Getty Images

Nathan Chen holds off Yuzuru Hanyu for Four Continents title

Leave a comment

Nathan Chen, the 17-year-old U.S. champion, faced the pressure of skating after Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu with a gold medal at stake on Sunday.

He met it, bagging the biggest title of his young career at the Four Continents Championships.

Chen did so at the 2018 Olympic venue, and with minor jumping mistakes, boosting hopes he can prevail at worlds next month and again in South Korea next year.

Chen landed five quadruple jumps — matching his record for a free skate — to total 307.46 points, the highest in the world this season.

Hanyu landed four quads — with a costly double Salchow, as he did in the short program — for 303.71. Another Japanese, Shoma Uno, took bronze with 288.05 points. Full results are here.

“There were some mistakes here and there,” said Chen, who became the first American to outscore Hanyu at an event in more than five years. “There are definitely things I need to work on, but I’m certainly happy with the way everything went.”

Hanyu skated before Chen and put down the highest free-skate and total scores in the world this season, despite those Salchow errors, and still more than 25 points shy of his world record from last season.

“A mistake is a mistake, and I’m happy I was able to show almost everything,” Hanyu said.

Chen, the last skater to go, waited to take the ice while several kids cleaned the ice of Winnie the Pooh bears tossed by adoring Hanyu fans. This has become routine when Hanyu skates.

“With the whole Winnie the Pooh situation, it’s something that I can’t change, but it was something I was expecting,” Chen said.

If Hanyu was near his best, he still beats Chen — for now — but Chen must have known that with a strong free skate, he could overcome the less-than-perfect Hanyu. Chen had a 6.08-point cushion over a flawed Hanyu from Friday’s short program.

Chen’s free skate was marvelous, but not quite his jumping showcase of the U.S. Championships in January. He turned out of one of his five quad landings and also had negative execution scores on both triple Axels (one in combination).

“I tried five quads today, and I landed three of the five solidly,” Chen said. “The other two were a little shaky, so that’s something that I need to improve on for worlds.”

Still, Chen scored 204.34 points for the free skate — his best in international competition by nearly seven points — after Hanyu tallied 206.67.

It’s the biggest win for a U.S. man since Evan Lysacek‘s Olympic title in 2010. The Four Continents field included every single Olympic medal contender except for two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain.

The victory marked the latest step in Chen’s incredible ascent since the start of 2016. He is fulfilling promise — and then some — since becoming the darling boy of the 2010 U.S. Championships.

In January 2016, Chen took bronze at nationals at 16, becoming the youngest man to finish in the top three since 1973.

He suffered a season-ending hip injury in the exhibition later that day but came back in the fall to beat Hanyu and Fernandez in the Grand Prix Final free skate, taking silver overall.

Last month, Chen shattered U.S. Championships scoring records en route to becoming the youngest U.S. men’s gold medalist since 1966.

Those last two competitions made Chen a world and Olympic medal contender. Now, he must be considered a medal favorite and a gold-medal contender going into worlds in six weeks, especially given the exceptional Hanyu’s inconsistency.

Hanyu sat off stage when Chen’s score came up Sunday afternoon. He learned it, scrunched his eyes and cupped his cheeks.

“Before going on to the podium I looked at Nathan,” Hanyu said, “and I felt envious. I wanted to win.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: PyeongChang 2018 daily schedule highlights

U.S. men look to fill Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte void at swim worlds

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With Michael Phelps retired and Ryan Lochte suspended, the superstars at the world swimming championships clearly lie on the women’s side.

But the men’s events will include world-record chasers, a stinging rivalry and, perhaps, the emergence of Phelps and Lochte’s successor as leading U.S. man.

Caeleb Dressel came through in Rio under arguably the most pressure of any swimmer, starting off the U.S. 4x100m freestyle relay team in his very first Olympic splash with a personal-best time.

Dressel, a 20-year-old who nearly quit swimming three years ago as the No. 1 recruit in the nation, has nine events to choose from at worlds in Budapest starting Sunday.

He qualified in four individual events — 50m and 100m butterflies and freestyles — and is eligible for all five relays (two mixed-gender).

In the last 15 years, only two U.S. men have raced in four individual events at a single Olympics or world championships — Phelps and Lochte.

Dressel is in the medal mix in all of his individual events, ranking No. 1 in the world this year in the 100m fly, No. 3 in the 50m free, No. 4 in the 100m free and No. 5 in the 50m fly. He is also almost guaranteed medals in any relays that he enters given the unmatched U.S. depth.

Dressel has never been to a worlds and raced just one individual event in Rio. He’s the potential breakout star on a U.S. team, surrounded by more proven names.

SWIMMING WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Event Schedule

Ryan Murphy, who swam for the same Jacksonville, Fla., club team as Dressel, swept the backstrokes in Rio and broke the 100m back world record leading off the medley relay. That dominance has not quite carried over so far in 2017. Murphy ranks third in the world in the 100m and 200m backs this year.

Chase Kalisz, a longtime Phelps training partner in Baltimore, has followed up his Rio Olympic 400m individual medley silver medal well this year. He chopped two seconds off his personal best in the 200m IM and goes into Budapest ranked No. 1 in the world in the 400m IM by nearly a half-second.

The U.S. boasts more medal threats including Nathan Adrian (sprint freestyles), Townley Haas (200m free), Cody Miller and Kevin Cordes (breaststrokes), but nobody is a clear favorite.

The surest bets are world-record holders Adam Peaty and Ippei Watanabe in the breaststrokes and Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri in the 1500m free. Paltrinieri could challenge a five-year-old world record held by Sun Yang.

Speaking of Sun, the mercurial Chinese superstar is set to renew his rivalry with Australian Mack Horton. In Rio, Horton memorably called Sun “a drug cheat,” in reference to Sun’s three-month suspension in 2014 for using a banned stimulant.

