Sun Yang

Mob rule is no way to make a stand

Mob rule is no way to make a stand

GWANGJU, South Korea — After the events here this week involving the Chinese star Sun Yang, here’s hoping that both Ryan Lochte and Madisyn Cox not only make the 2020 U.S. Olympic swim team but, moreover, go on to win medals.

Then we can see whether the sanctimonious, self-righteously moralistic and, moreover, self-appointed doping athlete police apply their same rigid and inappropriate black-and-white standards to Americans tagged for “doping” — Lochte, eligible again Wednesday after 14 months off for a rules violation tied to an IV drip, and Cox, who got six months for tainted multivitamins.

Or — and let’s be real — if there’s something more. 

You’d be hard-pressed not to smell the whiff of colonialism, imperialism and racism at work involving an athlete from China. Imagine, if you will, the outrage across all 50 states, red and blue, if had been an American who got snubbed on the medals stand, as Sun Yang did by athletes from Australia and Great Britain. As Sun Yang said, “Disrespecting me is OK, but disrespecting China was very unfortunate and I feel sorry about that.”

On Weibo, the People’s Daily — the official paper of the Chinese Communist Party — said, in part, “Sports should be purely sports. It’s not for someone who wants to make a splash. It’s not for someone to make trouble out of nothing, to be deliberately provocative. Let sports return to a normal state. Shame on them.”

If Sun Yang is shown to be liable of a doping violation, he deserves what he gets.

Until then, here is what he deserves — the benefit of the doubt, the presumption of innocence.

Of fear, failure and world-record brilliance

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KAZAN, Russia — Bobbing in the warmup pool before the start of Tuesday night’s finals, a black-and-red swim cap bore this declaration: “Your own worst enemy is your fear.”

For years and years, swimmers from other nations — even if they didn’t want to admit it and would never say so in public — feared the mighty U.S. swim team. This 2015 world championships is only three days old, and there is plenty of racing to go, but one thing, more than anything, is already clear: the fear is gone.

The rest of the world has for sure caught up to the United States.

Indeed, swimmers from other countries have proven themselves better than the Americans, and in a number of disciplines, a dramatic trend that has emerged as the No. 1 story at Kazan 2015, and could hold significant consequence for next year’s Rio 2016 Olympics.

On Monday, the U.S. went medal-less in three finals.

On Tuesday, American swimmers came up empty in the men’s 200 freestyle — Ryan Lochte, fourth — and the women’s 100 backstroke — Missy Franklin, fifth, and Kathleen Baker, eighth.

Katie Ledecky with her 1500 free gold medal // Getty Images

The Americans did salvage one non-Katie Ledecky medal — Matt Grevers’ third-place in the men’s 100 backstroke. Grevers had been the defending champion in the 100 back from Barcelona 2013 and the London 2012 Games.

His bronze marked the first medal of the meet for U.S. men.

The 18-year-old Ledecky has stamped herself at these championships as the No. 1 swimmer in the world. Zero question. Every race is a chance at a world record.

On Tuesday night, Ledecky demolished the world record in the 1500 free final that she herself had set in the prelims the day before.

Monday: 15:27.71.

Tuesday: 15:25.48, 2.23 seconds faster. She won the race by more than 14 seconds over Lauren Boyle of New Zealand, 15:40.14.

That made for her ninth world record — in the 1500, 800 or 400 — since 2013. Ninth!

Ledecky’s stats verge on the outrageous.

Her time Tuesday is a full 24-plus seconds under the qualifying mark for U.S. men for the 2016 Olympic Trials, 15:49.99. A Belgian journalist, Philippe Vande Weyer, who knows the Olympic scene well, said on his Twitter feed that Ledecky’s time Tuesday would have won the Belgian men’s championships by 52 seconds.

Some 29 minutes after the 1500 final, Ledecky was back into the water for a punishing double, bidding to qualify for Wednesday night’s 200 free final. Eighth at 100, seventh at 150, she raced the last 50 meters hard, finishing third in her heat for the sixth-best time over the two semis, 1:56.76.

Franklin advanced as well, with the second-best time, 1:56.37.

Missy Franklin, left, and Katie Ledecky at the close of the 200 free semis // Getty Images

Of the 1500, Ledecky said afterward, she thought during the race about both her grandfathers, both passed away, mindful that her two grandmothers were “watching carefully” back home: “I thought about my grandpas at one point in the race, and dug deep.”

Before the 200, she said, her “legs kind of felt like jello,” surprising because, as she said, “I barely kicked in the mile,” what swimmers call the 1500.

Jello, for those intrigued by what someone with Ledecky’s cool uses for fuel, had not been on the menu beforehand. At noon, she’d had pesto pasta, rice, green beans and some bread. At 2:45, more pasta: “I always have pasta before a final.”

In the 200, she said, “I dove in and my arms felt really really sore and my legs felt better than my arms, so I knew I had to kick. I toughed my way through that race and I couldn’t be more pleased with how that went.”

She also said of her brutal double and world-record 1500 swim, “I wasn’t afraid to fail.”

The U.S. medal count after three days: four, two gold, two bronze.

Ledecky has both golds: the 1500 and 400, which she won Sunday in setting a meet (but not world) record. The bronze medals: Grevers and the women’s 4x100 relay team.

Great Britain and Australia lead the medals count, each with five.

Britain’s emergence offers emphatic proof of how the world has changed. At the Barcelona 2013 worlds, the British won one medal, a bronze.

You have to go back to 1986, and the days of Communism, to find a swim worlds in which the U.S. did not win the overall medal count. That year, the East Germans won, with 30; the Americans came in second, with 24.

There is zero doubt that over the decades the U.S. has been the dominant power in world championships swimming. Coming into Kazan 2015, the U.S. had won the most medals (and by far), with 418; Australia had 152. Same goes for the gold-medal count: U.S. 231, Australia 58.

