Worlds preview: Hanyu goes for double gold after Sochi

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This week the reigning Olympic figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu looks to become the first man to win a World Championship gold medal in the same year he stood atop the Olympic podium since 2002.

Hanyu, the 19-year-old from Japan who held on to win gold in Sochi last month against three-time world champion Patrick Chan, will try to win a double gold in 2014 and become the first man to do so since Russian Alexei Yagudin in 2002.

The Championships will be without its three-time and reigning champion in Chan, the Canadian who faltered to a silver medal in Sochi and is sitting out these Worlds to rest and recuperate in looking towards his uncertain future.

The men’s event gets underway Wednesday morning (EST) in Saitama, Japan, and concludes on Friday.

More: Full Worlds schedule and streaming times | Entry list

The World Championships, often a depleted field following the Olympics, will be without silver medalist Chan, bronze winner Denis Ten (out with injury), sixth place winner Daisuke Takahashi (a bronze medalist in 2010) and American Jason Brown, who placed ninth.

The U.S. will send reigning national champion Jeremy Abbott (12th in Sochi) and 2013 U.S. champ Max Aaron, who missed out on the Sochi Games by one spot in January.

“Watching my teammates that I thought I was going to go to the Olympics with on TV was the hardest part,” the 22-year-old Aaron told NBCSports.com in a phone interview last week. “That was really tough for me.”

Aaron was seventh at Worlds in 2013 and was seen to be given a vote of confidence by the U.S. Figure Skating Association when selected for Worlds over Brown following Nationals.

More: World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

The U.S. needs Abbott and Aaron to combine for a 13th-place finish overall to recover a third spot on the international stage, which the U.S. men haven’t had since the 2011 World Championships.

Abbott, who announced this would be his last season prior to the U.S. Championships, said a third spot was not his focus.

“Of course everyone wants the three spots but it’s nobody’s focus,” said the 28-year-old, who had his best Worlds finish in 2010 when he placed fifth following the Vancouver Games. “Everyone wants to do the best that they can do. The two of us are definitely good enough to get back the three spots. Max is very talented and I think I’m capable enough that the two of us combined can do that.”

But Aaron said a third spot will be at the forefront of his mind when he takes to the ice in Saitama.

“I knew that third spot was going to make a difference going into the Olympic year, but we came up a little short,” Aaron said referring to the two U.S. spots the team had for Sochi. “Unfortunately that person was me.”

Hanyu will skate before a figure skating-mad fan base in Japan after becoming the first man in the country’s history to win an Olympic gold medal as well as Japan’s only figure skating medal in Sochi.

He fell twice in his free skate performance at the Iceberg Skating Palace, but the favorite Chan wasn’t better, Hanyu holding on for gold in a competition that was riddled with mistakes and falls.

Without Chan and Ten in the mix, Spain’s Javier Fernandez (fourth at the Sochi Olympics) will be figured into the medal mix after winning the bronze at the same event a year ago and seen to have given up a medal in Sochi.

Other Sochi competitors will factor into the medal conversation along with Hanyu, Fernandez, Abbott and Aaron. Japan’s Tatsuki Machida was fifth at the Olympics, Han Yan of China was seventh, German Peter Liebers was eighth and Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic placed 10th.

Russia will send 18-year-old Maksim Kovtun, the teenager who beat Yevgeny Plushenko at the Russian Championships in December but was skipped over for the veteran for the country’s lone men’s spot in Sochi. Plushenko helped Russia to gold in the team event before pulling out of the individual event, facing ridicule domestically.

“I think people are a lot more relaxed having gone through the Olympics and I think it makes for a really good competition,” said Abbott, who had two disastrous short programs (in the team and individual events) in Sochi before skating mistake-free in the long program. “In 2010, there were some amazing performances and I think this year is going to be no different. It’s still a world-class competition and you’re going to get world-class performances.”

Aaron said it was too early to tell, but that he’d like for Saitama to be the first step in the long road to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

“I can’t look that far ahead,” said the 2014 U.S. bronze medalist. “I have to take it season by season, day by day. I’m focused on what I need to do and the task at hand.”

