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

Photos: Final Five meet the President, First Lady

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 29:  U.S. first lady Michelle Obama(L) rests her elbow on the head of Olympian Simone Biles (2nd L) as President Barack Obama (R) speaks during an East Room event at the White House September 29, 2016 in Washington, DC. President Obama and the first lady welcome the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams to the White House to honor their participation and success in the Rio Olympic Games this year.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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The U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team spent extra time at the White House on Thursday after President Barack Obama delivered a speech to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams.

Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian and Aly Raisman did the splits with Obama, and even lifted vegetable dumbbells with First Lady Michelle Obama.

Gabby Douglas, who had her wisdom teeth removed earlier this week, did not attend the event.

MORE: Simone Biles discusses her future

Katherine Reutter ends early retirement

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 26:  Katherine Reutter of the United States celebrates the silver medal in the Ladies 1000m Short Track Speed Skating Final on day 15 of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at Pacific Coliseum on February 26, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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When Katherine Reutter retired in 2013 at the age of 24, she never thought she would return to the ice. Three hip surgeries and two major back injuries left the two-time Olympic short track speed skating medalist in constant pain.

But now Reutter is scheduled to compete this weekend at the U.S. Speedskating Short Track World Cup Qualifier at the Utah Olympic Oval.

“You wouldn’t expect somebody who has been as injured as I have to be back at their best,” Reutter said in a telephone interview from Utah. “I feel like I’m getting close.”

Reutter only started contemplating a comeback last November, after being inspired by attending a World Cup race as a member of the U.S. Speedskating Athlete Advisory Council.

She began a regimen of yoga twice a week and daily 30-minute walks when she returned to Milwaukee, where she was working as a coach for the Academy of Skating Excellence.

“I started off really, really slow,” she said. “I started to work out the amount that a normal person probably should.”

Pain free, Reutter began skating during the practices that she was coaching.

“I noticed the days I came home really happy were the days where I had skated,” she said.

Reutter only started to truly believe that she could return to skating competitively when she clocked times that she described as “pretty darn good” a training camp in Salt Lake City in May and June.

She has learned to listen to her body. After experiencing pain when she scheduled twice-daily workouts six days per week, she scaled back to four or five days per week.

“I don’t really have the option to overtrain like I used to,” she said.

Reutter’s goal this weekend is to earn a placement for the ISU World Cup, which begins Nov. 4-6 in Calgary. Eventually, she would like to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

But Reutter would be happy just being, well, happy.

“I am trying to live life to its happiest every single day,” she said, “and speed skating allows me to do that.”

Reutter recently changed her Twitter bio to say “comeback queen.”

“So far I’m the only one who calls me that,” she said, laughing. “I suppose people could get on board eventually”

MORE: Five athletes to know before the 2018 Winter Olympics