The Americans’ real edge has come in world championship years the year before an Olympics. See, for instance, 2011 Shanghai (29 medals, 16 gold); 2007 Melbourne (36 medals, 20 gold, as Michael Phelps geared up for Beijing 2008); Barcelona 2003 (28 overall, 11 gold).

Phelps is not in Kazan as part of the fallout from his drunk-driving case.

Meanwhile, evidence of how much better the rest of the world has become was all around Tuesday:

— Seven world records have already been set at Kazan 2015, bettering the mark set by the end of  Barcelona two years ago, where there were six. Ledecky has two; the rest of the world, five.

— Before Tuesday, no female swimmer from New Zealand had ever won a gold or silver at the worlds in any event. Boyle and Zoe Baker had been the only women from New Zealand to win a worlds medal — bronze, five in all. Boyle’s silver in the 1500 made for a first.

— In Tuesday morning’s prelims of the men’s 50 breaststroke, South Africa’s Cameron Van Der Burgh broke the world record. At night, Britain’s Adam Peaty — in the first of two semifinals — lowered it again, down to 26.42.

American Kevin Cordes set an American record in the semis, 26.76. Peaty, in the next lane, went a full three-tenths faster over a mere 50 meters.

Peaty, afterward: "The morning swim was easy, and I knew this was just the 50-meter race, not my main event," the 100, which he has already won here, "so I didn’t have any pressure. This made this semi also really easy for me."

— The top three in the men’s 200 free: James Guy of Britain, 1:45.14; China’s Sun Yang, 1:45.20; Germany’s Paul Biedermann, 1:45.38.

The men's 200 free podium: Paul Biedermann (Germany) left; James Guy (Britain), center; Sun Yang (China), right

Guy’s victory not only denied Sun the chance for a four-peat: the 400 (which Sun won on Sunday), as well as the 800 and 1500, in which he is a strong favorite.

The win also established Guy as one of the middle-distance favorites for 2016. He took second, behind Sun, on Sunday in the 400.

Guy is 19 years old, and will now hold forever the distinction of being the first British male ever to win a worlds freestyle title. He said of winning, “I’ve never thought I could reach that -- beyond making the final. With so many great swimmers around, Chad [le Clos] ... Ryan, Sun who are my idols … My tactics were just swim my own race, concentrate on myself and that worked.”

For his part, Lochte’s fourth matched the fourths he registered in the 200 from Barcelona 2013 worlds as well as the London 2012 Olympics in the 200 free. He said afterward he just needed to train harder.

— Grevers' third-place Tuesday, in 52.66, came in a tight race. He finished behind Mitchell Larkin of Australia, 52.40, and Camille Lacourt of France, 52.48.

Grevers, after: “I’m very surprised I lost the back half of that. That’s not how I train. I train to finish. I don’t train to die. I practice living, not dying. So dying there was very disappointing.”

— Franklin is the gold medalist in the 100 back at London 2012 and Barcelona 2013 (as well as gold medalist in the 200 free two years ago). On Tuesday night’s in the 100 back, she managed 59.4, more than a second behind winner Emily Seebohm of Australia, 58.26. Second, another Australian, Madison Wilson. Third, Denmark’s Mie Oe Nielsen. Fourth, China’s Fu Yuanhui.

Franklin said, “I have literally done everything I could have possibly done the past two months to be prepared for this meet. No excuses. I was at 59.4 and that’s obviously where I am right now.”

— Here was the field for the women’s 100 breaststroke final: Italy, Japan, Jamaica, Russia, Lithuania, China, Sweden and Iceland. Jamaica! Iceland!

Russia’s Yulia Efimova won the race, in 1:05.66, and Kazan Arena rocked hard a few minutes later as the crowd sang the national anthem.

It’s well-known in swim circles that Efimova trained in Los Angeles, at USC. Iceland’s Hrafnhildur Luthersdottir trained in Florida, at Gainesville.

This sort of thing has been going on for years and years, and it’s not going to change, nor should it — athletes from all over the world coming to the United States for opportunity.

At the same time, a variety of factors might explain why the Americans find themselves looking up at the end of races and not finding the familiar “1” next to the red, white and blue:

— Phelps isn’t here. He’s not only the best swimmer in U.S. history but had emerged in recent years as a genuine team leader.

— The Americans have long had a disdain for non-Olympic events such as the 50 sprints (everything but free: fly, breast, back) and new events such as mixed relays. The conversation should be had, and soon, about whether that focus deserves intense review.

Outside of Nathan Adrian, it’s hard to pick anyone in the U.S. sprint program who seems like a sure lock for a medal, men or women.

— The U.S. team for Kazan 2015 was picked a year ago. There were athletes who raced at the recent Pan-American Games in Toronto who should have been here, and vice-versa.

Such a selection policy deserves, again, review.

— And, perhaps most of all, there’s the fear factor. Or, better, the lack of it.

Tyler Clary, the 200 backstroke gold medalist from London 2012, finished 12th in the 200 fly semifinals Tuesday, an event in which one American — Tom Shields, eighth — qualified for the finals.

For years, Phelps ruled the 200 fly. Now, until proven otherwise, le Clos is the man. The South African turned in a solid second-place effort in Tuesday’s semis, behind Hungarian veteran Laszlo Cheh.

Clary said after the race that, big picture, Kazan 2015 ought to be considered a “rehearsal” for Rio 2016, that results here “ought to be taken with a grain of salt.”

He said, “Regardless of what the medal counts might look like, and we’re not having the most excellent meet Team USA has ever had … at the end of the day, all that matters is how we do next summer.”

Asked if the rest of the world had caught up with the Americans, Clary said, “I can agree with that.”

The next question — did swimmers from everywhere else no long fear the mighty Americans?

“It’s not my place,” he said, “to comment on the psyche of other swimmers. Maybe, maybe not.” He paused. “They certainly don’t swim like it.”

