Katie Ledecky, Missy Franklin

Missy Franklin, Katie Ledecky finally give U.S. women’s swimming a one-two punch

Leave a comment

IRVINE, Calif. — Heads turned when Missy Franklin entered the dance room at Irvine High School on Tuesday morning. One belonged to Katie Ledecky.

The last two Female World Swimmers of the Year hadn’t seen each other since 2013, Franklin believed. They embraced and exchanged how-are-yous inside a makeshift media center at the U.S. Swimming Championships, which begin Wednesday.

Franklin, 19, and Ledecky, 17, make up the changing wave of U.S. swimming, which has benefited from the popularity of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte more than any other athletes over the last decade.

Franklin and Ledecky follow an exceptional line of headlining U.S. women’s swimmers, including Amanda BeardNatalie Coughlin and Katie Hoff.

But the difference is Franklin and Ledecky seem to be on similar trajectories, hitting new peaks every year and pushing each other. Their specialties are vastly different — the backstrokes for Franklin and distance freestyles for Ledecky.

But they meet in the 200m freestyle, which gives swim fans who relish the Phelps-Lochte duels something to savor after the leading men step away.

It could also bring history over the next couple years. The last time U.S. women went one-two in any Olympics or World Championships event was 2000 (Brooke Bennett-Diana Munz 400m freestyle in Sydney). U.S. men have gone one-two 25 times in the same 14-year span.

The 200m free is Thursday at the U.S. Championships, perhaps the most star-filled event at the meet factoring in Olympic champion Allison Schmitt.

When Ledecky was 14, she first came to know Franklin on TV, tearing up the pool at the World Championships in Shanghai and beaming with excitement that her parents brought her brand-new Colorado driver’s license to the meet.

Franklin and Ledecky first crossed paths at domestic meets in early 2012, but Franklin said she didn’t really get to know Ledecky until the 2012 Olympics.

“She really came on the scene like March of 2012, and so I think all of us were just starting to meet her,” Franklin said. “She’s just one of those personalities where she just fits right in, just one of the new people on the National Team, and she came in and just molded with everyone.”

Ledecky, nearing 6 feet, can tower above the student population at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, an all-girls, Catholic preschool through 12th grade institution in Bethesda, Md. She is entering her senior year and committed to Stanford.

She is slightly shorter than the rising Cal sophomore Franklin, who met skyscraping expectations by winning five medals, four gold, at the 2012 Olympics.

Ledecky stroked away a little more under the radar in London. She was no less impressive in her only event, winning the 800m freestyle with the second-fastest time ever.

Franklin won the year-end Female Swimmer of the Year awards.

In 2013, Franklin raised the bar by becoming the first woman to win six gold medals at a single World Championships. But it was Ledecky who was awarded a special FINA trophy as the female swimmer of the meet, winning four gold medals with two world records.

Ledecky, whose dryland activities include repairing bikes that are shipped to developing countries, took the honor with humility.

“Missy deserves this probably more than I do,” she said, pointing to the trophy at the Barcelona meet, according to Reuters.

A grateful Franklin said that was tough to hear.

“I want Katie to feel like she deserves it because she absolutely 100 percent does,” Franklin said. “Her summer was unbelievable. Her summer before that was unbelievable. And her summers for the next 10 years are going to be unbelievable.”

Ledecky also swept FINA and Swimming World‘s year-end awards, over Franklin. In June, Franklin heard that Ledecky broke another world record at a small meet in Texas, via a text from Franklin’s mom, and said she started “freaking out” at dinner.

“[Ledecky’s] accomplishments over the past two years have been unreal and she just keeps getting better, which is so incredible,” Franklin said. “She’s an inspiration for me just watching her race every single time with so much passion and just fierceness.”

Franklin and Ledecky are obviously thrilled to be teammates, cherishing prep and college competition so much that neither has turned pro yet.

But in an individual sport they are also competitors. And they go against each other in the 200m free, where Franklin is the reigning World champion.

Ledecky, though, has improved greatly in the event, the shortest on her program, and is the fastest American this year in the 200m free. She finished second in the 200m free behind Franklin at last year’s U.S. Championships but dropped it from her Worlds program because it conflicted with the 1500m free.

The 1500m free is not an Olympic event, however, meaning Ledecky could be inclined to swim it at the Rio Olympics.

When you ask both Franklin and Ledecky about the 200m free, neither thinks about the individual race. Their answers immediately go to the 4x200m free relay, where they bookended the U.S. gold-medal team at Worlds last year.

“The more we push each other the faster we’re going to go,” Ledecky said, “and the faster our relay is going to be.”

Will Rio de Janeiro be ready for 2016 Olympics?

It’s official: U.S. sending 555 athletes to Rio Olympics

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 27:  Mariel Zagunis of the United States Olympic fencing team carries her country's flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

With a ceremony on Venice Beach, just outside Los Angeles, which is bidding for the 2024 Olympics Games, the 2016 U.S. Olympic team was officially confirmed Saturday for the Rio Games.

Four-time Olympic gold medalist Janet Evans, who is on the LA 2024 Olympic bid committee, hosted the event and was joined on stage by women’s basketball player Tamika Catchings, who will make her fourth Olympic appearance, as well as water polo player Tony Azevedo and beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings, both of whom are set for their fifth Olympics.

Evans confirmed a roster 555 U.S. athletes, which will be the largest athlete delegation of any nation, the first time since 2004 that the U.S. held that distinction at a Summer Olympics.

Among the interesting numbers released by Team USA:

– The most women (292) to ever compete for one nation in Olympic history; 263 U.S. men will compete.

– Americans will participate in 244 of the 306 medal events in Rio.

– The U.S. will be represented in 27 sports (40 disciplines).

– 191 returning Olympians.

– Three six-time Olympians – equestrian Phillip Dutton, and shooters Emil Milev and Kim Rhode – giving the U.S. 11 athletes in history, summer or winter, to make six Games.

– Seven five-time Olympians – Tony Azevedo (water polo), Glenn Eller (shooting), Bernard Lagat (track and field), Steven Lopez (taekwondo), Michael Phelps (swimming), Kerri Walsh Jennings (beach volleyball) and Venus Williams (tennis). Only 35 U.S. athletes in addition to these have appeared in at least five Olympics.

– 19 four-time Olympians, 50 three-time Olympians, 112 two-time Olympians and 363 Olympic rookies.

– 108 returning Olympic medalists, 68 returning Olympic gold medalists, and 45 Olympians owning multiple medals.

– 53 U.S. athletes will attempt to defend titles from London; 19 in individual events.

– 54 of the athletes are parents.

– 17 athletes have military ties.

– 46 states are represented.

MORE: U.S. Olympic team of 550-plus athletes most of any nation in Rio

Fans in Vegas miss U.S. Olympic hoops exhibition due to glitch

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 20:  Kevin Durant #5 of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team signs autographs for fans after a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on July 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Thousands of fans expecting to see the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team play against Argentina inside a Las Vegas arena were left outside because of a ticketing snafu.

Box office staff at T-Mobile Arena were overwhelmed Friday night by the number of people picking up will call tickets or wanting to purchase on-site.

Some customers reported delays of as much as 2 hours and never made it inside.

MGM Resorts International, which owns the arena, apologized. The company said in a statement that it would grant refunds to anyone unable to attend.

The game was the first of five exhibitions the U.S. will play before traveling to Rio to defend the gold medal.

The U.S. team, which won 111-74, has spent the last week practicing in Las Vegas.

MORE: What if Kobe Bryant wanted back on Olympic team after 60-point NBA finale?