 2007 graduate, he served as grand marshal of the school’s 2008 Homecoming parade.

There are all kinds of stories about what a class act Grevers is.

Here’s one:

At the 2013 world championships in Barcelona, the U.S. men appeared to have won gold in the 4x100 medley relay.  A historical note: the U.S. men have dominated the medley since the 1976 Montreal Games.

But wait.

The Americans would be disqualified when the electronic timer caught Cordes -- the new guy on the relay, with the likes of Grevers, Adrian and Ryan Lochte -- jumping precisely one-hundredth of a second too soon. Cordes was doing the breaststroke leg; he swam just after Grevers, who pulled the backstroke segment.

Yes, it was Cordes who got tagged. But, afterward, it was Grevers who stood up and held himself accountable.

“It’s as much my fault or more than Kevin’s,” he said. “The guy coming in is usually the one responsible.”

Here, Cordes has been a standout in the breaststroke events, winning the 100 breast and taking second in the 200, behind Prenot.

"The sport of swimming is unforgiving," Grevers said Thursday. "There's not too many ways to make a livelihood in swimming unless you're pretty much on the Olympic team."

He also said, "There's always that battle: When do you step away? On top? Where would I feel satisfied? I feel very satisfied. I didn't bomb or anything."

Indeed. As he said in the very next breath: "I got third."

 

Simply America's best: Phelps, Ledecky

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OMAHA — Brendan Hansen, the breaststroke standout and six-time Olympic medalist, is here at the 2016 U.S. swim Trials as a poolside announcer. Before the action got underway Wednesday, he lined up four teen-agers and asked: who are you here to see? One by one, on the big screen, here were the answers: Michael Phelps. And Katie Ledecky.

No duh.

Phelps back on the victory stand // Getty Images

The U.S. swim team that goes to Rio will be filled with a big chunk of names new to most people who know swimming only on NBC, and every four years:

Newcomers: Olivia Smoliga. Lilly King. Townley Haas. And more, among them Kevin Cordes, already the winner of the men’s 100 breaststroke who flirted with the world record in the 200 breast Wednesday, winning his semifinal in 2:07.81.

To be clear, there will be a few familiar faces, too: Ryan Lochte, who has qualified at the least for the relays. Allison Schmitt, the women’s 200 free gold medalist in London, qualified Wednesday for the relays. Assuming all goes to plan in Thursday’s final, expect to see Nathan Adrian, who rocked a 47.91, second-best time in the world in 2016 in the semifinal of the men’s 100.

But let’s face it: the headliners are Phelps and Ledecky.

Katie Ledecky, left, and Missy Franklin after the 200 free // Getty Images

And a little later, at the victory ceremony // Getty Images

And that’s with a full measure of  respect for Missy Franklin, who pulled off one of the gutsiest swims of her career Wednesday to grab the No. 2 spot in the women’s 200 free, behind Ledecky.

Phelps — as he has been for so long — is simply America’s best. So, too, Ledecky.

In winning the men’s 200 butterfly Wednesday in 1:54.84, Phelps became the first male swimmer to qualify for a  fifth straight Olympic team. He turns 31 on Thursday. His first Games, in Sydney in 2000, came when he was just 15. He finished fifth there in the 200 fly. That was the start of the string of all the superlatives since — the 22 Olympic medals, 18 gold, the eight-for-eight in Beijing.

After looking up at the end of Wednesday’s 200 to see his time, Phelps held up all five fingers, signaling Olympics No. 5. Tom Shields took second, in 1:55.81.

Phelps’ 7-week-old son, Boomer, was poolside, with mom Nicole Johnson. For the occasion, Boomer wore noise-canceling headphones dressed up with American flags. After the medal ceremony, Phelps walked around the pool to the section where they were sitting; Nicole, carrying the baby, came down some stairs; father tenderly kissed his baby boy.

Phelps’ longtime coach and mentor, Bob Bowman, said he shed a few tears — maybe the first time ever at such ceremonies — thinking of all the turbulent waters he, Phelps and Schmitt, who is like a sister to Phelps, have navigated.

“It means we have been through a hell of a lot,” Bowman said. “A hell of a lot.”

Before the race, Zach Harting, in Lane 7, came out dressed as Batman. He was duly announced as "The Dark Knight."

Phelps, over in Lane 4, played -- what else -- Superman. As usual at the pool, with little fanfare. He simply wrote another fine line in the Phelps record book.

