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?

Usain Bolt teases music video

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 19:  Usain Bolt of Jamaica celebrates after winning the Men's 4 x 100m Relay Final on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Usain Bolt, the singer?

Bolt teased what appeared to be a recording-studio session in an Instagram video Monday, a short clip that ended with Wednesday’s date, perhaps a sign of more to come.

The video included shots of a guitarist, drummer, keyboardist and three female singers before showing Bolt in front of a microphone adjusting headphones.

Bolt has experience singing in front of crowds, having performed Queen and Kings of Leon at recent Oktoberfest visits in Munich.

VIDEO: Watch trailer for Bolt’s upcoming biopic

Get ready 🎤 26/10/16

A video posted by Usain St.Leo Bolt (@usainbolt) on

Hannah Kearney still dreams of Olympics in retirement

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO - MARCH 27:  Hannah Kearney prepares for the finals as she skis to first place to win the ladies' moguls at the 2015 U.S. Freestyle Ski Championships at the Steamboat Ski Resort on March 27, 2015 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Hannah Kearney has been having these dreams since she retired from moguls skiing last year. Olympic dreams.

In a recent sleep, Kearney, the 2010 Olympic champion, saw the U.S. earning the right to host a future Winter Games. Inspiration to strap on the skis again?

“Now I’m thinking that would have to be over eight years from now, so I think that’s really, really unlikely,” said Kearney, who turned 30 in February. “I think part of me just doesn’t know what to do.”

Kearney last competed March 27, 2015, winning the U.S. Championships one final time to finish a strong season and a decorated career. From 2004 through 2015, Kearney amassed two Olympic medals, three world titles and a record-tying 46 World Cup wins.

Kearney struggled to decide when to retire, but she moved on quickly after hanging up the skis. Kearney took her name out of the drug-testing pool later that spring — the “official” sign of retirement in Olympic sports — and returned to school.

It took Kearney four years to complete three semesters’ worth of Dartmouth classes while juggling her gold-medal moguls career. She’s now a junior at Westminster College in Utah, a full-time student having just declared her major of marketing.

Earlier this month, Kearney was surrounded by her former teammates in New York City for the U.S. Ski Team’s Gold Medal Gala fundraising event.

Hours earlier, Kearney sat in a Manhattan hair salon chair with a laptop, putting the finishing touches on a financial analysis of Delta versus United for her Finance 300 class.

“It’s due at midnight, so I figured I better get it in before the ski ball starts,” she said.

Kearney is taking five classes this semester plus working a paid marketing-department internship with Promontory, a luxury Park City real estate community. She called it her “first real-world job.”

“It turns out I don’t have a lot of experience with that sort of stuff,” Kearney joked. “It’s the juggling act that all Americans deal with, and I never had to, so I can’t really complain.”

So, where are those Olympic dreams coming from? Well, Kearney is going to the gym three days per week with longtime teammate Jeremy Cota and following his strength program.

“We spend so much time training our bodies, I don’t want to just lose it all instantly [in retirement],” she said. “So I’ve just been trying to maintain.”

Kearney, who once won 16 straight World Cup events, always struggled with pull-ups. She says proudly that she can still do three sets of eight pull-ups, the same benchmark from during her moguls career.

“It was like a mental battle when I was an athlete,” she said. “I do not want to go back to not being able to do pull-ups.”

Kearney skied moguls this past winter, unwillingly, while urged by others in Park City.

“Not warming up and going to the moguls no longer feels good,” she said. “Jumping into a mogul field, it makes me feel as if I never was good at the sport to begin with.”

MORE: Pyeongchang 2018 video looks at Olympic venues, slogan