Phelps, other stars missing from swimming worlds in Russia
Michael Phelps isn't the only big name missing from the world swimming championships that begin Friday in Kazan, Russia.
Along with the 18-time Olympic gold medalist, Aussie sprinter James Magnussen, Yannick Agnel of France, South Korea's Park Tae-hwan and Kylie Palmer of Australia won't be competing in the last major international meet before the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. Also missing is Japanese star Kosuke Hagino and Swedish veteran Therese Alshammar.
The absences will likely set the stage for lesser-known talent to emerge a year before the Rio Games.
''By no means is it going to be a perfect representation of what the Olympics are going to be next year,'' U.S. sprinter Nathan Adrian said.
Phelps didn't swim at the 2013 worlds in Barcelona, having retired the previous year after the London Olympics. He qualified in three events a year ago for Kazan, but was banned from worlds as part of his punishment by USA Swimming for a second drunken driving arrest last fall.
While the rest of the world is tuning up for Rio, Phelps will be competing at the U.S. national championships in Texas at the same time.
Magnussen, the two-time defending 100-meter freestyle champion, is recovering from left shoulder surgery. Agnel, the defending 200 free champion, withdrew citing illness. Park is serving a doping suspension, while Palmer withdrew as the result of a positive drug test at the 2013 worlds. Hagino broke his right elbow recently, while Alshammer has a herniated disc.
Without Phelps, the U.S. men's team will be led by Ryan Lochte, who has a much lighter schedule than usual. He will swim just two individual events - 200 free and 200 individual medley - and possibly some relays.
''We have a bunch of veterans and a bunch of youth,'' Lochte said. ''We're going to have our work cut out for us but we're Team USA. We can handle the job.''
Unlike other countries, the U.S. comes into worlds without benefit of recent national championships or trials meet. The squad was selected a year ago based on results at the Pan Pacific Championships.
''It's going to be a challenge for this group,'' U.S. men's coach Dave Durden said. ''We're going to have to create a little bit of a psychological edge. We haven't had our time to shine yet this year like a lot of other countries.''
The U.S. men will be looking to avenge their disqualification in the 4x100 medley relay from two years ago, when Kevin Cordes dove in too early on the breaststroke leg. Cordes is on the roster again.
Agnel's absence could cost France chances at winning medals in the 400 free and 400 medley relays. France won the 400 medley relay two years ago after the U.S. got disqualified.
China's Sun Yang is set to swim in the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyles coming off his doping violation last year. He owns the world record in the 1,500, and is ranked in the top 10 in his other three events.
On the women's side, Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin are the biggest stars of the U.S. team. Ledecky won four gold medals and set two world records at the 2013 worlds; Franklin earned a record six golds while swimming seven events.
Ledecky recently graduated from high school and is deferring college until after the Rio Games. Franklin recently turned professional after two years of college.
''It's about trying to get faster,'' Ledecky said. ''I'm very motivated.''
Katinka Hosszu of Hungary, nicknamed ''Iron Lady'' for her herculean schedule, is ranked in the world's top 10 in six different events, although she had not revealed her plans ahead of the meet.
The eight-day swimming competition runs Aug. 2-9 at Kazan Arena, a soccer stadium transformed by the addition of two temporary pools and a 12,000-seating capacity. Synchronized swimming, which opens the first week and is a sport long dominated by the Russians, will be held there, too.
American Bill May will be part of the mixed duet synchro competition, being held for the first time at worlds. Once banned from international meets because of his gender, May is making a comeback in the mixed event, where he will pair with a female teammate.
Diving is featured the first week at the 3,600-seat Aquatics Palace, while water polo will be played at a new arena nearby.
China will make a run at sweeping the diving events after being the top nation throughout the recent World Series.
High diving returns after making its debut in Barcelona. Orlando Duque of Colombia and Cesilie Carlton of the U.S. are the defending champions. A year ago, Kazan was the site of the first World Cup event in the sport. The three-day event that opens the second week of the meet takes place on the banks of the Kazanka River near the Kazan Kremlin. The men will dive from a 27-meter platform, while the women will jump from 20 meters.
That same location will host open water swimming during the first week.
For the first time at worlds, the top eight athletes and teams in each sport will receive prize money, a change from the 2013 meet, where only the top six in each final were rewarded. The most money, $2.5 million, will be distributed during the swimming competition. First place is worth $20,000; second, $15,000; and third, $10,000. The eighth-place finisher will receive $1,000. A world record in the pool will be worth an extra $30,000.
Synchronized swimming, a sport Russia has long dominated, will divide $900,000. Diving will split $780,000; water polo will share $720,000; open water swimming will split $420,000; and high diving will share $125,000.