Phelps led the race wire to wire. At 150 meters, just as he had wanted, he was at 1:22 -- specifically, 1:22.94 -- with a world-record 1:50 a possibility. That last 50, though, he would say later, “the piano fell pretty hard.” He got home in 31.9; five guys in the race, including Harting, swam the final 50 between 30 and 31 seconds. Shields, trying to hang with Phelps, managed his final 50 in 32.08.

A further comparison: in 2015, Phelps went 1:52.94. That was his fastest time in the 200 fly since 2009, when he set the world record, 1:51.51.

For the record: Batman finished seventh, 2.08 back.

Phelps being Phelps, that final 31.9 is likely to give him ample motivation between now and Rio: "... I don't know what happened the last 50. I was just praying to hit the wall first or second."

Bowman: "It isn't 50. It was like the last 20."

Too, there now awaits the challenge of racing South Africa’s Chad le Clos, who out-touched Phelps for gold in the London 200 fly. Phelps said, “I didn’t have the chance to race him last summer. I am looking forward to racing him this summer.”

Phelps still has the 200 IM and 100 fly to go.

“Now,” he told the crowd a few moments after the race in a pool-deck interview, “let’s have some fun over these next couple events and see what happens.”

In winning the women’s 200 freestyle in 1:54.88, Ledecky made emphatically clear what has been apparent to swim nerds since last summer’s world championships in Kazan, Russia: she is not just the best women’s swimmer in the United States but the world.

No one else is really close.

Four years ago, when she was 15, Ledecky won the 800 in London. Since, she has come to dominate women’s swimming at every race from 200 up: 200, 400, 800 and the 1500, what swimmers call the mile.

Ledecky qualified earlier here for the 400. The 800 prelims are Friday, finals Saturday. There is no women’s 1500 at the Olympics. Here in Omaha, she will also be swimming the 100 free; the prelims are Thursday morning.

At 150 meters Wednesday, Ledecky and Franklin were 1-2. Ledecky then went 29.54 over the final 50. Franklin: 30.3.

Franklin touched in 1:56.18.

That amounts to a full 1.3 seconds behind Ledecky. In a race like the 200 free, that is a lot.

The announcement that Ledecky was now the racer to beat took place at last summer’s worlds in far-away Russia, when Ledecky dropped down to the 200 — after dominating the 400, 800 and 1500 — and won that, too.

The race Wednesday merely proved the next chapter: every single one of Ledecky's four splits proved faster than Franklin's.

In relating these facts, no one should infer — because none is implied — anything but appreciation  for Franklin, who finished seventh Tuesday in the 100 back, an event she used to dominate.

No matter the situation, Franklin comports herself with respect and grace for herself and family, the sport and about everyone she meets.

She is a class act, and the U.S. team is all the better for having her now on the way to Rio.

As her longtime coach, Todd Schmitz, would tweet late Wednesday:

https://twitter.com/starstodd/status/748333283424018433

She would say after the race, “You know, I think I’ve just been thinking about it a lot differently, you know and I realized that my job here, it’s not to make the Olympic team. It’s not to defend anything. It’s to swim well. That’s always what my job has been, and that’s what I need to continue to do, so it’s me trying to work through and deal with this kind of pressure that I’ve never really dealt with before.

“I think as we just saw — I’m really starting to figure that out to myself.”

Because Ledecky has opted to retain her amateur status — she will be a freshman at Stanford after the Rio Olympics — she simply is not the crossover star that Franklin has become, with multiple big-name sponsors proving eager over the past couple years to attach their campaigns to the smiling, happy, heartfelt Missy brand.

“It’s unbelievable,” Franklin said when asked about Ledecky, “and you look at her and she has that wide range of distances, too, but I think all of us know that if anyone can do it, Katie Ledecky can do it. And to be a part of that and to now know that I get to be on another relay with her and swim another individual event with her, it’s such an honor.

“She makes [me] a better athlete, a better teammate, a better person, and I have 110 percent faith she can do whatever she sets her mind to.”

The thing is, Ledecky is just as super-genuine as Franklin.

Ledecky said of Franklin, “I told her after the race she’s one tough cookie, and she got the job done tonight. That [200] race is for real, and there’s more to come from her.”

The Rio stage means the world gets its chance to catch up with Franklin, for sure. But, really, to fully appreciate Ledecky. And one final chance to appreciate Phelps.

Phelps with the press here in Omaha // Getty Images

Phelps, as he said Wednesday, is — for the first time after being in the public glare for 16 years — not just acknowledging but showing some vulnerability.

