Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin 4th in 100 free, win Pan Pacs relay golds

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Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin didn’t win individual medals at the Pan Pacific Championships on Friday, but they were part of U.S. relay victories.

Phelps, in his first international meet since the London Olympics, and Franklin, swimming three days after being helped off the pool deck with back spasms, were both fourth in 100m freestyle finals won by Aussies in rainy Gold Coast, Australia.

They were part of a U.S. 4x200m free relay sweep, though.

“Being able to get back on the podium — it feels amazing,” Phelps said, according to The Associated Press. “It’s a good first day. Good first international meet back. There’s no better way to finish this, lovely, rainy night then being able to step up with your teammates and win a gold medal.”

Phelps clocked 48.51 seconds in the 100m free final, an event he doesn’t usually contest at major international meets. He finished behind Australian national champion Cameron McEvoy (47.82), U.S. Olympic champion Nathan Adrian (48.30) and Australian World champion James Magnussen (48.36).

The men’s 100m free was billed as a marquee race at the four-day meet. Adrian and Magnussen, separated by .01 at the Olympics, were expected to vie for the gold.

“I’m not surprised that [McEvoy] won,” Adrian told reporters in Gold Coast. “I’m a little surprised that I went a little slow. … It’s silly to think that it’s just going to be James and I winning every time. … It’s definitely not a two-man game anymore.”

Phelps came back with Ryan LochteConor Dwyer and Matt McLean to barely win the 4x200m free relay over Japan, by .13. The Japanese lead after each of the first three legs before McLean edged ahead on anchor.

Franklin went 53.87 in the women’s 100m free, won by Australian World champion Cate Campbell in 52.72. Campbell’s winning margin, over her silver medalist sister, was a cushioned .73. American Simone Manuel took bronze.

Franklin joined Katie LedeckyShannon Vreeland and Leah Smith to capture the 4x200m free relay by 1.07 seconds over Australia.

“I think we take a lot of ownership with this event,” Franklin said. “They’re not something we like to lose.”

Ledecky, the 200m and 800m free gold medalist Thursday, erased a 1.2-second deficit on the anchor leg for the comeback win.

“I knew I had to sort of think of it as my individual race and not swim it too fast in the first 100,” Ledecky said.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will have Pan Pacs 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.

Phelps may have missed the 100m free medals, but he earned a spot on the 2015 Worlds team as the second fastest American behind Adrian. Franklin, too, can swim the 100m free at Worlds, with Manuel.

In other events, U.S. Olympians Jessica Hardy and Elizabeth Beisel won the 100m breast and 400m individual medley, respectively.

Japan notched wins in the men’s 100m breast (Yasuhiro Koseki) and men’s 400m IM (Kosuke Hagino).

American Kevin Cordes was the top qualifier into the 100m breast final but was disqualified after he appeared to try to take off his goggles during the final, likely because they filled with water.

Men’s 100m Free
1. Cameron McEvoy (AUS) 47.82
2. Nathan Adrian (USA) 48.30
3. James Magnussen (AUS) 48.36
4. Michael Phelps (USA) 48.51

Women’s 100m Free
1. Cate Campbell (AUS) 52.72
2. Bronte Campbell (AUS) 53.45
3. Simone Manuel (USA) 53.71
4. Missy Franklin (USA) 53.87

Men’s 100m Breast
1. Yasuhiro Koseki (JPN) 59.62
2. Felipe Silva (BRA) 59.82
3. Glenn Snyders (NZL) 1:00.18
DQ. Kevin Cordes (USA)

Women’s 100m Breast
1. Jessica Hardy (USA) 1:06.74
2. Kanako Watanabe (JPN) 1:06.78
3. Breeja Larson (USA) 1:06.99

Men’s 400m IM
1. Kosuke Hagino (JPN) 4:08.31
2. Tyler Clary (USA) 4:09.03
3. Chase Kalisz (USA) 4:09.62

Women’s 400m IM
1. Elizabeth Beisel (USA) 4:31.99
2. Maya DiRado (USA) 4:35.37
3. Keryn McMaster (AUS) 4:38.84

Men’s 4x200m Free Relay
1. USA 7:05.17
2. Japan 7:05.30
3. Australia 7:08.55

Women’s 4x200m Free Relay
1. USA 7:46.40
2. Australia 7:47.47
3. Canada 7:58.03

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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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