World Championships a Stopover Point to Bigger Things for Ryan Murphy; USA News and Notes

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Ryan Murphy is taking a step-by-step approach to this quad.

There’s a time and a place to shine, to take all the hours in the pool and work in the gym and translate that dedication to one all-important week. As far as Ryan Murphy is concerned, this week’s FINA World Championships in Gwangju account for the third of four important steps in this quadrennial. The final step, of course, is to peak at next summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, where Murphy hopes to defend the backstroke titles he claimed in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

One of the most gifted athletes in his sport, and long pegged to be a star, Murphy could walk away from South Korea at the end of the World Champs with more gold medals in his treasure chest. He’ll have plenty of competition in pursuit of world crowns, the likes of China’s Xu Jiayu and Russia’s Evgeny Rylov (among others), in his path. If Murphy lowers his world record in the 100 backstroke, it won’t come as a surprise, such is his talent. Yet, if Murphy does not win gold this week, the former California-Berkeley star will be far from concerned.

He knows what matters and it’s not this trip to Asia. It’s the next.

Coming out of the Olympics in Rio, Murphy went to the World Championships in Budapest as the sport’s leading man in the 100 and 200 backstrokes. Murphy, though, did not remain on top of the world in his prime events, earning the bronze medal in the 100 back and the silver medal in the 200 back. Still, those results were fine, as Murphy had progressed beyond the quad that ended in 2016 and started to map out a game plan for 2020.

Olympic gold medals are not doled out on a yearly basis, and for as satisfying as it might be to win a world title, Murphy’s career is defined by Olympic success. He has three golds that will never be taken away. The next objective is to move into the stratosphere of East Germany’s Roland Matthes and the United States’ Aaron Peirsol, men who have defended their Olympic titles.

“I think in hindsight, 2017 was according to plan,” Murphy said during his pre-meet press conference on Saturday morning. “I’m someone who wants to build through the quad. I want to be my best in 2020. I won’t necessarily take too much from this competition because I know from the training I have done, I have gotten a lot better. Whether that shows up on the scoreboard, we’ll see. But I know I’ll be better next year.”

And there it is. Prioritization. A focus on the biggest of prizes.

Katie Ledecky Not Looking at Names…Just Races

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The first question out of the shoot at the press conference for the American women asked Katie Ledecky, she of 14 gold medals at the World Championships, about her impending meeting with Australian Ariarne Titmus in the 400 freestyle. The media savvy Ledecky steered clear of discussing Titmus, or any other potential foe. Instead, Greg Meehan did the work.

“(Titmus has) been on a spectacular rise over the past 18 months and as a fan, it’s fun to follow,” said Meehan, Ledecky’s coach at Stanford and the head coach of the women’s team in Korea. “Any high level competition is good for our sport, and whether it’s Katie racing (Titmus), Simone (Manuel) racing Cate (Campbell) or Lilly (King) racing Yuliya (Efimova), it’s good. I’m looking forward to seeing (Ledecky and Titmus) fresh out of the gate. We’re all looking forward to it.”

This World Championships marks the third straight in which Ledecky has tackled the 200-400-800-1500 quadruple. In 2015, she won all four events, with 2017 producing golds in the three-longest distances and a silver medal in the 200 free. The knowledge of the previous two Worlds should prove beneficial.

“I’ve swum the two-four-eight and mile at the 2015 and 2017 World Championships and I’ve learned a lot from those experience. It’s obviously a big schedule with more than 6000 meters of racing. It’s about managing my schedule and my energy and taking it one race at a time.”

Dressel Taking Tight-Lip Approach to Hefty Schedule

Showing that he has morphed from a youthful standout into a Team USA veteran, Caeleb Dressel chose his words carefully during his pre-meet press conference. Despite being asked about replicating his seven-gold haul from the 2017 championships and the possibility of setting a world record, Dressel went tight to the Speedo.

Dressel enters the World Champs coming off a superb tuneup season in which he clocked a pair of sub-48 efforts in the 100 freestyle and a 21.51 mark in the 50 freestyle. There was also a 50-point mark in the 100 butterfly. Those performances have lit speculation that Dressel is in position to take down three global standards that have stood since the height of the supersuit era in 2009. Primary among those records is the 46.91 standard in the 100 free, held by Brazil’s Cesar Cielo for a decade.

“There’s a lot of factors that are out of my control,” Dressel said. “I’m just going to swim the smartest that I can but at the end of the day, it is out of my control. I can just focus on swimming a smart race and being confident in my training. I’m not going to focus on what that time is. If the time is there, so be it.”

A Missing Element to Kalisz’s Meet

For the majority of this decade, Chase Kalisz has been connected to the Japanese tandem of Kosuke Hagino and Daiya Seto. First racing in global junior waters, they became rivals in the 400 individual medley, each man securing major titles. While Seto has won a pair of world championships in the 400 medley, Kalisz is the reigning world champ and Hagino took the Olympic crown in Rio.

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Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

This week, Hagino will not be present when Kalisz and Seto engage in their latest showdown. Hagino took a sabbatical from the pool to find the fire that once drove him. His plan is to qualify for the 2020 Games in Tokyo. Regardless if that happens, Kalisz is more concerned with the well being of a competitor with whom he has become friendly through the years.

“First and foremost, I want him to be back and happy, and in a good place,” Kalisz said of Hagino. “Just like Daiya, I’ve been racing him since 2011 and just about every progression I’ve gone through from the junior team to the national team, Daiya and him have been there. We’ve developed a pretty good friendship and unique rivalry. I have the utmost respect and if he needs some time to get right, more power to him. I would love him to be in Tokyo, but he needs to take the time he feels he needs to take.”

Without Hagino, Kalisz and Seto appear set for a pair of epic duels in the medley events. While Kalisz is the reigning world champ in the 200 IM and 400 IM, Seto has put together a tremendous leadup to the World Championships, excelling in the medleys and the 200 butterfly. Seto enters the meet with a season best of 4:07.95. Kalisz, meanwhile, has taken a lighter approach to his racing prep, with his season best a 4:13.45, misleading in terms of what is likely to come in Gwangju.

Manuel Drawing Inspiration From USWNT

A couple of weeks after the United States Women’s Soccer Team won the World Cup, Olympic champion Simone Manuel took time to reflect on the victory and what it means to be an athlete with a stage from which to speak. One of the premier sprint freestylers in the world, Manuel also recognizes the importance of influencing others and encouraging change.

“I definitely think that all of us were inspired by their performance and what they stand for, and they stand for equality,” Manuel said of the USWNT. “Sports is really an opportunity for us to use our platform to talk about things that are important, and we are passionate about. I think we all are inspired and want to compete well, but we also want to use our voice to make change in areas that are important to us.”

2 comments

  1. avatar
    Superfan

    I think you are making excuses if they don’t “succeed”. Winning gives one confidence and why can’t you peak once a year and let the chips fall where they may!

  2. avatar
    John Lohn

    Appreciate you reading. I don’t have a reason to give an excuse. I do understand how some of these athletes build on a year-by-year basis to ensure they peak at the one most important time. During that process, there is a chance others will look to peak each year. There is no right or wrong. All the best.