Asked if he would remember the 15-year-old who would qualify for Sydney, Phelps said, “I remember him. I definitely remember him.”

Bowman added, “I remember him. At a press conference like this, the question was, do you have a girlfriend and have you kissed her yet? So we have kind of progressed with the subject matter over 16 years.”

Not so clear is how the 15-year-old Phelps would relate to the man who turns 31 on Thursday. On his last day of being 30, Phelps said, “I’m embracing the moment and taking it one step at a time.”

Showing that sort of vulnerability, however, is not the same as being soft on the blocks. Hardly.

The greats, in sum, process pressure and fear differently than the rest of us. For Ledecky and for Phelps in particular, each race makes for an opportunity to see how good he or she can be.

The more-reflective 30-year-old Phelps gave a mini-dissertation here this week on the subject. He said, “Like this guy asked me today, ‘What do you think about before you swim?’ And I was like, ‘Nothing.’ And he was like, ‘Are you kidding?’ I’m like, ‘No, I don’t think about anything.’ But I’ve told a couple swimmers, just turn your mind off. You’ve done the work to get here, so it’s just time to get in the water and let it loose.”

U.S. Kazan 2015 mantra: 'are defeats necessary?'

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KAZAN, Russia — David Plummer is a championship backstroker. Here, he served as a captain of the U.S. team. Two years ago, at the world championships in Barcelona, Plummer earned silver in the 100 back. Here, though, he managed only a ninth-place finish, not even good enough to make the finals, ultimately won by Australia’s Mitchell Larkin. As the 2015 world championships drew Sunday to a close, Plummer turned to Twitter, and some philosophy from the Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho:

“I ask myself: are defeats necessary? Well, necessary or not, they happen…

“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.

“Only when we overcome [our trials] do we understand why they were there.”

David Plummer in the heats of the 50 backstroke // Getty Images

The quest for understanding begins now.

These 2015 Kazan world championships marked arguably the American team’s poorest performance in the history of the world championships, dating to 1973.

When all was said and done, the U.S. ended up with 23 medals, eight gold.

The American team’s weakest world championships performance, before this one: 1994, in Rome, with 21 medals, four gold.

Take out the two medals in the mixed relays, both new events (gold in the 4x100 free Saturday, silver in the 4x1 medley Wednesday) and the total drops to 21.

Those figures stand in stark contrast to the 2013 total: 29 overall, 13 gold.

Compare, too, to recent years: 29 and 16 at Shanghai 2011, 22 and 10 in 2009 (Rome again), at the height of the plastic-suit craziness.

The only Americans to win individual gold: Katie Ledecky (four), Ryan Lochte (one). That’s it. The other winners: that mixed relay, the women's 4x200 free relay (anchored by Ledecky), the men's medley.

The question heading toward a different set of Trials, next summer in Omaha, a few weeks before the Aug. 5 start of the Rio Games, is whether what happened here amounts to aberration or the confluence of potent trends that mean the United States’ long-established role at the top of the swimming world is at significant risk.

— It’s indisputable that, owing to the worldwide import of Michael Phelps, world-class swimming has gotten better and, more so, better in more places. Argentina won its first-ever medal here. So, too, Singapore. Akram Ahmed of Egypt took fourth in the men’s 1500 Sunday night. A record 189 nations competed in Kazan, up from 177 at Barcelona 2013.

— The Australians are back, and in a big way. The Aussies won one gold in swimming at the London 2012 Games, three in Barcelona. Here, seven gold, 16 overall.

— The Brits emerged as a force, in particular 200 free champ James May and breaststroke god Adam Peaty. Their final tally: five gold, nine overall.

— The Chinese have both talent and depth, with 13 medals overall, five gold, including Ning Zetao's victory in the 100; he is the first Asian to win swimming's male heavyweight fight.

Ning’s victory made things a little crazy on the internet in China. The Wall Street Journal reported that a CCTV host wrote on his verified account that Ning “is the husband in everyone’s dream.”

Never mind that Ning is just 22.

The same host, referring to the social media-app WeChat, “All women went crazy overnight, and pictures of all angles of his abdominal muscles swept my WeChat moments.”

By mid-day Friday, more than 100,000 web users had posted selfies with the hashtag “Ning Zetao’s Girlfriend.”

“We call handsome boys little fresh meat,” a Weibo user wrote. “But for special ones like Ning, he should be called little fresh fish.”

As for the Americans, and first the bright spots:

— Ledecky raced into the history books, winning five gold medals, the 200, 400, 800 and 1500, and that 4x200 free relay.

