Nathan Adrian, James Magnussen

Pan Pacific Championships men’s events preview

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The U.S. swimming headlines have largely focused on the big four in recent weeks — Phelps, Lochte, Franklin, Ledecky — but, in Australia, the most anticipated event of the biggest meet of the year is a showdown between two other swimmers.

That’s U.S. Olympic champion Nathan Adrian vs. Australian World champion James Magnussen in the 100m freestyle at the Pan Pacific Championships, the latest head-to-head rivalry between the world’s two pool power nations.

Pan Pacs begin Thursday in Gold Coast, Australia, which is 14 hours ahead of Eastern time. NBC will have coverage Saturday from 3:30-4:30 p.m. ET and Sunday from 1-2:30.

Pan Pacs are not only the biggest meet for U.S. and Australian swimmers this year, but times from Pan Pacs and the U.S. Championships will also determine the U.S. team for the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia.

The men’s and women’s 100m free finals are on Friday night’s finals session, which starts at 5 a.m. Eastern time.

Pan Pacs women’s preview

In 2012, Adrian edged Magnussen for Olympic 100m free gold by .01, a sliver margin that drastically altered the perception of Magnussen, the biggest Australian swimming star going into London.

The Games were considered a failure for Australia’s “Missile,” who also led off the 4x100m freestyle relay team that finished fourth after winning the World title in 2011.

But Magnussen, 6 feet, 6 inches, stood tall again at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, winning the 100m free. American Jimmy Feigen was second, followed by Adrian in third.

Magnussen is the world’s fastest man in the 100m free this year, but his status as favorite is a bit in doubt due to a “pretty dodgy” back.

His biggest threat is one of his teammates, Cameron McEvoy, who is the second-fastest man this year. Adrian is third, his best time .49 of a second slower than Magnussen’s world lead.

Michael Phelps: The most decorated Olympian of all time is swimming his first international meet since the London Olympics.

It should be a busy one for Phelps once he gets going in the 100m free on Friday, followed by the 100m butterfly Saturday and the 200m individual medley Sunday. He could also swim in relays.

Remember, Phelps won zero events at the U.S. Championships two weeks ago, but he clocked the world’s fastest time in the 100m fly this year (in the prelims).

He is not the favorite in the 100m free (Magnussen, Adrian) or the 200m IM (Ryan Lochte, Kosuke Hagino).

But Phelps may just be the man in the 100m fly, where he will be out to flip his finish from Nationals. He lost to Tom Shields by .01 in the final in Irvine, Calif., two weeks ago. Unfortunately, the field is lacking the reigning World champion in the event, Chad le Clos, who is not on South Africa’s roster in Gold Coast.

The key for Phelps — and all U.S. swimmers — will be to see who has the top two times per event over finals races from Nationals and Pan Pacs. The top two make the 2015 Worlds team in each of those Olympic events. The top four (and perhaps fifth and sixth) in the 100m free and 200m free make it to Worlds for relays.

Ryan Lochte: Phelps’ longtime rival is entered in the same three events, plus the 200m free and 200m backstroke. It’s another test for a man who suffered a major knee injury in November, aggravated it in February and again in April.

Lochte said last week that the knee was strong but not “110 percent.”

Like Phelps, Lochte is not expected to challenge Magnussen and Adrian in the 100m free. He’s also not among the world’s fastest in the 200m free this year.

He appears likelier to vie for wins in the 200m back and, even moreso, the 200m IM, the only event he won at Nationals. The young Japanese star Hagino has been more than a second faster than Lochte in the 200 IM this year, though.

Here’s the full schedule of men’s events in Gold Coast:

Thursday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

200m freestyle
100m backstroke
200m butterfly
1500m freestyle

Friday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Thursday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

100m breaststroke
100m freestyle
400m individual medley
4x200m freestyle relay

Saturday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Friday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

100m butterfly
400m freestyle
200m backstroke
4x100m freestyle relay

Sunday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Saturday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

800m freestyle
200m individual medley
50m freestyle
200m breaststroke
4x100m medley relay

Phelps a vocal leader in Australia

Ashley Wagner eyes history at Grand Prix Final after ‘disaster’ in Japan

Ashley Wagner
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Ashley Wagner can next week become the first U.S. singles skater to make four straight Grand Prix Final podiums, but not if she performs like she did last weekend at NHK Trophy in Japan.

“NHK was a disaster,” the three-time U.S. champion said Tuesday, “but that was kind of a one-time deal.”

Wagner backed into the Grand Prix Final as the sixth and final women’s qualifier by finishing fourth at NHK Trophy on Saturday, snapping her streak of 10 straight podium finishes in Grand Prix events. She had won Skate Canada four weeks earlier.

The Grand Prix Final is the most prestigious annual figure skating competition outside of the World Championships and an event that Wagner calls a preview for Worlds (in Boston in late March/early April).

In Japan, Wagner had trouble cleanly landing and fully rotating jumps in both programs, and though she didn’t fall, her mental state was clearly shaken even before the free skate Saturday.

Japanese legend Mao Asada (one of three women to make four straight Grand Prix Final podiums, along with Irina Slutskaya and Michelle Kwan) skated immediately before Wagner.

The home crowd was at its loudest after Asada rebounded from her own poor short to move into the lead (temporarily, Asada finished third).

