Michael Phelps

Tough to judge Michael Phelps’ seventh place in 100m freestyle

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IRVINE, Calif. — Michael Phelps stood on a podium to receive a medal at the U.S. Swimming Championships, but he wasn’t draped with gold on the top step. Not the second, either. Nor third.


Phelps finished next to last in his first U.S. Championships final since coming out of retirement (video here), chalking up his worst result in a Nationals event in the last several years to an unusual mistake.

Olympic champion Nathan Adrian won the 100m freestyle in 48.31 seconds over a decorated field with Phelps.

Ryan Lochte, who was the slowest qualifier into the eight-man final, was second in 48.69.

Phelps swam 49.17. The top four men — Adrian, Lochte, Jimmy Feigen and Conor Dwyer — made the team for the Pan Pacific Championships, the biggest meet of the summer.

The most decorated Olympian of all time blamed the slow time on an error in an area he’s usually world class — turning off walls.

“I barely touched the 50 wall,” said Phelps, indicating a poor turn halfway through the race. He was in last place at the 50m mark and the third-fastest swimmer over the final 50m.

“I thought I had the right distance to go into the wall, and when I literally took a couple kicks and I was barely past the flags, I knew there was very little chance that I was going to run anybody down.”

Phelps went 48.77 in the morning prelims, four tenths of a second faster than his final time.

How much better would Phelps have been in the final without the wall blunder?

“It would have been faster than it was this morning,” Phelps said, had he turned off the wall well. “It kind of sucks I won’t really know what I was.”

A clearer look at his form will come in Phelps’ final three events in Irvine, beginning with the 100m butterfly Friday. Assuming he hits that wall.

Phelps, 29, is at the fifth meet of his comeback after a 20-month competitive retirement following the 2012 Olympics. He has not committed yet to swimming through the 2016 Olympics.

Lochte, who turned 30 on Sunday, is in his second meet since retearing his left MCL in April.

“I am glad I pulled this out, but this is just the start,” Lochte said.

The 100m free final dragged overall. Even Adrian was slower than his morning prelim time.

The U.S. Swimming Championships are a selection meet for the biggest international meet this year, the Pan Pacific Championships in Gold Coast, Australia, from Aug. 21-24.

Once swimmers make the U.S. team for Pan Pacs in any event, including relays, they can enter extra events once they get to Gold Coast. Therefore, Phelps could still swim the 100m free at Pan Pacs, if he makes the team in another event.

Phelps had not competed in the 100m free at Nationals since the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials. He has not done it at a major international meet since the 2007 World Championships.

But he has long been part of the U.S. 4x100m free relay team, winning gold at the 2008 Olympics, silver in 2012 and bronze in 2004.

Phelps and Lochte are slated to go head to head in three more events through Sunday.

In other events Wednesday, four-time Olympic champion Missy Franklin came from behind to clip Simone Manuel in the women’s 100m free. Franklin clocked 53.43, the fifth-fastest time in the world this year.

“I knew that Simone was right next to me, and she always goes out fast,” Franklin, the rising California sophomore, said on Universal Sports. “So I knew that I was going to have to come home hard.”

Manuel (53.66), Shannon Vreeland (54.14) and Abbey Weitzeil (54.38) rounded out the top four to qualify for Pan Pacs.

Twelve-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin was seventh.

Female World Swimmer of the Year Katie Ledecky cruised in the 800m free, winning in 8:18.47, eight seconds slower than her world record from June. Cierra Runge was second, 6.22 seconds behind.

Connor Jaeger and Michael McBroom, who went four-five in the 1500m freestyle at the 2013 World Championships, went one-two in it Wednesday night.

Tom Shields, who was one spot from making the 2013 World Championships team, booked his first Pan Pacs berth, winning the 200m butterfly in 1:55.09.

Shields shaved more than two seconds off his personal best with the third-fastest time in the world this year. Olympic 200m backstroke champion Tyler Clary was second, all but wrapping up a Pan Pacs spot.

Cammile Adams won the women’s 200m fly in 2:07.12, the sixth-fastest time in the world this year. Adams was fifth in the event at the 2012 Olympics.

Katie McLaughlin finished second in 2:08.74 to pencil her name on the Pan Pacs roster, too.

Olympic champions join ‘Biggest Loser’ cast

Olympic pairs’ champs crush world record for world title; U.S. struggles

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Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot added a world title to their Olympic gold with a world-record score, while U.S. pairs’ struggles continued with the Americans’ lowest-ever results at a world championships.

Savchenko and Massot broke the longest-standing record total in figure skating, extending their lead from Wednesday’s short program to win by 20.31 points over Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov.

“It was exactly the season that we wanted,” Massot said. “We reached our goal today.”

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres took bronze, France’s second Olympic or world pairs medal in 86 years.

Full results are here.

Savchenko and Massot’s free skate — the first to eclipse 160 points under the current judging system — included a side-by-side triple Salchow-double toe loop-double toe loop combination and a throw triple flip and throw triple Salchow.