In all, Kazan 2015 featured 12 world records. Ledecky set three of them.

For the next year, she will be the face of the American team, which is lovely, because she not only wins, she wins with great class.

On Saturday, after her final race, the 800 free, which she won in world-record time, Ledecky met with the press, then as she was walking away from a media clutch, she met up with a gaggle of red-shirted volunteers who squealed in happiness that she would take a picture with them.

Unaware that three reporters were lingering behind, Ledecky said to the volunteers, “Thanks for all the great work you do.”

Ledecky and Kerri Walsh Jennings, the beach volleyball star, are in this way always gracious and polite to seemingly everyone they meet. Maybe it’s something about Stanford, which is where Walsh Jennings went and Ledecky is due to attend.

— Phelps, assuming he sticks to his vow to keep doing the hard work that swimming absolutely demands, figures to race for gold in at least three events next summer, the 100 and 200 flys and the 200 individual medley.

Swimming this week in San Antonio, at the U.S. nationals, Phelps won the 100 fly in 50.45, the 200 in 1:52.94. Both times would have won here.

More pointedly, both victories came amid some smack-talk from the likes of Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh, winner in Kazan of the 200 fly, and South Africa’s Chad le Clos, winner here of the 100 fly.

Le Clos won Saturday in 50.56, then declared Phelps hadn’t gone that fast in years.

Oops — just hours later in San Antonio, here came that 50.45, Phelps' fastest-time ever in the event in a textile suit.

Le Clos also said here, referring to Phelps, “I’m just very happy that he’s back to his good form so he can’t come out and say, ‘Oh, I haven’t been training,’ or all that rubbish that he’s been talking. Next year is going to be Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier.”

Cseh won Wednesday in 1:53.48. Of Phelps’ 1:52.94 in San Antonio, the fastest time by any swimmer since Phelps himself in 2009, Cseh said, “It’s quite good but it doesn’t matter because I won the world championship.”

Gentlemen, we are not here to tell you what to say, or not, but history has shown repeatedly that if Phelps puts in his training blocks, you mess with fire when you blow this kind of smoke.

Ask the likes of Ian Thorpe, Ian Crocker and, famously, Milorad Cavic.

When Phelps has someone he can — in his mind — target, it has not gone well, swim-wise, for said target.

“The comments were interesting,” Phelps said Saturday in San Antonio. “It just fuels me. If you want to do it, go for it. I welcome it.”

— Lochte's victory in the 200 IM made for his fourth world championship gold in a row in the event.

At the same time, he finished fourth in the 200 free, same as in 2013 and 2012.

Lochte is for sure Mr. Reliable on the relays, where the American performance here — without Lochte or Nathan Adrian, the U.S. men failed to qualify for the 4x1 finals — showed just how valuable he is.

Here is the challenge for Lochte in the 200 IM come the U.S. Trials in Omaha and, presumably, Rio:

Phelps.

At an Olympics, the 200 IM traditionally comes on the same night as the 200 back, and thus it will be in Rio, on Thursday, Aug. 11. At previous Games, Lochte has opted to try to pull off that grueling double. In London, he took third in the 200 back, then silver — behind Phelps — in the 200 IM.

-- Connor Jaeger broke the 11-year-old American record in the 1500 on Sunday night, going 14:41.2. Larsen Jensen had gone 14:45.29 at the 2004 Athens Games.

Now for some question marks:

— This U.S. 2015 team was picked a year ago. Was that a good plan? No Caitlin Leverenz, Allison Schmitt, Jack Conger or others who might have made a difference.

— The U.S. sprinting program, excluding Adrian, needs someone to step up, and big time. No one did here.

— Tyler Clary had won a medal of some sort at the 2009, 2011 and 2013 worlds; he is the 2012 London 200 back gold medalist. Here? No medals.

-- Jaeger: That 14:41.2 earned him silver, 1.53 seconds behind Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy, in 14:39.67. China's Sun Yang, the world record-holder and pre-race favorite, did not swim, saying he felt a heart problem -- literally his heart, not his desire to race -- before the call to the blocks. Jaeger's other Kazan races: fourth, 400 free; fourth, 800 free.

— The relays: That the U.S. men missed out on the finals of the 4x1 free is, in a word, inexcusable. The men’s 4x2 free relay finished second, the first time since 2004 the Americans had not won at a worlds or Olympics (the British took first, with Guy making up a 1.63-second deficit and then some, touching 42-hundredths ahead of Michael Weiss).