No Michael Phelps but Katie Ledecky is so good

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KAZAN, Russia — No Michael Phelps but when you have Katie Ledecky, you get records. So maybe the only ones happier than Ledecky after she set a world championships record Sunday night in the 400-meter freestyle was, well, everyone who  wondered, exactly, what this meet would be like without Phelps, the one and only. All sports need big stars, and in the absence of Phelps, beyond doubt the biggest name in swim history, Ledecky showed Sunday — again — why she is one of the most gifted, truly thrilling athletes in the Olympic scene.

Moreover, and perhaps just in time for a world turned too-skeptical about Olympic sports because of story after story of athletes caught using performance-enhancing drugs, track and field again engulfed over the weekend in a potentially wide-ranging scandal, with Katie Ledecky there’s never a doping worry. Take it to the bank: she is 110 percent racing clean.

Ledecky raced to victory in 3:59.13, breaking the world championships record by two-hundredths of a second. Her time, the third-fastest ever, was just a beat or two shy of her own world record, 3:58.37.

Katie Ledecky with her 400 free gold // Getty Images

Her race marked the much-anticipated highlight of the first of eight nights of racing from Kazan 2015. Also Sunday night:

— In the semifinals of the women’s 100 butterfly, Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom did set a world-record, going 55.74, breaking the mark of 55.98 that American Dana Vollmer set at the London 2012 Olympics.

— In the second semifinal of the men’s 50 breaststroke, Britain’s Adam Peaty also set a championship mark, 58.18, just moments after South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh had set the mark at 58.49 in semifinal one. Peaty holds the world record, 57.92, set in April at the British nationals.

— In the men’s 400 free, China’s Sun Yang — who last year served a three-month doping ban — reclaimed his place on the world stage, winning emphatically in 3:42.58. After touching first, he bellowed in exultation and wagged his index finger to remind one and all who, in men’s distance, is No. 1.

At the 2013 worlds in Barcelona, Sun won the 400, 800 and 1500 frees.

For swim geeks, this freaky note: Sun’s time was precisely the same, to the second, that Ian Thorpe hit to win the 400 free at the 2003 world championships.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Sun first played it supremely cool:

“First of all, I would like to offer congratulations to my country. They just won the bid for 2022. I would like to take this opportunity to promote these Olympic Games and to jog attention from media worldwide.”

Then, asked about his doping matter, he delivered a mini-soliloquy — but only after asking first what country the journalist asking the question was from (Switzerland).

Sun Yang leaves no doubt: he is No. 1 in the 400 // Getty Images

“I don’t understand,” he said, “why the media pays this much attention to this. The world always thinks that whenever a Chinese athlete gets a good result, we have used some drugs. For Chinese athletes, we are training very hard, as are athletes in other countries.

“There is absolutely no doubt that … doping cases are happening in other countries as well, for example the Australia team. But I don’t understand why the media pay so much attention and over-promote this story. I think,” he said, “it’s a lack of respect.”

A moment later, he added, “I hope media all over the world can have a fair attitude toward Chinese athletes. Don’t treat us as the enemy. Treat us fairly.”

— As Sunday night’s racing wound to a close, the Australian women’s 4x100 relay team — no allegation of anything amiss — set another championship mark, winning big in 3:31.48, 24-hundredths under the old mark, set by the Netherlands at the 2009 Rome championships. Here the Dutch took second, in 3:33.67. The Americans, with Missy Franklin swimming leadoff, took third, in 3:34.61.

As for Phelps, with 22 Olympic medals, 18 gold:

You think the U.S. effort missed him Sunday? The U.S. men’s 4x100 relay team — a perennial medal contender in an event that is for Phelps virtually a crusade for red, white and blue pride, one in which he typically swims lead-off — finished 11th in Sunday morning’s prelims, in 3:16.01, nowhere near good enough to make the top-eight for the nighttime finals.

That marked the first time, dating to 1973, the American men missed the world championship final of a 4x100 free. Indeed, with one exception, 2001 in Fukuoka, Japan, the Americans had made the 4x100 podium; in that 2001 race, the Americans  finished third but ended up getting disqualified for using a swimmer whose name was not on the entry list.

Meanwhile, the Australian men also got shut out; the Aussies finished 13th in Sunday’s qualifying, at 3:16.34.

So another first: Kazan 2015 made for the first worlds at which neither the Americans nor Australians would medal in the men’s 4x100 relay.

To underscore the import of Sunday’s subpar relay performance and the challenge ahead for the U.S. men’s 4x100 relay:

Taking out the 2001 DQ: that 3:16.01 made for the slowest by a U.S. 4x100 relay team at a world championships since 1998, 3:16.69.

It ought to be abundantly clear now to USA Swimming officials that there needs to be, for the relay, this strategy: an A team, the one that swims in the night finals, and an A-minus squad for the morning prelims, the one that at least gets you top-eight. In addition, there needs to be A-plus training and preparation — qualities that clearly were not Sunday in evidence.

Relying on anything else — you need four guys who can swim 48 seconds, consistently — simply won’t do, given the way the rest of the world has caught up.

Consider the eight teams in Sunday’s final: Poland, Japan, Italy, Russia, Brazil, France, Canada and China.

France won, just as in London 2012 and Barcelona 2013, here in 3:10.74. Russia, pushed by a screaming home crowd, grabbed second, in 3:11.19. Italy took third, in 3:12.53, its first 4x100 worlds medal since 2007.

It's like Christmas in August for the third-place  Italian relay team: Luca Dotto, Marco Orsi, Michele Santucci and Filippo Magnini // Getty Images

Moreover, the wisdom of keeping Phelps home seriously has to — once again — be questioned. He has done his out-of-the-pool time, part of the deal sparked by his drunk-driving suspension. The value of not having him here, months later and after he has undergone weeks of isolation and reflection that seem life-changing, is — what? Particularly when Phelps, given his import in world-class relays, will be swimming this very same week at the U.S. championships in San Antonio?