“I didn’t know how Mao had skated,” said Wagner, who was in third after the short program. “I figured I needed to at least get on the podium [to definitely make the Grand Prix Final], and I knew that I could probably afford a fourth place [to still make the Final]. I think that is where I went wrong. I should have just put my head down, started fresh and gone into that long program not focusing on, OK, well, I can get as low as this and I’ll make it to the [Grand Prix] Final. I think that didn’t really get me into the fighting spirit that I’m so used to competing with. When I focus on the results and not how I’m going to get there, it usually doesn’t go so well for me. It was a rookie mistake.

“I think I was playing it safe and trying to avoid making a mistake, and of course that’s exactly what I ended up doing.”

Wagner placed fifth in the free skate and fourth overall. She actually could have finished sixth overall and still made the Barcelona Grand Prix Final.

So she goes into next weekend’s competition as an underdog to Russians Yevgenia Medvedeva and Yelena Radionova, the last two World Junior champions. Plus countrywoman Gracie Gold and Asada.

Wagner’s confidence that the NHK hiccup won’t repeat could be bolstered by last season, when she was also the last qualifier into the Grand Prix Final (before Gold withdrew), was in last place after the Final short program but starred in the free skate to grab bronze.

“I like it when I have something not go so well,” she said. “When things are too perfect for too long, in a way it kind of freaks me out a little bit.”

Wagner called the women’s field in Barcelona “wide open.” It may be, given six different women won the six qualifying events, the first time nobody doubled up since 2006.

However, Wagner tapped Asada when asked to name her biggest competition. Wagner, 24, and Asada, 25, are the only women’s Grand Prix Final qualifiers older than 20.

“When she’s on, [Asada] has the whole package,” Wagner said of the three-time World champion who took last season off from competition. “She knows how to put on a performance. The audience loves her. Technically, she’s very strong. I think that If I had to pinpoint someone, Mao Asada on one of her good days, is definitely going to be one of the top girls.”

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Travis Ganong on the rise, leads U.S. men into Beaver Creek

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — Before checking into his Colorado hotel, Travis Ganong made a quick pit stop with his doctor to get the stitches removed from his surgically repaired right thumb.

The digit remains extremely swollen even two weeks after a training crash. So much so that he can barely push out of the starting gate.

Not that anyone could tell in Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend, when Ganong finished third in a downhill race and came within a wisp of another podium spot in the super-G.

Stitches removed and confidence soaring, Ganong’s eager to take on the demanding course in Beaver Creek over the weekend. This is a place where last February he earned a breakthrough silver medal in the downhill at World Championships (video here).

”It’s really nice to have these solid results so early in the season. It takes the edge off,” Ganong said. ”Before you have the first result, you’re always questioning yourself. Now I can relax and that’s when the really good skiing comes.”

The 27-year-old from Squaw Valley, California, has been a rising force on the U.S. speed team since a fifth-place finish at the 2014 Sochi Games.

In such a fast sport, though, he’s taken a gradual approach to his development – never racing outside his comfort zone until he was good and ready. That was all part of his calculated plan, which came to fruition last season as he won his first World Cup downhill race in Italy and earned his first medal at Worlds.

”I was always building, building, building, getting better and better incrementally,” Ganong said. ”Last year I was like, ‘OK, my time is now. I need to try something new.’

”Bam, I won a race. But then I would have a horrible race. … Now this year it’s all about bringing that consistency back to the top, top level.”

Growing up in Squaw Valley, Ganong could always be found somewhere on the mountain, whether it was skiing powder in the back-country with his father, cross-country skiing (he was good, too), snowboarding (yep, he tried that), going over moguls or training with his team.

”We had this two- or three-inch rule where if it snowed that much, we didn’t worry about setting up gates. We’d go freeskiing and chase each other around the mountain,” Ganong said. ”That’s the No. 1 reason why so many good skiers come out of there.”

Like longtime U.S. skiing great Daron Rahlves, one of Ganong’s idols as a kid. The two talk all the time about ways Ganong can uncover more speed.

”I really excel on the steeper, more gnarly courses,” Ganong said. ”I need to try to figure out a way to bring that same intensity to the easier hills that are a little flatter and not my strong suit. Daron and I, that’s all we talk about when we talk about ski racing.”

Ganong broke through last weekend in Lake Louise, which is more of a glider’s course.

Not bad considering his recent wipeout. He tumbled during an early morning training session in Vail when he didn’t pick up a roll in the terrain. He needed surgery to fix a torn tendon and ligaments. He also bruised his left knee.

So he didn’t have all that high of expectations going into Lake Louise.

”For me to have that kind of speed on that kind of hill, yeah, that was a little surprising,” Ganong said. ”I skied really relaxed and just kind of within myself.”

No one could catch Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, though, who came away with wins on both days as he returns to the World Cup circuit after tearing his Achilles tendon last season while juggling a soccer ball.

”Aksel just knows how to let the skis go,” Ganong said. ”But Beaver Creek? It’s a different hill.”

Ganong’s kind of hill.

”Beaver Creek is way more my style of skiing and my style of hill,” said Ganong, who was fifth last December in a World Cup downhill at Birds of Prey. ”I’m trying to not think too much about it, just keep working hard, and keep thinking I’m an underdog and have something to prove.

”Hopefully, that’s a good mentality to keep me fired up.”

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