Horton then went out and beat Sun in the 400m freestyle, dethroning the Olympic and world champion. Horton and Sun could face off in four individual events in Budapest.

Key men’s finals:

Sunday, July 23
400m freestyle — Sun has been two seconds faster than Horton this year
4x100m freestyle relay — Olympic silver medalist France won’t defend world title; U.S. favored

Monday, July 24
100m breaststroke — Peaty has the eight fastest times ever and fastest by .95 this year

Tuesday, July 25
200m freestyle — Haas the only man within .64 of Sun in 2017
100m backstroke — Rio silver medalist Xu Jiayu was .01 shy of Murphy’s WR in April

Wednesday, July 26
200m butterfly — Japan and Hungary lead the post-Phelps-era world; Chad le Clos ranks 8th in 2017
800m freestyle — Italian Gabriele Detti fastest in 2017 by six seconds, but slower than Sun’s winning times in 2011, 2013, 2015

Thursday, July 27
200m individual medley — Phelps, Lochte won the last 12 Olympic/world titles
100m freestyle — Reigning Olympic and world champions’ absences open door for Adrian, Dressel

Friday, July 28
200m backstroke — U.S. won 14 of the last 15 Olympic/world titles, including Murphy in Rio
200m breaststroke — Watanabe broke WR in January; surprise Olympic champ Dmitriy Balandin ranks No. 127 this year
4x200m freestyle relay — U.S., without Lochte, Phelps, looks to take world title back from Great Britain

Saturday, July 29
50m freestyle — Reigning Olympic and world champions’ absences open door for Adrian, Dressel
100m butterfly — Joseph Schooling eyes Phelps’ WR, but Dressel ranks No. 1 in 2017

Sunday, July 30
400m individual medley — Kalisz ranks No. 1 in 2017, but time is .94 slower than Kosuke Hagino in Rio
1500m freestyle — Sun holds WR of 14:31 but hasn’t broken 14:55 since 2014
4x100m medley relay — Great Britain will lean on Peaty to challenge U.S.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Michael Phelps not itching to return like in 2013

Katie Ledecky eyes more history as women to star at swimming worlds

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The year after the Olympics isn’t always known for it, but there should be fireworks in the women’s events at the world swimming championships in Budapest next week.

Katie Ledecky could match Missy Franklin‘s record of six gold medals at a single worlds by swimming one more event than she did at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics. Judging by Ledecky’s times at the U.S. Championships last month, the rising Stanford sophomore is in her usual dominant form.

Hungarian Katinka Hosszu, swimming in front of her home fans, could try to equal Ledecky with four individual golds in backstrokes and individual medleys.

Swede Sarah Sjostrom could do the same in the 50m and 100m butterflies and freestyles, where world records are under threat.

Ledecky, Hosszu and Sjostrom are all bidding to become the first women to three-peat in an individual event at worlds.

Then there’s the return of the greatest rivalry in swimming. After their memorable Rio duel, King and Yulia Efimova rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year in all three breaststrokes.

Spain’s Mireia Belmonte and American Leah Smith have never won an individual world title, but they could be the busiest swimmers of all next week.

Belmonte could race 7,4000 total meters if she makes every event final. Smith could get up to 7,000 meters. Both would outdistance Ledecky and Hosszu in mileage.

SWIMMING WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Event Schedule

The women’s program could have been even more loaded if not for two notable absences. Australian Cate Campbell, the 100m freestyle world-record holder, is sitting out world champs.

Australia beat the U.S. in the 4x100m free relay at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics, but without Campbell, the Americans are about even with the Aussies. Ledecky’s bid for six golds could hang on this race on the opening night.

Ledecky also greatly benefits from Sjostrom’s decision to skip the 200m freestyle. In Rio, Sjostrom was the closest swimmer to Ledecky in her individual events, coming .35 shy in the 200m free while outsplitting Ledecky in the final 50 meters.

Key women’s finals:

Sunday, July 23
400m freestyle — Ledecky hasn’t lost a 400m free since the 2012 Olympic Trials
4x100m freestyle relay — Showdown with Campbell-less Australia crucial for Ledecky’s six-gold bid

Monday, July 24
100m butterfly — Sjostrom’s only competition is her world record of 55.48
200m individual medley — Nobody has been within a second of Hosszu this year

Tuesday, July 25
100m backstroke — Kylie Masse was .09 off the longest-standing women’s swimming world record at Canadian Champs
1500m freestyle — Ledecky is 25 seconds faster than anyone else this year
100m breaststroke — Efimova is .13 faster than King this year

Wednesday, July 26
200m freestyle — Ledecky’s toughest individual event made easier by Sjostrom’s absence

Thursday, July 27
200m butterfly — Olympic champ Belmonte eyes first world title; Nos. 2, 3, 4 from Rio absent
4x200m freestyle relay — China is strong, but Ledecky is the U.S.’ ace in the hole

Friday, July 28
100m freestyle — Heavy favorite Sjostrom .02 off the world record in June
200m breaststroke — Efimova is two seconds faster than second-ranked King this year

Saturday, July 29
200m backstroke — Kathleen Baker can inherit throne from retired Maya DiRado 
800m freestyle — Likely Ledecky’s sixth and final event, could match Franklin’s gold record

Sunday, July 30
50m freestyle — No. of sub-24-second times this year — Sjostrom: 6; Rest of World: 0
400m individual medley — Hosszu, after breaking WR by two seconds in Rio, slower this year
4x100m medley relay — U.S. should gap Australia, China on breaststroke leg

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Michael Phelps not itching to return like in 2013

*Correction: The integrity of a Lilly King quote attributed to Agence France-Presse in earlier version of this story has been called into question and was removed.