Where is the logic? How does not having Phelps here further serve him? Or U.S. interests, swim and Olympic?

There had been great hopes from many in influential swim circles that Phelps and USA Swimming would be able to find a way to get him here to Kazan 2015. Again, all sports need stars. It’s that elemental. And he assuredly would have loved to have been here. In the midst of his self-proclaimed retirement, he sat out the 2013 worlds, in Barcelona — though he was there, at the meet, texting in real time to longtime coach Bob Bowman thoughts on the U.S. relay 4x100 relay as it finished second.

No compromise could be reached, however.

The good news for the Americans: 11th is good enough to make the Rio 2016 relay line-up (top 12).

The not good: U.S. prospects for the 2016 Games in the 4x100 relay can now best be described as a — in a word — situation.

Without Phelps, it was always clear coming into Kazan that expectations would fall on Ledecky, Franklin and Ryan Lochte to command the spotlight for the U.S. team.

Every time Ledecky swims, the world record is at risk, and in races where such marks had been standards for many years, in particular the 400, 800 and 1500. She is due to swim the 200 free here as well.

For anyone else, this would be crazy talk; a world-record possibility in every swim.

Ledecky, though, is so crazy good that she turns races that are something like four, eight or 14 minutes long into incredible theater.

With Ledecky on the blocks, it’s not whether she’s going to win. She’s a near lock to win. The issue now is by how much, and will there be a meet or world record?

In Sunday morning’s prelims, she flirted with the world record through 200 meters, then eased off, treating the final 200 like a training swim. She touched first in her heat in the prelim in 4:01.73, the morning’s fastest time. Jessica Ashwood of Australia turned in the morning’s second-best: it was 2.74 seconds behind Ledecky.

Going into Sunday night, the 400 world record stood at 3:58.37. Ledecky set that mark last Aug. 23, at the Pan Pacific championships in Gold Coast, Australia. Before that, the world record had stood at 3:58.86; Ledecky did that at the U.S. championships just 14 days beforehand.

In case the numbers all get to be too much: last year, Ledecky set the world record, then lowered it again by about a half-second, all within two weeks.

Some more big-picture context:

Camille Muffat of France won the 400 at the London 2012 Olympics. Muffat was among 10 people killed in a helicopter crash in March in Argentina; her death lent additional poignancy to Sunday’s race.

Before Ledecky went off last year, the 400 mark had stood for five years — Federica Pellegrini, 3:59.15, at the Rome 2009 championships, the first women’s 400 sub-4 swim in history. Before that, it had been lowered only five times in the years since Janet Evans went 4:03.85 in September, 1988, at the Seoul Olympics.

Ledecky won the 800 at London 2012.

In Barcelona in 2013, she won the 400, 800 and 1500. She and Sun were named female and male athletes of the meet.

At last year’s Pan Pacs, she won four freestyle events — 200, 400, 800 and 1500 — and added gold in the 4x200 relay.

That’s one way to measure her progression, how ridiculously good she has become.

Here’s another:

Her 400 prelim times at major meets over the past three years: Barcelona, 4:03.05. PanPacs: 4:03.09. Kazan: 4:01.73.

Or how about this:

Going into Sunday's race, of the all-time top-10 performances in the 400, Ledecky held six of them, including five of the top six. All five are under 4 minutes.

On Sunday night, she put herself in position for another world mark. She was a second under world record pace at 200 meters, 18-hundredths under at 300.

On the seventh lap, she slipped just a little bit — 31-flat, her only lap in 31. Coming home, she reached out for a 29.57, good enough for that world championships record, just shy of the world mark.

Ashwood finished third, at 4:03.34. Sharon Van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands took second, in 4:03.02.

It’s a testament to Ledecky’s excellence that when she “only” breaks the world championships record but not the world record itself, she gets asked if she’s disappointed — and if it’s annoying or, in its way, flattering to be asked if she gets disappointed.

“It is very flattering,” she said late Sunday. “You know, it’s a great honor for me that you expect or hope for a world record each time I swim. Because, I guess, that’s based on what I have done in the past.

“That is a pretty neat thing for me. I won’t get annoyed at any of you. You keep doing what you do and I will keep doing what I do.”

Which is race super-fast — 3:59.13, Ledecky said, is “a swim I can be really happy with.”

Not just one super swimmer

BARCELONA -- No, Michael Phelps did not swim even one stroke at the 2013 world championships. Yes, his presence hung over the meet -- it being a year to the day that he touched the wall for the last time in the winning medley relay in London, as was helpfully noted in a Facebook post by the U.S. Olympic Team. Is he coming back? Who knows? Whatever Phelps ultimately opts to do, keep at his golf game or again take the plunge, these championships, which wrapped up Sunday in memorable fashion, with the bang of the medley relays, will be long remembered because -- if this is indeed the post-Phelps era -- swimming now boasts not just one super-amazing swimmer.

It has a bunch of them.

Swimming - 15th FINA World Championships: Day Sixteen

Phelps has always said he wanted, first and foremost, to grow the sport. Evidence came shining through across eight days at the Palau Sant Jordi.

American Missy Franklin, 18, won six gold medals. She joined Phelps, Mark Spitz and East German Kristin Otto as the only swimmers to win as many as six at the worlds or the Olympics. Otto won six at the 1988 Seoul Games.

Last year in London, Franklin won four golds and a bronze. She is -- at the risk of understatement -- an extraordinary talent.

At a late-night news conference, she was asked: "Missy, after all you have achieved here in Barcelona, do you start feeling like the female Michael Phelps?"

She smiled. "No," she said. "I just feel like Missy. I think that's all I ever want to be, is just Missy.

"I don't ever want to want to take after someone else, because in swimming everyone leaves their own unique mark. No one will ever do what Michael did, or how Michael did it. It has been incredible watching him. But I hope to kind of have my own unique traits that make me known for just being me in the swimming world instead of anyone else."

