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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U.S. Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 02: Tarah Kayne and Daniel O'Shea of the United States react after completing their routine in the Pairs Free Skate on Day 6 of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2016 at TD Garden on April 2, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The U.S. pairs field opened up when Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim, the top American team internationally in recent seasons, pulled out of the national championships due to Scimeca’s September stomach surgery that kept them out all fall.

“Without Scimeca and Knierim, I don’t think the United States has a team that can challenge for the top six, or some moments, even the top 10 in the world,” NBC Olympics analyst Johnny Weir said. “Scimeca and Knierim are, far and away, the best team in the United States.”

The remaining field this week is led by Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, who upset Scimeca and Knierim for last year’s national title.

Kayne and O’Shea followed that up with the exact same finishes in the fall Grand Prix series as a year ago, opening up a question of whether they can repeat in Kansas City. Kayne’s knee injury hasn’t helped matters.

Enter Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who missed all of last season due to Denney’s knee surgery. They were looking strong until their most recent lower-level event in December, where they were fourth and finished behind another American pair, Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc.

Regardless of the two pairs that advance from the U.S. championships to the world championships in two months, it’s clear the U.S. is still lacking consistency in its weakest of the four disciplines.

None of the contending pairs after Kayne and O’Shea and Denney and Frazier have spent two full season together.

“Breakups, makeups, partner changes, coaching changes,” Weir said. “There’s a very high divorce rate within the pairs community of the United States compared to the rest of the world, where teams stick it out through thick and thin. As soon as the going gets tough for the U.S. pairs, they break up.”

Thursday
Pairs short program — 5:30-7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Saturday
Pairs free skate; free dance — 3-6 p.m. ET, NBC

MORE: U.S. Championships broadcast schedule

Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea
Ages: 23/25
Hometown: Ellenton, Fla.
2016 U.S. champions
13th at 2016 World Championships

Kayne and O’Shea fell to the No. 2 U.S. pair at last year’s worlds, behind Scimeca and Knierim, who were ninth. In the fall, they had the third-best total score among U.S. pairs, nearly 20 points behind Denney and Frazier.

Johnny Weir’s Take: They haven’t had the most successful international season. They are coming in as defending national champions, which is a huge amount of pressure.

Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier
Ages: 21/24
Hometown: Canton, Mich.
2015 U.S. silver medalists
2014, 2016 Skate America silver medalists

Denney and Frazier came back after a full season off and repeated their best senior international result, a second place at Skate America in October. Their total was a full 16 points better than the next-best U.S pair this season. Denney and Frazier were 2013 World junior champions but hope to better their only senior worlds finish, 12th in 2015.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: Obviously, in American pairs, we haven’t been the strongest in the world. But if you’re going to look at who’s holding us up right now, it’s Denney and Frazier.

Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran
Ages: 26/26
Hometown: Montreal
2016 U.S. bronze medalists
Castelli: 2013, 2014 U.S. champion with Simon Shnapir

Castelli, a 2014 Olympian and team event bronze medalist with Shnapir, paired with Tran two years ago, but their first full season wasn’t until 2015-16. They finished sixth at the 2015 U.S. Championships and earned bronze last year, just missing the two-pair world championships team.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: Last year, I was so excited when they were such a new pair. So much to learn and getting to know each other. Marissa, looking back at her Olympic experience, I think she’s such a firecracker. I think she’s meant to be a competitive, winning pairs skater. You hope that this matchup can be right.

Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay
Ages: 33/27
Hometown: Ellenton, Fla.
Stellato: 2000 World junior silver medalist (singles)
Bartholomay: 12th at 2014 Olympics with Felicia Zhang

It’s not often in pairs where the woman is six years older than the man, but this team is truly unique. Stellato was the 2000 World junior silver medalist but ended her singles career as a teen due to injuries. After more than a decade away from competition, she joined the 2014 Olympian Bartholomay before this season. The duo has the fifth-highest score this season of the pairs in the U.S. Championships field.

Johnny Weir’s Take: Deanna was one of my favorite skaters when I was little. We traveled together on the Junior Grand Prix, and I always loved watching her. Having seen a couple of small video clips of them, I’m excited to see how they develop and how they perform underneath the bright lights. She has a very wonderful, experienced partner.

Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc
Ages: 21/26
Hometown: Euless, Texas
Cain: 2011 U.S. junior champion with Joshua Reagan

Cain and LeDuc may be the hottest team going into nationals. They outscored Denney and Frazier at a lower-level event last month with their best score in three lower-level events this season.

MORE: Olympic pairs champions skip 2016-17 season

Jamaica bobsled team crowdfunds for new coach

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 14:  Winston Watts of Jamaica pilots a run during a Men's Two-Man Bobsleigh training session on day 7 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Sanki Sliding Center on February 14, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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The Jamaica bobsled team is asking for $60,000 to hire a coach through a crowdfunding campaign.

The Jamaicans hope to qualify men’s and women’s bobsled teams for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which will mark the 30-year anniversary of their Olympic debut in Calgary, which inspired the 1993 Disney film “Cool Runnings.”

“We have the talent, the discipline and the determination, needed to contend in the 2018 Winter Olympics,” was written on the crowdfunding page. “With a coach on staff we believe we can not only contend for a medal, but also bring a medal home, and commemorate this outstanding achievement.”

The Jamaicans can attempt next season to qualify for the Olympics. It will not be easy. Jamaica has zero World Cup results this season, a best finish on the lower-level North American Cup of seventh and was briefly stranded in Canada.

Jamaica bobsled returned to the Olympics in Sochi, for the first time in 12 years, and was the last of 29 finishers in the two-man race.

That driver, Winston Watt, turned 49 years old in December and is no longer competing with the Jamaican program.

The new Jamaican program athletes include Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian, a 2014 U.S. Olympic driver, and Michael Blair, a running back for the Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers in 1998.

The Jamaicans recently had a coach, hiring U.S. Olympian and coach Todd Hays in July 2014.

MORE: Bobsled, luge, skeleton season broadcast schedule