While Abbott didn’t put a placement expectation on his Worlds effort, Aaron was more forthcoming.

“I’m shooting for a medal to be honest,” he said. “I want those clean performances and I’m hopefully coming away with that third spot for the U.S.”

Icenetwork.com will provide live coverage for subscribers. The men’s short program is set for Wednesday morning (2:45 a.m. EST) and the free skate will take place Friday (4 a.m. EST). NBC will air a World Championships recap show April 13 from 3-6 p.m. ET.

Caeleb Dressel, Chase Kalisz open post-Phelps era with world titles

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In a 20-minute span, the future of U.S. men’s swimming may have arrived in Budapest on Thursday.

Chase Kalisz, 23, and Caeleb Dressel, 20, each bagged his first major individual gold medal at the world championships. They headlined a three-gold day for Team USA, which was anchored by Katie Ledecky bouncing back from her first major defeat to lead the 4x200m free relay to gold.

Kalisz ensured the 200m individual medley crown stayed with the U.S., fulfilling years of promise and succeeding longtime training partner Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in the event.

Dressel, the youngest U.S. man to win an individual Olympic or world title since 2005, broke his American record in the 100m freestyle to prevail by a distant seven tenths of a second in 47.17. Nathan Adrian, the 2012 Olympic champion, made it the first one-two U.S. men’s finish in a global 100m free since the Seoul 1988 Games.

Kalisz won the 200m IM in 1:55.56, by .45 over Japan’s Kosuke Hagino and .72 over China’s Wang Shun, who took silver and bronze in Rio behind Phelps. Kalisz overtook Hagino on the third leg, breaststroke, with the fastest split in the field, and held on in the last 50 meters of freestyle.

Phelps and Lochte had combined to win every Olympic and world title in the 200m IM from 2003 through 2016. That’s four Olympics — all won by Phelps — and seven worlds — the first three titles taken by Phelps, the last four by Lochte.

“Those two are my idols,” Kalisz said. “No one’s ever going to replace those guys. Those guys are going to be what, hopefully, my kids are probably going to be talking about those two”

Phelps retired after the Rio Olympics. Lochte isn’t in Budapest due to his suspension following his Rio gas-station incident, but plans to make a run for Tokyo 2020 at age 35.

For now, U.S. men’s swimming is led by Kalisz, Dressel and Ryan Murphy, the 22-year-old who swept the backstrokes in Rio.

Kalisz and Dressel are only the third and fourth U.S. men other than Phelps or Lochte to win individual world titles since 2009 (Aaron PeirsolMatt Grevers).

“We’re still in a rebuilding phase,” said Kalisz, previously a world team member in 2013, 2015. “This has been probably the best world championships I’ve been to as far as the team being close.”

Kalisz, who took 400m IM silver at his first Olympics in Rio, may just be getting started.

He can go for double IM gold in the 400m, his trademark event, in Budapest on Sunday.

“When I had the opportunity to step into the 200m IM, it was an honor,” Kalisz said on NBCSN. “I like [the 200m IM] a lot more than the 400m IM. It doesn’t hurt as bad. If you were to tell me four months ago that would be my first world title [in the 200m IM rather than the 400m IM], I probably would have laughed in your face.”

Dressel nearly quit swimming three years ago as the No. 1 recruit in the nation. Then, under perhaps more pressure than any swimmer in Rio, swam a personal-best time in his very first Olympic splash leading off the 4x100m free relay team to gold.

Dressel has only improved after his junior year at the University of Florida. He qualified to swim in up to nine events in Budapest and is now up to three golds with a few more events left. He led off the 4x100m free relay on Sunday with an American record in the 100m free, then went even lower in Thursday’s final.

“Before the race, I was like, hey man, this is going to be the first of many, many finals that you’re going to be in,” said Adrian, who took bronze in Rio, where Dressel was sixth. “He’s going to be incredible in the years to come.”

In other events Thursday, Spain’s Mireia Belmonte followed her Olympic 200m butterfly gold with her first world title. She won by .13 over German Franziska Hentke, with Hungarian superstar Katinka Hosszu earning bronze.