In 2001, the U.S. men won no relays. That had been the only time ever at worlds history there had been no U.S. men’s relay gold.

Thus the stakes were high for Sunday night’s medley, the Americans opting to lead off not with Matt Grevers — gold medalist in the 100 back at London 2012 and Barcelona 2013, silver medalist in the event at Beijing 2008 — but with Ryan Murphy, who threw out a 52.18 in the mixed medley relay heats.

The thinking? Larkin won the 100 back in 52.40. Murphy’s 52.18 made for the fourth-fastest time ever in the event.

Larkin kept the Americans close, third, with a 53.05; Larkin turned the race over with the Aussies in first, in 52.41. On the third leg, butterfly, Tom Shields put the Americans in first; Adrian held on to bring the Americans home to gold in 3:29.93.

Adrian's free split: 47.41.

The split for Australia's Cameron McEvoy, who was closing: 46.6.

— Dana Vollmer is back in training. She won the women’s 100 fly in London. Can she, now a new mom, make it all the way back to the top of the world stage?

— Missy Franklin? Ohmigod, she did not win every single thing she entered. What?!

Franklin did, for instance, come through, and in a big way, in that mixed 4x1 free relay, anchoring the team to victory and a world record.

As Franklin heads back home to Colorado, however, it’s clear that Ledecky is now the 200 free boss, so there’s that.

For another, Franklin was clearly not her best self here. She faded significantly on the last lap of Saturday’s 200 backstroke, a race she has owned for years. Summoned to swim the backstroke leg of the women's medley Sunday night, she managed 59.81, fifth; the Americans would end up fourth.

Franklin’s longtime coach, Todd Schmitz, told the Denver Post a few weeks ago that he has had to “rekindle” in her “the same kind of fire that I used to see.”

Franklin said Saturday she was “proud” of what she had done here, given the work she had put in over the past two months; she said she looked forward to seeing the results of a full year of going at it hard.

Plummer, meanwhile, has been chasing Rio since missing out on London 2012 by 12-hundredths of a second.

His ninth-place Monday in the 100 came while he was, literally, sick. “Have been battling a stomach bug, but I can't make any excuses,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “I have to find a way to be faster.”

On Sunday, in the 50 back, a non-Olympic event, Plummer finished eighth, of eight, in 24.95. Camille Lacourt of France won, in 24.23; Grevers took second, in 24.61.

Maybe, then, time for another quote that Plummer once cited, this one on his Facebook page, from “The Boys in the Boat,” the story of the University of Washington rowing crew that won gold at the 1936 Berlin Games:

"The trick would be to find which few of them had the potential for raw power, the nearly superhuman stamina, the indomitable willpower, and the intellectual capacity necessary to master the details of technique."

The deadline in this instance is already marked on swim calendars: the first day of the U.S. Trials in Omaha. It's Sunday, June 26, 2016.

 

Ledecky's epic: 5 finals, 5 golds, 3 world records

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KAZAN, Russia — In keeping with the Led Zeppelin selection that blared out from the PA system before the start of the finals here at Kazan Arena, the next-to-last night of the 2015 world championships, Saturday’s racing made for another edition for the U.S. swim team of Good Times Bad Times. Heading toward Rio 2016, the question: is this Dazed and Confused U.S. team ready for prime time?

Katie Ledecky cemented her status as the world’s most dominant swimmer, setting her third world record of the meet in winning the 800 freestyle in a world-record 8:07.39 — a whopping 3.61 seconds under her own prior mark. Earlier this week, she won the 200, 400 and 1500 and, as well, anchored the 4x200 free relay to victory. For her, clearly, The Song Remains the Same.

Katie Ledecky realizing she has broken the 800 free world record // Getty Images

In two world championship appearances, Kazan 2015, and Barcelona 2013, Ledecky has only gold medals. Nine finals, nine golds. Plus one Olympic final as well, at the London 2012 Games: gold in the 800.

The 800 world record she set Saturday? Ledecky’s 10th since 2013.

For far too many others on the U.S. team, would the appropriate Zeppelin selection maybe be I’m Gonna Crawl? Or, in reference to the rest of the world, You Shook Me?

It used to be, of course, that the U.S. team gave No Quarter.

American racers would Bring it On Home, remorselessly, on the way toward winning a haul of medals.

With just one more day to go at these championships, the U.S. team stood atop the medals count, with 18, seven gold.

That, though, is a considerable distance from the 29 medals, 16 gold, the U.S. took home from Barcelona 2013.