Franklin's immediate reaction after her final medal, a big win Sunday night by the U.S. women in the medley: she is taking a break from swimming until she shows up in a couple weeks at Berkeley for her freshman year.

The U.S. team dominated the swim medal count, with 29 overall in the pool, 14 gold. Including open water, the U.S. total: 31. Even so, these worlds underscored swimming's phenomenal worldwide growth, and the emergence of stars from all over.

For some context:

At the height of the craziness that was the plastic-suit craze, the 2009 world championships in Rome, swimmers set 43 world records. There was talk then that those marks might last 10 or 20 years.

Here, swimmers set six world records -- three in one day, Saturday.

All six records, intriguingly, were set in women's races.

Lithuania's Ruta Meilutyte, just 16, set two world records herself, in the 50 and 100 breaststroke. Her mark in the 50, in Saturday's semifinal no less, came mere hours after Russia's Yulia Efimova had in the preliminaries shaved two-hundredths of a second off the 29.8 record that American Jessica Hardy had set in 2009; Meilutyte lowered the new mark, 29.78, by a whopping three-tenths of a second, to 29.48.

Then, in Sunday's final, as if to emphasize just how brutal the competition has become, Efimova won the race, touching in 29.52. Meilutyte came in second, in 29.59. Hardy finished third, in 29.8 -- which, until just Saturday, had been world-record time.

"For her to swim so fast -- this is an amazing time," Efimova said. "But today I win. And this is great."

In Sunday's night's men's 1500, China's Sun Yang prevailed, in 14:41.15. That meant he won all three distance races, the 1500, 800 and 400 -- pulling off the distance triple that Australian legend Grant Hackett did at the world championships in Montreal in 2005.

He was named the male swimmer of the meet.

The female swimmer of the meet?

American Katie Ledecky, also 16. She also set two world records -- in the 800 and the 1500, the mark in the 1500 going down by six seconds. She also won all three distance races -- again, the 400, 800 and 1500. Moreover, she swam a leg on the winning 4x200 relay.

Ledecky said she had hoped for three wins and one world record -- in any of the three races, she said.

Though "it means a lot to me to get this award," Ledecky said, Franklin "deserves it probably more than I do" and "we are all so proud of her."

This must be understood about Katie Ledecky:

Out of the pool, she is as pleasant, charming and delightful as any model teen-ager -- who plans now to head home and apply for her driver's permit -- can be.

When she steps onto the blocks, however, she acquires -- this is meant as the highest of compliments -- a cold-blooded instinct to win.

She explained on Saturday where it comes from: "I've always had it, from the time I started swimming. When you love it, you want to do well." Comparatively, it's not a big deal to her to swim against the world's best: "When you get to a [big] meet, it's nothing new. You just compete against the girls next to you. That is what swimming is all about."

At a news conference Sunday, Ledecky was asked why it is that the world records here fell only to women.

She said, "Michael Phelps just retired. He left a really great legacy. I think a lot of great people have been inspired by him. Not just the male swimmers but definitely female swimmers as well. I think the world of swimming is really fast right now. I think the women are stepping up. The men are trying to chase some of Michael's records, which are really tough. I don't know -- it's just a handful of female swimmers that are starting to do this."

South Africa's Chad le Clos won the men's 100 and 200 butterflys, coming from behind in the 100 -- he was fifth at the turn -- just the way Phelps used to.

Cesar Cielo of Brazil won the men's 50 free in 21.32 but the race produced a new star, silver medalist Vlad Morozov, who touched in 21.47. Morozov, who moved to Southern California from Siberia when he was 14 and swam for USC in college, tore up the 2013 NCAA meet, breaking the 100-yard sprint record set by -- who else -- Cielo.

The U.S. medal count in the pool, incidentally, would have been an even 30 -- and the gold total 15 -- but for an unusual disqualification Sunday night in the men's medley.

On the first exchange, with Matt Grevers finishing the backstroke leg and Kevin Cordes jumping off to do the breaststroke, the electronic timer caught Cordes jumping precisely one-hundredth of a second too soon. The U.S. team finished the race in first place, with Ryan Lochte swimming the fly and Nathan Adrian swimming the anchor freestyle, and by more than a second -- but was promptly disqualified.

The incident was evocative of an exchange at the worlds in Melbourne in 2007, when Ian Crocker jumped off in the medley prelims exactly one-hundredth of a second too soon as well. That kept Phelps from winning eight gold medals there.

Grevers said the mix-up might have been as much on him as on Cordes, a promising breaststroker expected to be one of the world's best by the 2016 Rio Games. Adrian said, "It falls on all of our shoulders. It's up to all of us to help bring it back. I have said this before. If us four ever step up again, we are never going to have a disqualification. That's for sure."

Bob Bowman, Phelps' longtime mentor who is the head U.S. men's coach here, similarly called the episode Sunday a "great learning experience."

He urged perspective: "DQ'ing a relay in the first world championships of the quad is one thing. Doing it in the Olympics … would be 10 times worse, right?" The trick going forward: to "re-think how they're gong to react to things in this environment and just do better."

Earlier in the week, Phelps had been in the stands texting Bowman when the U.S. was racing.

Asked if Phelps had sent a text or two with some thoughts on the medley, Bowman said, "Not yet."

Then again, that was just moments after.

 

An epic swimming triple

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BARCELONA -- It is Ryan Lochte's fate that he was born in 1984 -- on August 3, to be precise. The good news is that it's his birthday on Saturday. Happy 29 to a guy who is a lot -- and, for emphasis, a lot -- smarter than a good many people think, and a lot more sensitive, who is incredibly gracious with children, autograph-seekers and photo-takers, and patiently answers all manner of questions, no matter how inane.

