Katie Ledecky, Janet Evans

Janet Evans sees parallels with Katie Ledecky

Leave a comment
source: Getty Images
Getty Images

Janet Evans remembers the disappointment in Katie Ledecky‘s eyes.

It’s not a look that has been seen recently. Ledecky, a 17-year-old from Bethesda, Md., has been the most impressive swimmer in the world over the last year, breaking and rebreaking freestyle world records from 400m to 1500m.

Her latest breakthrough came in the 400m at the U.S. Swimming Championships in Irvine, Calif., last week. Ledecky snatched Italian Federica Pellegrini‘s world record set at the peak of the high-tech suit era in 2009.

The rising all-girls, prekindergarten-through-12th-grade Catholic school senior became the first woman to simultaneously hold the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle world records since the great Evans toted them all as recently as 2006.

Evans, 42, jokes that she’s old enough to be Ledecky’s mother. But they actually swam in the same meet in 2012, when Evans entered the U.S. Olympic Trials for the first time since 1996.

Ledecky won the 800m free at trials (and the Olympics), but Evans chose to reflect on the 400m, where Ledecky came in third place in Omaha. Only the top can make the Olympic team in each individual event, and the 400m came before the 800m at trials.

“I remember seeing how disappointed she was when she didn’t make the team [in the 400m],” Evans said. “I remember thinking, oh, yeah, she wants this. She’s pretty hungry. Then I remember watching her 800, where she just took it out and took no prisoners.”

Evans sees a bit of herself in Ledecky, whom she met for the first time at the Golden Goggle Awards in November, when Ledecky won Female Athlete of the Year.

Evans broke her first world record at 15 and won the first of her four Olympic gold medals at 17. Ledecky won her first Olympic gold medal at 15 and broke her first world record at 16.

“She swims her races a lot like I used to,” Evans said. “I remember that feeling when there’s no one around you [in a race]. You’re just like, what do I do now? You keep swimming.”

Evans learned of Ledecky’s 400m free world record last week when she stopped in Frankfurt, Germany, on the way home from a European vacation.

“My phone blew up,” Evans said.

“The 400 was my favorite race, and it was my favorite record,” said Evans, who held the 400m free world record from 1987 to 2006. “It was against the East Germans in Seoul [1988 Olympics]. It was my favorite race ever. When my world records were broken, I think the 400 hurt me the most because it was like my favorite race. I always wanted an American to get that record back.”

Evans believes Ledecky will continue to swim faster, particularly in the 200m free, but wondered about the pressure that comes with being so good, so young.

“I needed people to tell me that it was OK not to win,” Evans said. “I needed people to tell me that it was OK not to break a world record and it was OK to get second at the 1992 Olympics and get touched out by 19 one-hundredths of a second. As much support as I had from my parents and my coaches, I never had anyone tell me as a young woman that it was OK not to win. And that made swimming not fun for me. And that’s, in hindsight, what I look back on and say, I wish someone had told me that one day I’ll love my silver medal.”

Evans recalled breaking her first world record in 1987 and then getting crushed by Australian Julie McDonald by 10 seconds in the 800m free at the Pan Pacific Championships two weeks later.

“That’s something, too, that I needed warning about,” Evans said. “Once you get there [to the top], there’s less of that I’m going to shock the world and win a gold in London and more of oh, that girl down there in the corner of the world in Australia knows who I am.

“And she’s out to get me.”

Amy Van Dyken-Rouen leaving hospital

Maia, Alex Shibutani repeat as U.S. champions, just miss record

Leave a comment

KANSAS CITY — Maia and Alex Shibutani proved again they are the best in the U.S. The task will be much tougher in two months at the world championships.

The siblings totaled 200.05 points to repeat as national champions on Saturday.

They missed the U.S. Championships overall record score, set by Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, by .14 of a point, after setting the short dance record Friday.

“A year out from the Olympics, this is exactly where we want to be,” Maia Shibutani told Andrea Joyce on NBC. “I know we’ve improved so much.”

Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the 2015 U.S. champions, were second, 1.01 points behind the Shibutanis. Chock and Bates actually outscored the Shibutanis in the free dance.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were third after Hubbell shockingly fell during their free dance.

Full results are here.

The Shibutanis are riding a tidal wave of momentum. They earned their first U.S. title in 2016, then took silver at the world championships last March and bronze at the Grand Prix Final last month.

“The past year and a half, we’ve built so much momentum,” Alex Shibutani said. “We’re really coming into our own.”

The world’s two best couples are two-time reigning world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France and Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Virtue and Moir took Olympic gold in 2010 and silver in 2014, then took two seasons off and returned this year to post the highest scores under the current system implemented in 2010.

The U.S., though, is unquestionably the deepest ice dance nation. The Shibutanis, Chock and Bates and Hubbell and Donohue made up half of the top six at the 2016 World Championships. All three couples qualified for each of the last two Grand Prix Finals, which take only six couples.

Meanwhile, Davis and White have watched the ascension while taking a three-year break from competition. They are running out of time to decide if they will attempt to defend their Olympic title in PyeongChang. A nation can send no more than three couples to the Olympics.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday night with the women’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on winning 1997 U.S. title at age 14

U.S. Championships Ice Dance
GOLD: Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani — 200.05

SILVER: Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 199.04
BRONZE: Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue — 191.42
4. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit — 170.29
5. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker — 160.06

Haven Denney, Brandon Frazier win U.S. pairs title after year off

Leave a comment

KANSAS CITY — Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier returned from a year off to win their first U.S. pairs title on Saturday, despite an error-prone free skate and against a field lacking any previous U.S. champion teams.

Denney and Frazier jumped from second after the short program to total 188.32 points and win by 2.04 over Sochi Olympian Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran. Denney and Frazier’s total score was 23.33 points fewer than last year’s winning score.

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, who led by 3.96 after the short program, had a strong free skate going until a fall on their throw triple Lutz and finished third Saturday.

Full results are here.

Denney and Frazier were the top U.S. pair in the fall international season by 16 points, taking a silver medal at Skate America.

But Denney struggled on landings in the short program, her right leg wrapped after blowing out her right knee in spring 2015 that caused them to miss the entire 2015-16 season. They also had multiple jumping errors in their free skate, but, unlike the rest of the top five, stayed on their feet Saturday.

“We’re trying harder elements, harder jumps, bigger throws, bigger twists,” Frazier said. “What you see is a couple of ups and downs. This is all building for the next season.”

The U.S. will send two pairs to the world championships in Helsinki in two months, but not definitively the top two finishers from Saturday. The world championships pairs teams will be named Sunday.

Denney and Frazier finished 12th at the 2015 Worlds, after placing second at that year’s U.S. Championships. Castelli and Tran, in their second year as a pair, have no worlds experience together and are ineligible for the 2018 Olympics. Tran, born in Canada, is not a U.S. citizen.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. pair to earn an Olympic or world medal was Kyoka Ina and John Zimmerman at the 2002 Worlds. Eight different pairs have won the last nine U.S. titles.

In 2016, the U.S. pairs finished ninth and 13th at worlds, but both of those teams are out due to injuries.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, the top U.S. pair in international competition in recent seasons, has been out of competition all season due to her September stomach surgery. They have returned to full training.

The Knierims filed a petition to be named to the world championships team, which is selected on a discretionary basis on results from the U.S. Championships and other recent competitions.

“Whatever they decide,” Tran said of a U.S. Figure Skating selection committee, “we’re all for that.”

The 2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea withdrew before the free skate Saturday after Kayne suffered a concussion in a short-program fall. They placed fifth in the short program.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday night with the women’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on 1997 U.S. title at age 14

U.S. Championships Pairs
GOLD: Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier — 188.32
SILVER: Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran — 186.28
BRONZE: Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc — 184.41

4. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay — 173.50
5. Jessica Pfund/Joshua Santillan — 168.90