The only Americans with individual golds: Ledecky and Ryan Lochte, winner of the men’s 200 individual medley.

Other points of note from the medals table after Saturday:

The Australians have six gold medals, 12 overall. Six equals the Aussie gold total from: the Shanghai 2011 worlds plus the London 2012 Games plus the Barcelona 2013 worlds.

China has 12 overall medals, too, four gold.

The British team, the surprise of the meet, has nine overall medals, five gold.

While there are reasonable questions about whether the U.S. selection process for this meet is still the way to go — the team was picked a year ago — the indisputable takeaway from this meet will be that the rest of the world is more than capable of winning races the United States had, for years, straight-out owned.

Australian Mitchell Larkin’s victory in the men’s 200 backstroke marked the first time an American had not won the event at a worlds or Olympics since 1994.

Larkin became the first swimmer since world record-holder Aaron Piersol to win the 100 and 200 backstrokes at a long-course worlds.

Ryan Murphy finished fifth, Tyler Clary — the 2012 London Games gold medalist in the event — seventh.

At the Barcelona 2013 worlds and again the year before, at the London 2012 Games, the Americans swept the Olympic-event backstrokes (the 100 and 200 — the 50 is not an Olympic event). Here: Australia swept the Olympic-event backstrokes.

In the men’s 4x200 free relay, the United States had won gold at every world championships and Olympics since 2004. Here? Silver, in 7:04.75, 42-hundredths behind the British, anchored by new sprint sensation James Guy, winner here of the 200 freestyle itself.

Last Sunday, the U.S. men’s 4x100 relay team failed to qualify for the finals.

It was a measure of how seriously the Americans took the final event on Saturday's program, the 4x100 mixed free relay, that they threw out four of the biggest names on the team: Lochte, Nathan Adrian, Simone Manuel, Missy Franklin.

They won, in a world-record 3:23.05.

In San Antonio, meanwhile, at the U.S. championships, which are going on simultaneously, Michael Phelps — swimming there instead of here because of the fallout from his drunk-driving case — turned in the fastest 200 fly time of the year on Friday, 1:52.94.

That also marked Phelps’ fastest time in the event since 2009.

It would have won here by 54-hundredths of a second.

“It’s good to do it on my own shore in the country that I represent,” Phelps said afterward. “I think it just shows you that anything is possible if you do want something bad enough. I went through a lot, and to be able to train like I did to get ready for this and do that, I can do anything I put my mind to.”

Then again, there was this from Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh, who won the 200 fly here, in 1:53.48: “I saw his time,” meaning the San Antonio swim. “It’s quite good but it doesn’t matter because I won the world championship.”

And le Clos, after winning the 100 fly on Saturday night, traditionally Phelps’ province, in 50.56: “I just did a time that [Phelps] hasn’t done in four years, so he can keep quiet now.”

The sole American in the finals, Tom Shields, finished fourth, in 51.06.

Cseh took second, in 50.87. Joseph Schooling, in 50.96, grabbed third, the first-ever swim worlds medal for Singapore, and just one day before its 50th National Day.

Phelps won the 100 fly in London. He did not swim two years ago in Barcelona. Le Clos is now the back-to-back worlds winner of the race.

Adrian had looked awesome in qualifying for the men’s 50 free, setting an American record by going 21.37 in the semifinals. That was, briefly, the year’s top time.

In Saturday’s finals, Adrian took second, in 21.52, 33-hundredths behind France’s Florent Manaudou, who put down a 21.19.

In the women’s 200 backstroke, which went down before the 4x1 mixed relay, Franklin turned first at 100 and 150 but finished second, behind Australia’s Emily Seebohm. The winning time: 2:05.81. Franklin: 2:06.34.

Franklin had won the 200 back at Barcelona 2013 and Shanghai 2011 and, as well, at London 2012. She is also the world record-holder in the event, 2:04.06, set in March, 2012.

Seebohm’s final 50 meters: 31.4.

Franklin: 32.98.

Same point, another set of stats:

At 150, Franklin was up on Seebohm by 1.31 seconds. Seebohm ended up winning the race by 53-hundredths of a second. That is — a lot to think about.

Franklin said later Saturday that she was “honestly really proud” of her performance here, explaining, “I have come a long way in a couple months. That gives me a lot of confidence that if I can come this far in two months, then I’m really excited to see what I can do with a year.”

As for Ledecky:

— A gold medal Sunday in the 400 free.