The unshakeable challenge for Ryan Lochte is that he is not Michael Phelps (who, by the way, turned 28 in June). So even on a night at the Palau Sant Jordi in which Lochte had demonstrated anew that he is unequivocally one of swimming's all-time greats, racing a triple believed to be unprecedented in world championships or Olympic history, Lochte was nonetheless presented at a late-night news conference with a query about Phelps.

"Do you miss Michael" he was asked.

"Do I miss Michael? Of course. He's the toughest competitor I have ever had to race against. The friendship we've grown -- it's amazing. I love a challenge. Whenever I stepped on the blocks, it was a challenge racing him, and I definitely miss him."

The beginning: Ryan Lochte moments before the first of his three races, the 200 backstroke // Getty Images

The general rule in a news conferences is that anyone can ask anything. Surely, though, on this night, Ryan Lochte deserved singular attention. He swam three races in about an hour and a half, winning two gold medals and posting the top time at an event, the 100-meter butterfly, he's competing in at a major international meet for the first time.

Lochte won the 200 backstroke. He then posted the fastest time in the semifinals of the 100 fly. The he put the Americans ahead for good in the 4x200 relay.

This was a triple of -- truly -- epic proportions.

It's all the more outrageous considering, as Lochte has noted several times here, he did not put in his usual beast-like training -- that because of all the fun he allowed himself after the 2012 Olympics, including his reality-TV show.

"My whole body is hurting me," he said at the news conference. "There's no way about it. I'm sore. Everything."

To show you how hard it is to gin up motivation to win even one medal at a world championships, in particular the year after the Olympic Games, here is Tyler Clary, third in Friday's 200 back, winner of the event last year in London.

Lochte touched Friday in 1:53.79, Clary in 1:54.64, Poland's Radoslaw Kawecki in between in 1:54.24. Clary said his "only goal" Friday was to "have a very good race technically" and swim "1:54-mid, and that's exactly what I did."

'It's hard to find the motivation to do it, yes," Clary acknowledged, adding, "I went into that event [in London] not expecting to win. I knew I was in contention for a medal but when I touched the wall and I saw '1' and 'Olympic record' next to my name, I absolutely lost it in the next couple weeks after that race. Pure pandemonium.

"And to be able to come back, right away, get right back in the water with your heart fully into it, is really tough. I made it doubly hard on myself coming back at 220 [pounds] when I usually swim at 190."

Now throw in, like Lochte, the demands of a filming a reality-show.

French sprinter Fred Bousquet, fifth in qualifying Friday in the men's 50 free, said of Lochte, laughing, "I don't even want to talk about him. He is a freak."

Bousquet, who went to college at Auburn and is completely conversant in American culture, added,  "He's got cojones, as we would say in Spanish. The TV show, the temptations -- not to lose enthusiasm. If he's still walking tonight after that relay, it'll be impressive."

Anthony Ervin, the Sydney 2000 50 free gold medalist who posted the second-fastest time in the one-lap sprint Friday, called Lochte's triple a "Herculean feat of strength," adding, "I can barely handle doing one lap twice in 12 hours. And that man is going to be on the podium every day."

Ricky Berens, who swam the anchor leg of the U.S. relay, called Lochte's performance "absolutely one of the toughest triples you can do," adding he was himself inspired: "If [Lochte] can do all those races, I know I can pop off something good, too."

The TV show of course, is called, "What would Ryan Lochte Do?" The obvious question after the triple -- why did Ryan Lochte do it?

There are two answers.

There was the joke Lochte offered at the news conference: "I thought as you get older you do less events. In my case you do more."

And then there's the real answer, buried in the answer he gave about Phelps. Lochte loves a challenge.

Phelps, for instance, swam three races in one session at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials -- the 200 back and 200 IM finals and the 100 fly semis -- and Lochte did the same thing last year at the Trials in Omaha.

This, though, is the worlds. And Lochte's program Friday is arguably beyond compare -- not just because he was defending world titles but because the level of competition was even a notch higher.

Here was Lochte's night:

613 pm: Lane 5, 200 back begins.

615 pm: Wins in 1:53.79, 15-hundredths faster than he swam in winning bronze in the race in London. The victory is his third straight world title in the event, the eighth straight time a a U.S. man has won it, his 14th world championships gold. He goes straight to the warm-down pool and swims a few laps.

653 pm: Medals stand for The Star-Spangled Banner.

704 pm: Call room, seat 4, front row, his warm-up jacket open, Lochte is yakking it up with Hungary's Laszlo Cseh. Lochte had managed after getting his medal to swing by the massage therapist's room and get a shake to drink.

713 pm: Dives in pool for his heat of 100 fly, Lane 1.

714 pm: Wins heat in 51.48, a personal best, second-fastest in the world this year, back to warm-down pool.

745 pm: U.S. 4x200 relay team is on deck, Lochte assigned second leg.

747 pm: Dives in pool, Lane 4, with U.S. looking to make up ground because Russia's Danila Izotov had opened in 1:45.14. Lochte's effort, 1:44.98, lifts U.S. into first by 63-hundredths of a second, and the Americans go on to win in 7:01.72. It was the first U.S. 4x200 relay without Phelps since 2001; the U.S. has won the event continuously since 2004.

After all the other swimming he had done, Lochte's relay split, it would turn out, would be the night's second-fastest.

Only China's Sun Yang -- the 400 and 800 gold medalist -- went faster, 1:43.16.

The relay gold makes Lochte the first swimmer in world championships history to win two gold medals in one day on three separate occasions. He did it previously on March 30, 2007, and July 29, 2011.

The end: the victory orange high-tops Lochte wore to the news conference after the epic triple

No matter what happens in the 100 fly, what happened here Friday sets the stage for the world championships in Kazan, Russia, in 2015, and the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Lochte said he approaches everything day by day, step by step. Even so, he said:

"After the Olympics, my body and my mind -- it needed some down time. It needed to get away from the sport. It needed to re-charge. I took some time off. I don't know if it was the right decision or not. I do know when I was out of the pool I was having fun."

