Katie Ledecky, Missy Franklin

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

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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?

Nick Symmonds hopes to compete 1 more year

Nick Symmonds
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Nick Symmonds, the outspoken two-time U.S. Olympic 800m runner, said he thinks he’s going to try and compete one more season.

“I really want to make one more worlds team,” Symmonds said in a Facebook video Thursday. “I’ve just got to make sure my ankle holds up.”

Symmonds, 32, last raced May 18 and missed the Olympic Trials due to a left ankle injury. He said Thursday that he’s 100 percent healthy and running 40 miles per week.

On June 30, Symmonds said after withdrawing before the Olympic Trials that he “could possibly” compete one more year, but the decision would come down to whether his apparel sponsor, Brooks, wanted to extend his contract beyond 2016.

The 2013 World Championships silver medalist said he had accomplished all of his running goals except for winning an Olympic medal (he was fifth in 2012) and completing a marathon.

In 2015, Symmonds won his sixth U.S. 800m title but missed the world championships due to a contract dispute with USA Track and Field.

Once he retires, Symmonds has said he wants to climb the tallest mountain on every continent.

MORE: Devon Allen: I can still be a 2-sport athlete

Alpine skiing men’s World Cup season preview

KRANJSKA GORA, SLOVENIA - MARCH 09: (FRANCE OUT) Marcel Hirscher of Austria takes 2nd place, Ted Ligety of the USA takes 1st placeduring the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Men's Giant Slalom on March 09, 2013 in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia. (Photo by Stanko Gruden/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
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Marcel Hirscher must wait one more year before another shot at his first Olympic gold, making this season all about chasing more records while others continue to chase him.

The Austrian can capture his sixth straight World Cup overall title, which no man or woman has ever done.

He’s already tied with Luxembourg’s Marc Girardelli for the most overall crowns by a man and can match Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell for the non-consecutive, either-gender record of overall titles.

Hirscher, still just 27 years old, begins his campaign at the traditional season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Sunday (NBC Sports app, 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET; NBCSN, 9:30 p.m. ET). He has won there just once (2014) but made the podium four years running.

Hirscher is still lacking an Olympic title, but he displayed typical dominance last season, making 19 podiums in 28 World Cup starts (both career highs) with eight victories (one shy of his career high).

His World Cup overall title margin of victory — 497 points — was the most in the men’s standings since 2002.

Hirscher racked up wins in slalom, parallel slalom, giant slalom and, for the first time, a super-G. He also narrowly avoided a drone from falling onto his head mid-race.

Hirscher reached 39 career World Cup victories, sixth all-time among men. If he repeats his win total from each of the last two seasons, he will move into solo fourth, trailing legends Ingemar StenmarkHermann Maier and Alberto Tomba.

ALPINE SKIING: Women’s World Cup preview

But keep this mind — Hirscher trailed in the World Cup overall standings by 107 points on Jan. 23, when leader Aksel Lund Svindal suffered a season-ending crash in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Svindal, a Norwegian who earned a medal of every color at the 2010 Olympics, is taking a cautious approach in returning from damaging his right knee. He will not race Saturday and isn’t yet committing to the season’s first speed races on Thanksgiving weekend.

Hirscher will get a head start on Svindal, but two rivals in technical events could also bring his overall point total down this season.

Ted Ligety, who has won every major giant slalom gold medal since 2011, returns Saturday after tearing his right ACL on Jan. 27. Ligety, 32, also skied last season after suffering three herniated disks in his back and tearing a hip labrum.

It showed. He failed to finish six straight races and missed the podium in 11 straight after winning and finishing second in his first two starts.

At his best, Ligety was superior to Hirscher in giant slaloms. The American could take a bite out of Hirscher’s points with a resurgence. In February, Ligety will try to become the first male skier to win four world championships titles in the same event.

Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen was the world’s best slalom skier last season, a title held by Hirscher the previous three years.

At 22, Kristoffersen may still be on the rise as a technical skier. Hirscher has branched out to race more super-Gs and super combineds the last few years, leaving less time to focus on his trademark technical events of giant slalom and, especially, slalom.

MORE: Tina Maze sets retirement plans