Their total score — 245.84 points — shattered 2014 Olympic champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov‘s record of 237.71 set at 2013 Skate America. Their winning margin also broke Volosozhar and Trankov’s record for an Olympics or world championships under the 14-year-old points system.

Savchenko earned her 11th world medal — tying the female record held by Norwegian singles legend Sonja Henie — and sixth world title — tying Soviet Alexander Zaitsev for second on the all-time pairs’ list, four behind Irina Rodnina.

This was the French-born Massot’s first world title. Savchenko’s previous five world titles came with now-retired Robin Szolkowy.

Savchenko is 34, a five-time Olympian and the oldest pairs’ gold medalist in Winter Olympic history. The logical question — will she continue competing next season?

“Think about tomorrow,” she said, with Massot adding, “Ask again next week.”

The two U.S. pairs finished 15th and 17th, which means the U.S. drops to one pairs’ spot for the 2019 Worlds, its fewest since 1957.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim dropped from 11th after the short program to 15th of 16 pairs after the free skate. Scimeca fell on their death spiral and a throw triple flip, looked distraught skating off the ice and tweeted 10 minutes later, “I’m sorry for losing us a spot” and “Bad day to have a bad day.”

The Knierims made the top 10 in their four previous world championships appearances with a best finish of seventh.

The other U.S. pair, 2000 World junior singles silver medalist Deanna Stellato and 2014 Olympian Nathan Bartholomay, were 17th in Wednesday’s short program, missing the cutoff for the free skate by one spot.

It’s the first time all U.S. pairs finished outside the top 11 at a worlds, granted worlds didn’t regularly have a field greater than 15 pairs before 1990.

It came on the heels of the U.S. having its smallest pairs’ contingent — one pair — at an Olympics since the first Winter Games in 1924. The Knierims were 15th in PyeongChang, marking the first time the U.S. sent a pair to an Olympics and put none in the top 10.

The last U.S. pairs’ medal at worlds came in 2002, making this the nation’s longest drought in any figure skating discipline. The last Olympic medal was in 1988.

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Nathan Chen hits short program, leads world championships

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That’s more like it, Nathan Chen.

After two disastrous Olympic short programs, Chen nailed his jumps at the world championships, taking the lead by 1.86 points over Russian Mikhail Kolyada in Milan on Thursday. American Vincent Zhou is third.

Full results are here.

“I learned a lot from the Olympics, and I used what I learned there heading into the short program in terms of where to place my mind, what to think about throughout the program,” Chen said. “It was great to have an opportunity to come back before the end of the season to try the short program again, sort of hope to redeem myself.”

Later Thursday, Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot backed up their Olympic gold with a world title, shattering the longest-standing world record in figure skating with a record margin of victory. Full recap here.

In Saturday’s men’s free skate, Chen can become the youngest men’s world champion since Yevgeny Plushenko in 2001. Zhou can become the first man to make a senior world podium the year after winning a world junior title since Plushenko in 1998. The U.S. last put two men on a world podium in 1996 (Todd EldredgeRudy Galindo).

This week’s field lacks Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan, who combined to win every Olympic and world title since 2011 but ended their seasons at the Olympics.

On Thursday, Chen hit a quadruple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, a quadruple flip and a triple Axel for 101.94 points (2.18 shy of his personal best). It was a reversal from PyeongChang, where Chen’s short programs began unraveling with that opening combination, and he scored 80.61 and 82.27 points.

Chen placed 17th in the Olympic short program and redeemed himself with the top free skate, moving up to fifth. He went into the Olympics as the only undefeated male skater for the season.

“That I was able to bounce back and have the long program that I did, because of that the whole Olympic experience wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be after the short program,” Chen said Thursday. “Being able to have that, I didn’t have any ghosts of the Olympics following me [to worlds].”

Zhou, the youngest of 37 men in the field at 17, landed a quad Lutz-triple toe loop combination and a quad flip, fist pumping at the end of his skate. He shattered his personal-best short program by 12.25 points. Zhou was sixth at the Olympics.

“I came here to skate a clean program, I did that, and being in the top three is icing on the cake,” Zhou said.

Two other medal favorites — Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and two-time world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China — struggled with jumps. Jin is fourth and Uno fifth.

Uno, competing with a reported ankle injury, performed a triple-double combination rather than the quad-triple he did in PyeongChang. Jin had a quad toe called under-rotated.

The third American, 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron, is in 15th place. Aaron put his hand down on his opening quad Salchow and turned out of his triple Axel landing.

Key Free Skate Start Times (Saturday ET)
Max Aaron (USA) — 6:05 a.m.
Shoma Uno (JPN) — 8:21 a.m.
Jin Boyang (CHN) — 8:29 a.m.
Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 8:38 a.m.
Vincent Zhou (USA) — 8:47 a.m.
Nathan Chen (USA) — 8:55 a.m.

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