But, he quickly added, "When it came down to it, I am still an Olympic athlete. My goal is 2016. I knew I had to get back in the water, sooner than I thought."

And, he said, "The confidence I have coming out of this meet is pretty good leading up to 2016."

You think?

 

In a perfect world: Mellouli rocks

Everyone knows Michael Phelps. Pretty much only swim geeks, and Tunisians, know the story of Ous Mellouli, which is the way it is but not the way it should be. In a perfect world, Mellouli would be celebrated like Phelps. He is charming, funny, good-looking, well-spoken, plain-speaking, at ease in different languages and, as a University of Southern California guy, completely and totally comfortable in celebrity culture.

All of that, and Mellouli, now 29, is one of the most accomplished athletes of our or any time, with a knack for coming up big when the lights are brightest. In winning the open-water five-kilometer swim Sunday at the 2013 world championships in Barcelona, Spain, Mellouli added to his considerable resume with a victory that nobody saw coming.

Maybe -- truth be told -- not even him.

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With a final kick evocative of the way that runners in the 5k distance race finish off the race on the track, Mellouli won in 53 minutes, 30.4 seconds, holding off Canada's Eric Hedlin, who finished 1.2 seconds back. Germany's Thomas Lurz, another six-tenths behind, took third.

"You get in that zone and your thoughts get dialed in," Mellouli said Sunday in a phone call. "In that moment, all the other things don't matter. It doesn't matter if you are swimming in mud. You just have to get to the finish first."

The victory closed a circle of sorts.

It was 10 years ago, at the 2003 Barcelona world championships, that Phelps won the 400-meter individual medley. Laszlo Cseh of Hungary took silver in that race. Mellouli took third.

Barcelona 2003 was, in many ways, the meet that announced Phelps to the world. Since then, of course, Phelps has gone on to win 22 Olympic medals, 18 of them gold.

Mellouli?

From Tunisia, he went to school in France, then came to USC. There he would connect with coach Dave Salo, who has a remarkable record of helping swimmers -- among them Mellouli, U.S. breaststroker Rebecca Soni and the likely breakout star of the 2013 meet, Russia's Vlad Morozov -- achieve their best.

At the 2004 Games, Mellouli finished fifth in the 400 IM, then turned to longer distances -- which, it would turn out, would prove his calling.

In 2007, at the world championships in Melbourne, Australia, Mellouli came from behind to win the 800; he also earned a silver in the 400. Then, though, his results would be nullified after a positive test for amphetamines. It turned out -- and he has always totally owned up to this -- that he had taken an Adderall pill to finish writing a term paper at USC.

A dumb mistake that any college kid could have made.

Because Mellouli was forthright, authorities reduced his suspension from the usual term, two years, to 18 months.

In retrospect, Mellouli says now, the episode served as a powerful lesson: "I gained perspective and built momentum from it. It was a mistake and cost me my first world title. I came out of it a stronger and better and more professional athlete. I'm actually grateful for it."

At the 2008 Beijing Games, in the 1500 -- the swimming equivalent of a mile -- much of the focus was whether Australia's Grant Hackett, the two-time defending Olympic champ, would become the first man to win the same individual event at three consecutive Games.

Mellouli won the race, in 14:40.84. Hackett took silver, in 14:41.53.

It was Tunisia's first-ever swimming medal.

At the 2012 Games, Mellouli, showing his versatility and range, swam both in the open-water event and in the pool.

The 10k open-water marathon wound through London's Serpentine, in Hyde Park. Mellouli won, in 1:49.55.1; Lurz took silver, 3.4 seconds behind.

In the pool, meanwhile, in the 1500, China's Sun Yang turned in an other-worldly 14:31.02 to win gold. Canada's Ryan Cochrane, who had won bronze in 2008, finished in 14:39.63 to claim silver; Mellouli finished third, in 14:40.31.

That made him the first to win pool and open-water medals at a single Games.

After London, Mellouli took some well-deserved time off. He traveled -- Rio de Janeiro, the Bahamas, Montreal, Hawaii, back to Tunisia, Europe. By his own admission, he gained -- well, 30 pounds.

Thinking he was going to retire, he didn't swim meaningfully for six months.

What makes Sunday's victory all the more astonishing is that he has been training -- really training -- for only eight weeks.

That's right. Eight weeks.

He did a stint at altitude in Colorado with Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman; some time with his Tunisian coaches; some work with Salo; with Catherine Vogt, who also helps train Sunday's 5k women's winner, Haley Anderson; and with Jon Urbanchek, the former University of Michigan head coach, now based in Southern California.

It was, Mellouli said, "something completely different, no structure at all, going by feel," and "everybody really helped out."

He said he intends to race the 10k on Monday. And now Rio and 2016 beckon.

"The coolest thing about it is I really love open water," Mellouli said, adding, "It's a great challenge. That's why you see my reactions at the end -- it's a scream of a mixture of just rage and just happiness and everything.

"It tests you. You get tested mentally and physically and everything. To be part of it, helping the sport grow and giving the sport credibility and now making a name for myself in the open-water world, I see the sport growing year by year -- I take a lot of pride in that, for sure."

--

Update:

Mellouli finished third in Monday's 10k.

Greece's Spyridon Gianniotis, the Shanghai 2011 world champion in the 10k, repeated in Barcelona, winning in 1 hour, 49 minutes and 11.8 seconds. He had finished fourth at last summer's London Games.

Lurz took second, in 1:49:14.5. Mellouli's third-place time: 1:49.19.2.

 

Team USA's "unbelievably encouraging" swim worlds

SHANGHAI -- As the race unfolded, it wasn't a question of whether Ryan Lochte would win the 400-meter individual medley. It was by how much. In 2011, he's just that much better than everyone else. After three of the four segments in the race, he was a stunning three seconds ahead of the other American in the race, Tyler Clary, who was in second place.