Americans Simone Manuel and Mallory Comerford qualified second- and third-fastest into Friday’s 100m freestyle final. Swede Sarah Sjöström, who shattered the world record leading off the 4x100m free relay Sunday, leads the eight-woman final.

Lilly King and Yulia Efimova set up another breaststroke showdown, this time in the 200m distance. Efimova will be heavily favored, while King was the last qualifier into Friday’s final in a tougher distance for the 100m gold medalist and world-record holder.

Murphy was the No. 2 qualifier into Friday’s 200m back final, behind China’s Xu Jiayu, who beat Murphy in the 100m back earlier this week.

Americans Kevin Cordes and Nic Fink qualified for Friday’s 200m breast final, but the favorites are Olympic bronze medalist Anton Chupkov of Russia and world-record holder Ippei Watanabe of Japan.

Etiene Medeiros became the first Brazilian woman to win an Olympic or world swim title in the pool in the 50m backstroke. She prevailed by .01 over China’s Fu Yuanhui in the non-Olympic event.

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WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Schedule/Results

Men’s 100m Freestyle Results
Gold: Caeleb Dressel (USA) — 47.17
Silver: Nathan Adrian (USA) — 47.87
Bronze: Mehdy Metella (FRA) — 47.89
4. Cameron McEvoy (AUS) — 47.91
5. Duncan Scott (GBR) — 48.11
5. Marcelo Chierighini (BRA) — 48.11
7. Jack Cartwright (AUS) — 48.24
8. Sergii Shevtsov (UKR) — 48.26

Men’s 200m Individual Medley Results
Gold: Chase Kalisz (USA) — 1:55.56
Silver: Kosuke Hagino (JPN) — 1:56.01
Bronze: Wang Shun (CHN) — 1:56.28
4. Max Litchfield (GBR) — 1:56.86
5. Daiya Seto (JPN) — 1:56.97
6. Qin Haiyang (CHN) — 1:57.06
7. Philip Heintz (GER) — 1:57.43
8. Jeremy Desplanches (SUI) — 1:57.50

Katie Ledecky bounces back, anchors U.S. relay to gold (video)

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Katie Ledecky rebounded from her first major defeat with a more typical result Thursday, gold while anchoring the U.S. 4x200m freestyle relay.

Leah SmithMallory ComerfordMelanie Margalis and Ledecky combined to win the world title in Budapest by 1.57 seconds over China. Australia earned bronze.

Ledecky dove in with a .13 lead over China and fell behind by .13 after 50 meters but opened up a body-length lead going into the last 50 meters.

Ledecky bagged her 13th career world gold (extending her female record) and fourth of this week. Her bid to match Missy Franklin‘s female record of six golds at a single worlds ended with a shocking silver in the individual 200m freestyle on Wednesday.

“I really just got rid of the negative energy,” Ledecky said on NBCSN. “I knew I had a big race for Team USA tonight. That made it easy to get focused.”

Ledecky had the fastest split time of the 32 swimmers by 1.44 seconds. She outsplit Australian Emma McKeon by 2.24 seconds after McKeon tied Ledecky for silver in the 200m free. Ledecky was .28 slower than her split in Rio, which is strong. In her other events this week, Ledecky was between one and two seconds slower than in Rio.

“I wanted to put up a better swim than last night, I don’t know if it was from frustration or just swimming for my team,” Ledecky told media in Budapest. “Knowing that I had this swim today, there’s no better event or swim to come off of last night than this one. It just felt really good warming up. It just felt a lot better than yesterday and just knew that I could lay it all out there.”

Ledecky has one event left at worlds, the 800m freestyle, with preliminary heats Friday and the final Saturday. The 800m free is Ledecky’s signature event, in which she owns the 13 fastest times in history.

Ledecky won her first Olympic title in the 800m free as a 15-year-old in London and went on to world titles in 2013 and 2015 and repeat gold in Rio last year.

Women’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay Results
Gold: U.S. — 7:43.39

Silver: China — 7:44.96
Bronze: Australia — 7:48.51
4. Russia — 7:48.59
5. Japan — 7:50.43
6. Hungary — 7:51.33
7. Netherlands — 7:54.29
8. Canada — 7:55.57

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WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Schedule/Results