Ryan Lochte ready to test rebuilt confidence at swim worlds
KAZAN, Russia (AP) — Coming off the worst year of his career, Ryan Lochte has rebuilt his health and his psyche.
He’s eager to find out how the work he’s put in stacks up against the rest of the world with a year to go until the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Lochte, along with fellow world record holders Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky, lead a veteran U.S. team into the swimming portion of the world championships, which begins Sunday at Kazan Arena, a soccer stadium with temporary competition and warmup pools on the field.
The U.S. and rest of the world won’t be overshadowed by Michael Phelps, who is missing the year’s biggest international meet after being suspended by USA Swimming for a second DUI arrest.
Unlike two years ago in Barcelona, Phelps won’t be cheering from the stands. He will be swimming against lesser competition at U.S. summer nationals in Texas during the world meet.
Through the first half of the FINA world championships, the U.S. has six medals, including three golds. Two were earned by open water swimmers Haley Anderson and Jordan Wilimovsky, and the other by synchronized swimmers Bill May and Christina Jones.
The American team figures to pile up plenty more during the eight-day swimming competition. Two years ago, the U.S. topped the medal table with 34 overall — including 29 in swimming — and a leading 15 gold.
Franklin and Ledecky will each swim four individual events — and likely relays — for the U.S. women. None of their male teammates will compete in more than three individual events.
Unlike most countries, the U.S. chose its team last summer at the Pan Pacific championships, leaving the Americans without a trials or national championships to gauge its performance going into worlds.
“You just got to have some confidence,” sprinter Nathan Adrian said. “It just comes from years of experience.”
Lochte owns 23 career medals at worlds — second to Phelps’ record of 33 — and will have a chance to add to his total in the 200-meter freestyle and 200 individual medley. It’s a lighter load than usual for Lochte, who hopes to be chosen for all three relays.
Last year, Lochte struggled with a knee injury and battered confidence.
“I just wasn’t there mentally and physically,” he said. “I’m getting my confidence back. I’ve been a lot more focused. This meet is just a steppingstone to what I want to accomplish next year at the Olympics.”
Adrian calls Lochte “Old Faithful,” teasing his 30-year-old teammate whose age and experience make him a valuable member of a team missing Phelps for the second consecutive worlds. Phelps retired after the London Olympics and was still on the sidelines two years ago in Barcelona.
Without him, the U.S. men will try to regain their ownership of the 4x100 freestyle relay on Sunday. The Phelps-led Americans finished third in 2011 and second in 2013 with Adrian, Lochte, Anthony Ervin and Jimmy Feigen, any of whom could swim again. The U.S. has won gold in 12 of 15 world championships but not since 2009.
“There’s going to be one really fast team that doesn’t get a medal and I hope it’s not us,” Adrian said. “There’s nothing more fun than starting off the meet with a big relay.”
Australia is without injured James Magnussen, who helped his team win the 4x100 in 2011. Magnussen’s absence will be notable in the 100 free, where he is the defending champion.
“I know it absolutely eats him not to be here,” said Adrian, the Olympic 100 free champion, who will try to improve on the bronze he won in Barcelona.
The men’s 100 free final is Thursday, with a star-studded field expected to contend. Besides Adrian, 2013 silver medalist Feigen, Cam McEvoy of Australia, and Vladimir Morozov of Russia and Santo Condorelli of Canada will be vying to make the eight-man final.
Morozov and Conorelli are the only men to dip under 48 seconds this year, tying for the world’s fastest time at 47.98 seconds.
“I don’t believe anyone at worlds is going to hold back,” Australian head coach Jacco Verhaeren said.
Sun Yang leads China’s team coming off his doping violation last year. He will swim the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyles. He owns the 1,500 world record and is ranked in the world’s top 10 in the other events.