Lochte went on to win, in 4:07.13, with Clary  four seconds back, capping the final night of the 2011 swimming world championships, a night that not only saw a second world record -- China's Sun Yang, in the men's 1500 meters -- but also saw the American team again assert its dominance.

Remember former USA Track & Field chief executive Doug Logan, and his ambitious goal of seeing the American track team win 30 medals in London next year?

Here, the U.S. swim team won 29. That's seven better than it won at the 2009 world championships in Rome.

In Beijing, at the 2008 Games, the U.S. swim team won 31 medals, 12 gold. The track team may still get the love from the traditionalists but the plain, hard fact is that it's the swim team that carries the U.S. medals count. It did in Beijing and it's all but sure to do so in London, too.

In a twist, the American dominance in Shanghai can be attributed in large measure to the American women, who came on strong across the board, and in particular to the emergence of 16-year-old Missy Franklin.

In Rome, the American women took home only eight medals -- two gold, three silver, three bronze.

Here: 13 total -- eight gold, two silver, three bronze.

With Franklin yelling, "Let's go, USA!" in the stands, Jessica Hardy won gold Sunday night in the 50 breaststroke, a poignant victory after her suspension for inadvertently ingesting a contaminated supplement, with Rebecca Soni -- who earlier had won the 100 and 200 breaststroke races -- taking third. Then Elisabeth Beisel won the women's 400 IM.

"It was great by [Saturday] night and just got greater tonight," the U.S. women's head coach, Jack Bauerle, said when it was all over.

The sudden depth of the U.S. women's program was most evident in the medley relay Saturday, when Franklin anchored a victory in American-record time. That prompted Natalie Coughlin to post afterward to her Twitter feed, "Yay. Gold medal, 4x100 MR. 10 yrs on that relay & 1st GOLD."

The depth on display in Shanghai, moreover, doesn't even factor in a whole host of college swimmers or the likes of Dara Torres or Janet Evans.

Pointing toward London, it's "unbelievably encouraging," Bauerle said.

As for the men -- well, the performances that Lochte and Phelps threw down are surely encouraging.

Lochte won five gold medals and set a world record -- the first since the plastic suits went away at the start of 2010 -- in the 200 IM, edging out Phelps in the race by 16-hundredths of a second.

Asked to reflect on his performance, Lochte said, and he was being dead serious, "I'm not happy. I know I can go a lot faster."

This is the mental key to Lochte's success. "I don't really think I'm the top dog," he explained, adding that no matter what he might accomplish, immediately afterward, "I knock myself right down to the bottom of the totem pole." So, looking toward London, "I have a whole year to work hard, train hard, to get back up there to the top. As far as I'm concerned right now, I'm at the bottom."

Phelps on Sunday night put the American men in position to win the medley relay with his butterfly split; Nathan Adrian swam the winning anchor leg.

Over the course of his week here, Phelps won both the 100 and 200 flys; he also took part in two winning relays; so that's four golds. He took two silvers, both behind Lochte, in the 200 IM and the 200 free; and he was part of the bronze-winning 400 free relay.

In all, that's seven medals -- the most won by anyone here. Over his extraordinary career, Phelps has won 26 gold and 33 world championship medals; both are records.

The medley marked Phelps' last world championship swim. He has vowed that the London Games will see the end of his competitive swimming career. He said in a Twitter post that it was "wild" to think that Shanghai was his last worlds -- his first was in 2001, in Japan -- and "amazing" to finish with a gold medal.

At a news conference, Phelps again made the point that 2011 is a warm-up for 2012. Once more, he said it's time to buckle down:

"I said this 100 times this week and I'll say it 100 more. To swim fast you've got to be in good shape. Ryan is clearly working hard and is clearly in the best shape he has probably ever been [in]. That's why he's swimming how he is. You know, I just need to get back to what I did to get to where I am, and that's hard work and not giving up, and that really is the biggest key for me over the next 12 months."

The challenge for the American men is obviously not Lochte and Phelps.

It's this:

Clary won that silver in the 400 IM and a bronze in the 200 backstroke, both behind Lochte.

Tyler McGill took third in the 100 fly, behind Phelps.

Nobody else won anything.

To be fair, stuff happens. Adrian, for instance, who finished fourth in the 50 free, touched the wall one-hundredth of a second from third place. Nobody's blaming him for that -- that would be ridiculous.

Traditionally, though, the U.S. men are strong in the breaststroke and in a race such as the 100 back. "We know where we've got to get better," the U.S. men's coach, Eddie Reese, said Sunday night.

As for the inevitable -- before the "how many golds can Lochte win in London?" chatter gets overwhelming, remember that the eight Phelps won in Beijing broke down to five individual events and three relays.

One step further: The American men would seem a safe bet for 2012 in two of those relay, the 800 free and medley.

As for the 400 free, though, the one in which Jason Lezak saved the house in 2008 -- the Australians, led by James Magnussen, smoked the Americans in Shanghai. Magnussen went on to win the open 100 here as well. He is a force, and he's just 20 years old.

Magnussen swam the lead-off leg for the Aussies; Eamon Sullivan the anchor. After watching the destruction, Reese had said, "After we saw the first guy from Australia, we didn't know he could stay out there, that they'd stay out there. Their anchor man's got such a great history. He's the guy that scared me on the relay, more so than their lead-off man. But he now scares me more."

On Sunday night, Reese observed, "The world is getting better."

Before the Americans even get to Magnussen and the Aussies, they have to get by the French; after all, the U.S. finished third in that 400 relay, not second.

There's a year for the Americans themselves to get better. And maybe to find new talent. America's college ranks are filled with up-and-coming swimmers, too, Reese said; the U.S. nationals take place in just a few days.

It makes swim freaks geeked up already for the U.S. Trials next summer in Omaha. "I think," Reese said, "it's going to be the best meet any of us have ever seen."