— A world record in Monday’s 1500 prelims. Another world record in Tuesday’s finals, followed 29 minutes later by racing for a place in the 200 free finals.

— A gold medal Wednesday over an incredible field in the 200.

— The anchor leg Thursday in the winning 4x2 relay.

And then, Saturday, world record in the 800.

“I just couldn’t be happier with how that swim went, how this whole week went,” she said late Saturday.

She also said, “I kind of thought it would be 8:08, so to see the 8:07 was, like, great.

“You know, it’s August 8th. I was swimming the 800. And, believe it or not, it would have been my grandpa’s 88th birthday. And so we were joking yesterday, my family, you know we don’t really talk about times or anything but they were just kind of telling me all these things. They were, like, 8:08, you know!

“I didn’t have any pressure. I didn’t really feel like I needed to do that. But I thought that would be really cool. 8:08. That’s why I was really happy with 8:07.”

Just, you know, a Whole Lotta Love.

 

Lochte makes like it's 2009, or 2011, or 2013

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KAZAN, Russia — Throughout his swims here this week, a couple fans in the stands at Kazan Arena have held up a sign that proclaims, “Ryan Lochte is the best swimmer in the world.” Well.

Katie Ledecky? Who anchored the U.S. women's 4x200 relay team to gold Thursday, her fourth gold (amid two world records), with the 800 freestyle -- a lock -- still coming up?

Lochte, meanwhile, cruised to victory Thursday night in the 200-meter individual medley, a race that hearkened back to the good ol’ days when the Americans would line ‘em up and the rest of the world would submit.

Ryan Lochte on the medals stand after winning the 200 IM // Getty Images

Lochte had been dominant in the rounds of the 200 IM and the final proved no different. He won in 1:55.81, 84-hundredths of a second ahead of Brazil’s Thiago Pereira. China’s Wang Shun took third, a flat one second back.

After Thursday, five days into this eight-day meet, the U.S. swim team held 11 medals.

After Day 5 of the 2013 worlds, the Americans had 18 medals.

This much is so clear: the U.S. is on pace for one of its most perplexing worlds, ever.

With a year to go before the start of the Rio Olympics — the one-year out anniversary came Wednesday — the issue now squarely confronting USA Swimming is whether this meet will do what needs to be done: serve as a major wake-up call.

"Missy Franklin. Ryan Lochte. Katie Ledecky. This is all?" a key figure in international swimming said Thursday night.

Franklin, who swam lead-off on the 4x2 relay, won her 10th career world championship gold medal, most ever. (Libby Trickett of Australia has nine.) Ledecky now has eight world golds.

The rest of the world has more than caught up to the Americans. The medal standings after Thursday:

The U.S., with those 11, on top. China, 10. Australia and Great Britain, seven apiece.

Just a few examples for further emphasis:

Ning Zetao became China’s first male sprint world champion, winning the 100 free Thursday night in 47.84, best in the world in 2015. American Nathan Adrian, the 2012 London Games gold medalist, finished in a tie for seventh, at 48.31.

Ning, speaking through a translator, said at a post-race news conference that it is "a dream of Asia, a dream of China" to win sprint golds.

Asked if he thought his life would change because of Thursday's victory, he said no. He had saluted as the Chinese national anthem played during his victory ceremony and said, "I'm just a soldier."

Federico Grabich of Argentina took bronze in the 100 free. That made for Argentina’s first-ever swimming world championships medal. (In the pool, not open water.)

The silver that the Italian women won in the 4x200 relay? Italy's first-ever world championships medal in a relay event.

This is all of course directly attributable to Michael Phelps, even though he is not here in Kazan, part of the fallout from his drunk-driving case.

When Phelps was a teenager, he famously said his primary aim was to grow the sport of swimming. At these Kazan worlds, there are a record 189 countries taking part.

More, the rest of the world saw what Phelps famously did in Beijing in 2008, when he went 8-for-8. In thousands of towns all over the world, young swimmers — or would-be swimmers — said some variation of, that looks cool.

South Africa’s Chad le Clos used to watch Phelps on YouTube — then took him down in the 200 fly finals at the London 2012 Games.

Think about this: a swimmer who was 11 in 2008, when Phelps dominated Beijing, is now 18.

Among the issues now on the table for USA Swimming, or at least ought to be:

— Should there be a change in the way the U.S. picks its world championship team? This one was named a year ago. That didn’t allow for the emergence of swimmers who found themselves either at the Pan American Games in Toronto or the World University Games in South Korea.

