Missy Franklin

Ledecky, Franklin advance to showdown final at Nationals

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IRVINE, Calif. — The most impressive U.S. swimmers in recent history are in the spotlight at the National Championships on Thursday. And we’re not talking about Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.

On Phelps’ only day off at the five-day meet, the women’s 200m freestyle is the marquee event.

Female headliners Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin were the top two qualifiers from the morning heats into the final Thursday night at 9 p.m. ET.

Ledecky won her heat in 1 minute, 55.75 seconds, the fourth-fastest time in the world this year. Franklin won hers directly after in 1:57.83. Olympic 200m free champion Allison Schmitt was not fast enough to make the eight-woman final.

In other events Thursday, Ryan Lochte advanced to the men’s 200m freestyle final with the third-fastest time.

Franklin and Lochte both advanced to the 200m backstroke finals, where they are the reigning World champions.

The 200m free is the meet-up event for Franklin, a 100m and 200m swimmer, and Ledecky, the world record holder in the 800m and 1500m.

They are the last two Female World Swimmers of the Year. When Franklin won a female record six gold medals at last year’s World Championships, Ledecky was named the meet’s best female swimmer for breaking two world records.

Ledecky was second to Franklin at last year’s U.S. Championships in the 200m free but did not swim the event at Worlds due to a hectic schedule.

The schedule opens up at the Olympics, though, which could create an interesting storyline going to Rio de Janeiro.

U.S. women haven’t gone one-two in an event at an Olympics or Worlds since 2000. In that same span, U.S. men have done so 25 times.

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, from Aug. 21-24. There, the U.S. will face top swimmers from Australia, Japan, South Africa and other non-European nations.

Phelps seventh in 100m freestyle

Mikaela Shiffrin wrestles with doubt in seconds before World Cup downhill debut

Mikaela Shiffrin, of the United States, skis during the third training run for the World Cup women's downhill ski race in Lake Louise, Alberta, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)
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After a momentary panic in the start house, Mikaela Shiffrin raced to a tie for 18th in the first downhill of her World Cup career in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Friday.

Shiffrin, the youngest Olympic slalom champion who has also won a World Cup giant slalom, has been slowly adding the speed events of super-G and downhill to her repertoire the last two seasons.

“It wasn’t bad,” Shiffrin said, according to SkiRacing.com. “I certainly didn’t risk anything crazy.”

Her result Friday, 1.99 seconds behind Slovenian winner Ilka Stuhec, came after Shiffrin was 18th, 24th and 30th fastest in downhill training runs the previous three days. Shiffrin also had to wait several minutes in the start house as the racer before her crashed (video here).

“That was just a bummer,” Shiffrin said, according to the Denver Post. “I was like, ‘Just don’t let it affect you,’ but being up there for 10 minutes, like, ‘What happened? What’s taking them so long? What’s going on? Is she hurt?’

“Then I started doubting myself, like my technique going off the jumps, which is actually pretty good. I was going back and forth between, ‘Should I even be doing this? Maybe I just should pull out because I don’t want to kill myself.’ Then I’m like, ‘You’re absolutely fine, you haven’t felt sketched out a single time on this track in the past three days, so stick with that. You don’t have to go crazy.'”

“To be fast in speed there certainly needs to be a certain level of risk, and I know that, but now, if [giant slalom] and slalom are my main priority this season, I don’t need to be going crazy in a downhill with flat light and after I got iced [waiting so long],” Shiffrin said, according to SkiRacing.com.

Stuhec won Friday’s race by .22 of a second over Italian Sofia Goggia. Swede Kajsa Kling was third.

A race replay can be seen here. Full results are here.

Lindsey Vonn, owner of a record 18 wins at Lake Louise, is missing the annual World Cup stop in Alberta due to a broken arm from a November crash. Vonn had raced at Lake Louise each of the previous 15 seasons.

Last season, Shiffrin made her World Cup debut in the super-G at Lake Louise and finished 15th.

The women have another downhill Saturday and a super-G on Sunday in Lake Louise, both streaming live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app (schedule here).

MORE: Vonn eyes January return from her most painful injury

High-speed crash at World Cup downhill in Lake Louise (video)

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Swiss Joana Haehlen crashed into netting at high speed during a World Cup downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta, on Friday.

Haehlen, 24, lost her right ski after landing from a jump and sped uncontrollably off course. She braced for impact, slammed into red netting and was turned around before landing with neither of her skis still attached.

She lay on the snow while being attended to and eventually skied down the mountain on her own.

It caused a 10-minute delay before the next skier, American Mikaela Shiffrin, could take her run.

VIDEO: Vonn details the most painful injury of her career