2014 Phillips 66 National Championships

‘Assassin’ Katie Ledecky beats Missy Franklin at U.S. Championships

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IRVINE, Calif. — A college coach recently visited Nation’s Capital Swim Club and walked away, shaking his head over Katie Ledecky practicing with men’s swimmers.

“She just chases those boys up and down the pool, doesn’t she?” the coach told Ledecky’s coach, Bruce Gemmell.

“I like to call her quiet like an assassin,” Gemmell says.

Ledecky smiled and joked with Missy Franklin before heading out for their anticipated showdown in the 200m freestyle at the U.S. Swimming Championships on Thursday night.

When they reached their side-by-side lanes, Franklin started dancing to a Backstreet Boys song playing on the outdoor pool’s PA system (the band formed two years before Franklin’s birth and four years before Ledecky’s).

Ledecky turned less expressive during introductions, focusing on the 50m of water ahead.

The assassin then flung off the starting block and chased Franklin down the pool. She quickly caught the four-time Olympic champion, passed Franklin and distanced herself to win by 1.24 seconds.

Ledecky is a rising high school senior best known as the world-record holder in the 800m and 1500m frees and the American record holder in the 400m free. She often wins races in those distances by several body lengths.

Ledecky, who came out of nowhere in 2012 to win Olympic 800m gold, had never owned the 200m free until Thursday. Not enough room for the distance swimmer to catch the field.

But she had been chasing the best Americans in the event since finishing ninth at the 2012 Olympic Trials.

And now she’s the U.S. champion, adding to her arsenal in dominating fashion at Woollett Aquatics Center.

Ledecky, the reigning Female World Swimmer of the Year, clocked a personal best 1 minute, 55.16 seconds. Franklin, the 2012 Female World Swimmer of the Year, took second in 1:56.4.

Ledecky was two seconds faster than Franklin in separate morning preliminary heats. In this distance, she’s known as a faster swimmer in the second half of the race compared to the field.

So when she touched the first 50m wall just .11 behind Franklin in the final, it was clear Ledecky was in great position to knock off the reigning World champion in the event.

She passed Franklin and led by one tenth at 100m, then by four tenths at 150m. Finally, Ledecky, who repairs bikes for charity in her spare time, dropped Franklin for good by swimming three-quarters of a second faster on the final 50m.

“I did a really good job of increasing my tempo throughout the race,” Ledecky said. “My arms didn’t really die.”

The U.S. Swimming Championships are a qualifying meet for the biggest international competition of the year, the Pan Pacific Championships in Gold Coast, Australia, in two weeks.

Ledecky and Franklin had already qualified for the Pan Pacs team via their wins in the 800m free and the 100m free, respectively, on Wednesday. They are open to swim any events they want at Pan Pacs.

The 200m free is the only individual event where Ledecky and Franklin intersect, though Ledecky guessed they’ve only been in the same race a handful of times.

“I knew we’ve been about the same times this year,” Ledecky said. “I knew it was going to be close. I think we both relish that opportunity to put down some good times.”

In 2013, Ledecky qualified to swim the 200m free at the World Championships but scratched it in Barcelona because it conflicted with the 1500m free.

“In all honesty, I preferred last year that she do the 200 over the 1500,” Gemmell said. “But either wiser heads or cooler heads or Katie’s head prevailed, and we swam the 1500 and dropped the 200.”

The 1500m free is not an Olympic event. That in mind, Ledecky has said the 200m free is more in play for Rio 2016.

The anticipation for a Franklin-Ledecky Olympic head to head would be boosted by the fact no U.S. women have gone one-two in an Olympics or Worlds event since 2000. U.S. men have done it 25 times since 2000.

Franklin, who beat a sluggish Ledecky by two seconds in the 200m free at last year’s Nationals, said she’s still learning to race against Ledecky.

Ledecky is pushing Franklin out of her comfort zone, maybe not before races on the deck, but certainly in the final 50 meters.

“It’s a nice little kick in the butt to be like, hey, you can’t just wait and then try and catch her,” said Franklin, who later won the 200m backstroke Thursday, a little over an hour after the 200m free final. “Because she’s going to be right there, and she’s going to be going.”

In other events Thursday, Olympic champion Tyler Clary came from behind to win the men’s 200m back over Ryan Lochte, who faded badly to finish third.

Matt McLean won the men’s 200m free over World silver medalist Conor Dwyer.

Kevin Cordes maintained his breaststroke dominance, winning the 200m breast by just .14 over Nic Fink, closer than expected.

World bronze medalist Micah Lawrence had more breathing room winning the women’s 200m breast by 1.11 over Olympian Breeja Larson.

The U.S. Championships continue Friday, with Michael Phelps returning for the 100m butterfly, the second of a planned four events.

Phelps was seventh in the 100m free Wednesday and has yet to qualify for Pan Pacs.

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Matthew Centrowitz, Michelle Carter win USATF Athlete of the Year honors

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 20:  Matthew Centrowitz of the United States reacts after winning gold in front of Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria and Nicholas Willis of New Zealand in the Men's 1500 meter Final on Day 15 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 20, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
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Olympic champions Matthew Centrowitz and Michelle Carter were voted USA Track and Field’s Athletes of the Year, the first of their kinds to win the awards.

Centrowitz, who became the first American to win an Olympic 1500m since 1908, took the Jesse Owens Award. He’s the first male track distance runner to win a USATF Athlete of the Year, which was established in 1981.

Centrowitz beat out fellow Rio gold medalists Kerron Clement (400m hurdles), Ryan Crouser (shot put), Ashton Eaton (decathlon) and Jeff Henderson (long jump).

Carter, the first U.S. woman to win the Olympic shot put, earned the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Award. She’s the first female shot put thrower to win Athlete of the Year and third thrower of any kind (John Godina, Stephanie Brown Trafton).

Carter topped other gold medalists Tianna Bartoletta (long jump), Dalilah Muhammad (400m hurdles) and Brianna Rollins (100m hurdles) in voting.

Eaton and Allyson Felix earned the awards in 2015.

A full list of USATF Athlete of the Year winners is here.

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Olympic downhill champion wants Formula One-like qualifying in ski racing

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VIENNA (AP) — World Cup skiing needs a qualification system like Formula One, with qualifying runs determining the starting order for the race, Olympic downhill champion Matthias Mayer said Friday.

“You could compete in training for who is the first to pick a start number,” the Austrian skier said.

Mayer’s proposal goes a step further than rules for downhill and super-G implemented this season. In the new system, the top 10 skiers can choose an odd start number between 1 and 19, and the skiers ranked between 11th and 20th pick an even number between 2 and 20.

The International Ski Federation has changed the old format, where the top seven were randomly given a number between 16 and 22, because it hopes TV viewers will watch longer when the best skiers are more spread out.

“It will change something, definitely,” said Mayer, who was speaking at a sponsor event. “The best racer can pick the start number he wants. I think it’s a positive development. But we should discuss a qualifying format in training.”

FIS men’s race director Markus Waldner said skiing’s governing body considered several options before deciding on the new regulation.

“The idea is to spread out the top 10 from the start list,” Waldner said. “Most of our TV viewers were starting to watch a race after the TV break, after the first 15 starters, because the top seven racers all started between 16 and 22. We would like to motivate our TV viewers to watch from the very beginning of a race.”

A winner of three World Cup races, Mayer missed most of last season after breaking two vertebrae in a downhill crash in Val Gardena, Italy. He returned to training on snow in July, and is planning a comeback at the speed races in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Nov. 26-27.

The Austrian skipped the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden last Sunday, though he skied on the course as a forerunner, a skier doing a test run just before the race starts.

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