— Because the athletes knew a year ago that they were on the team, did that lead to some measure of slacking off? Where, over the past year, was the accountability?

All Olympic sports are by definition demanding but swimming all the more so. The sport reveals, especially in the final 50 meters, whether you have put in the work.

— How do the racers deal with what has seemed so evident here, that many American swimmers seem to be kicking out from the blocks with a case of nerves? Or -- to put it another way -- a lack of confidence.

This is of course difficult to assess and fix.

But.

Preparing for a high-level swim meet involves putting down a block of work, then resting — “tapering” is the word of art — before the meet itself. It used to be that Americans would taper for maybe one major meet a year. Many swimmers from around the world have adopted a different approach, and as a consequence their times — and perhaps more important, world rankings — reflect that.

It’s a fair question whether you can be feeling your confident best when, before the meet, you look at the rankings and, as a for instance, find yourself in the 20s or 30s.

— How do the coaches get better? Not just the athletes themselves but the coaches. USA Swimming runs a decentralized system in which an athlete trains with a coach of his or her choice; the governing body gets everyone together for meets; thus, what responsibility do the coaches bear for this performance and what, if anything, to do about it?

Frank Busch, USA Swimming’s national team director, would never criticize any of his swimmers in public. It's for sure not his style.

In an interview with the USA Swimming website, he singled out for praise Ledecky, Lochte, Franklin and some newcomers, including Ryan Murphy (his 52.18 in the Wednesday prelims leading off the mixed 4x100 medley would have won the 100 back, and he touched second Thursday in his heat and overall in the 200 back semis) as well as Katie McLaughlin (sixth in Thursday night’s 200 butterfly after being ahead going into the final turn, American Cammile Adams taking second).

Even so, Busch said here, in a question about the challenge for the rest of the meet, “I think if you haven’t had a great swim, how do you turn that around and make it better next time, as opposed to saying, ‘I’m not ready.’ That’s always a challenge for our athletes.”

— Make no mistake: world-class swimming is a professional sport. But this is not the NFL nor NBA. The challenges for many U.S. athletes of monetizing their talents remain considerable — as well as the time balance required to make money and still train hard.

Here is the balance: is doing a clinic for, say, $2,000 or $5,000 worth it?

Here, too, is reality: $2,000 or $5,000 might, for many U.S. swimmers, be a considerable payday.

Lochte, of course, who for years has been a worldwide sensation, has no such worries.

His issue, just like Michael Phelps, is that time always wins out in the end. Phelps is 30. Lochte turned 31 on Monday.

Absent some freak development, Rio 2016 figures to mark the end, or at least the beginning of the end.

Lochte said late Thursday that he is now one of the team's oldest swimmers, wryly noting that he could remember when he was one of the youngest.

He also said that Phelps -- who is swimming this week at the U.S. nationals -- had texted to say that he, Lochte, now had to step up.

"Whenever Michael says anything to any swimmer, you’re going to take it to heart just because he is the world’s greatest swimmer that ever lived," Lochte said.

"The things that he said -- saying, 'You've got to be a team leader, you've got to put Team USA on your shoulders, you've got to carry them through this meet' -- I definitely took that to heart."

The 200 IM that Lochte won Thursday made for his 24th medal at a world championships, more than anyone except Phelps, with 33.

Earlier this week, Lochte finished fourth in the 200 free, just as he had done at the 2013 Barcelona worlds and the 2012 London Games.

In the 200 IM, though, he cruised. He finished the 200 IM semifinals with the best qualifying time, 1:56.81, and that despite an easy glide to the wall at the end.

In Thursday’s finals, he was down nine-hundredths of a second at 150 meters, then poured it on to run down Pereira.

Lochte’s gold made for the fourth straight time he has won the 200 IM at the worlds — after Rome 2009, Shanghai 2011 and Barcelona 2013. Going back to the Montreal 2005 worlds, Thursday’s race also marked his sixth medal in a row in the event (silver, Melbourne 2007; bronze, 2005).

Only Grant Hackett had ever won an event at four editions of the worlds running; he won four 1500s.

Lochte has also won three medals at the Olympic Games in the 200 IM.

Acknowledging Ledecky's "phenomenal" performance, Lochte said, "I am definitely really humbled about getting that win tonight and hopefully I got the ball rolling for Team USA."

Pereira, meanwhile, won two bronze medals two years ago in Barcelona. Now he has silver. He led the race at 100 and 150 meters.

“I couldn’t keep up at the end with Ryan,” he said. “But I’ve still got a whole year.”