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North Korea could qualify for PyeongChang Olympics in pairs figure skating

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Perhaps the most intriguing result of the just-completed Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, when it comes to looking ahead to the PyeongChang Olympics, came in pairs figure skating.

To no surprise, China took the top two spots. But the bronze medalists from North Korea turned heads.

Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik tallied 177.40 points, easily distancing pairs from South Korea, Japan and Australia for the last place on the podium.

With that score, it appears Ryom and Kim became the first North Korean athletes to be favored to qualify for the PyeongChang Olympics, though they likely can’t seal the deal for another seven months.

One of the biggest international Olympic storylines over the next 11 months is whether North Korea will be present at the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Despite winning at least four medals at every Summer Games since boycotting Seoul 1988, North Korea didn’t have any athletes at the Sochi Olympics and just two at Vancouver 2010. There’s no guarantee North Korea can qualify any athletes for PyeongChang.

There is also the question of another potential boycott of a South Korea-hosted Olympics, but North and South Korea have shown solidarity at recent Games.

The nations marched together under one flag at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Sydney and Athens. In Rio, North and South Korean gymnasts posed for a selfie together. And North Korea did compete in the two Asian Games hosted by South Korea in the last 30 years, in 2002 and 2014.

Enter Ryom and Kim. Their Asian Winter Games pairs score was a whopping 20-point improvement on their tally from the 2016 Four Continents Championships, their only other recent major international event. North Korean athletes don’t typically compete often internationally.

Ryom and Kim are still a ways off from vying for global podiums (177.40 would have placed 14th at the 2016 Worlds).

But with their Asian Winter Games result, the North Koreans are suddenly favorites to qualify for the PyeongChang Olympics, should they enter the last qualifying event in Germany in September.

Here’s how it works:

A maximum of 20 pairs can qualify for the Olympics, beginning at the world championships next month, with no more than three spots per country.

At worlds, 16 of those 20 Olympic quota spots for 2018 will be filled.

If the results hold anything close to form, those 16 quota spots will be spread among Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the U.S.

After worlds, four qualifying spots will remain available. Those quota spots will be decided at the last Olympic qualifier, Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, in late September.

The final four spots can only be attained by countries not already qualified in each event. And only one spot is available per country.

If one excludes Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the U.S., here are the highest-scoring pairs this season via the International Skating Union (and thus the early favorites for Nebelhorn):

  1. Duskova/Bidar (CZE) — 189.09
  2. Ziegler/Kiefer (AUT) — 165.63
  3. Suto/Boudreau-Audet (JPN) — 164.96
  4. Alexandrovskaya/Windsor (AUS) — 159.26

The North Koreans would slot in second place in those standings with their Asian Games score of 177.40.

What’s more, Boudreau-Audet and Alexandrovskaya still needed to fulfill citizenship requirements to be eligible to compete in PyeongChang, as of 2016 reports. If either can’t, then the North Koreans’ path to PyeongChang gets that much easier.

Four years ago, a different North Korean pair missed qualifying a Sochi Olympic quota spot by .99 of a point at Nebelhorn Trophy.

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MORE: U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

World Swimming Championships race videos list

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The favorites have largely reigned at the world swimming championships in Budapest.

Olympic champions Katie LedeckyLilly KingKatinka Hosszu and Sarah Sjöström dominated the early women’s events at the Duna Arena.

New stars emerged on the men’s side, but Caeleb Dressel and Chase Kalisz‘s first world titles were anything but a surprise. They joined Rio gold medalists Sun Yang, Adam Peaty and Chad le Clos in starring roles.

The U.S. has continued its relay dominance, winning the first four of eight races at the eight-day meet.

A full list of every Olympic event swimming pool final from the world aquatics championships in Budapest.

Event Winner Video
Women’s 50m Freestyle
Women’s 100m Freestyle
Women’s 200m Freestyle Federica Pellegrini (ITA) LINK
Women’s 400m Freestyle Katie Ledecky (USA) LINK
Women’s 800m Freestyle
Women’s 1500m Freestyle Katie Ledecky (USA) LINK
Women’s 100m Backstroke Kylie Masse (CAN) LINK
Women’s 200m Backstroke
Women’s 100m Breaststroke Lilly King (USA) LINK
Women’s 200m Breaststroke
Women’s 100m Butterfly Sarah Sjöström (SWE) LINK
Women’s 200m Butterfly Mireia Belmonte (ESP) LINK
Women’s 200m Individual Medley Katinka Hosszu (HUN) LINK
Women’s 400m Individual Medley
Women’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay United States LINK
Women’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay United States LINK
Women’s 4x100m Medley Relay
Men’s 50m Freestyle
Men’s 100m Freestyle Caeleb Dressel (USA) LINK
Men’s 200m Freestyle Sun Yang (CHN) LINK
Men’s 400m Freestyle Sun Yang (CHN) LINK
Men’s 800m Freestyle Gabriele Detti (ITA) LINK
Men’s 1500m Freestyle
Men’s 100m Backstroke Xu Jiayu (CHN) LINK
Men’s 200m Backstroke
Men’s 100m Breaststroke Adam Peaty (GBR) LINK
Men’s 200m Breaststroke
Men’s 100m Butterfly
Men’s 200m Butterfly Chad le Clos (RSA) LINK
Men’s 200m Individual Medley Chase Kalisz (USA) LINK
Men’s 400m Individual Medley
Men’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay United States LINK
Men’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay
Men’s 4x100m Medley Relay
Mixed 4x100m Freestyle Relay
Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay United States LINK

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VIDEO: Phelps loses Shark Week ‘race’ to great white

Caeleb Dressel, Chase Kalisz open post-Phelps era with world titles

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In a 20-minute span, the future of U.S. men’s swimming may have arrived in Budapest on Thursday.

Chase Kalisz, 23, and Caeleb Dressel, 20, each bagged his first major individual gold medal at the world championships. They headlined a three-gold day for Team USA, which was anchored by Katie Ledecky bouncing back from her first major defeat to lead the 4x200m free relay to gold.

Kalisz ensured the 200m individual medley crown stayed with the U.S., fulfilling years of promise and succeeding longtime training partner Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in the event.

Dressel, the youngest U.S. man to win an individual Olympic or world title since 2005, broke his American record in the 100m freestyle to prevail by a distant seven tenths of a second in 47.17. Nathan Adrian, the 2012 Olympic champion, made it the first one-two U.S. men’s finish in a global 100m free since the Seoul 1988 Games.

Kalisz won the 200m IM in 1:55.56, by .45 over Japan’s Kosuke Hagino and .72 over China’s Wang Shun, who took silver and bronze in Rio behind Phelps. Kalisz overtook Hagino on the third leg, breaststroke, with the fastest split in the field, and held on in the last 50 meters of freestyle.

Phelps and Lochte had combined to win every Olympic and world title in the 200m IM from 2003 through 2016. That’s four Olympics — all won by Phelps — and seven worlds — the first three titles taken by Phelps, the last four by Lochte.

“Those two are my idols,” Kalisz said. “No one’s ever going to replace those guys. Those guys are going to be what, hopefully, my kids are probably going to be talking about those two”

Phelps retired after the Rio Olympics. Lochte isn’t in Budapest due to his suspension following his Rio gas-station incident, but plans to make a run for Tokyo 2020 at age 35.

For now, U.S. men’s swimming is led by Kalisz, Dressel and Ryan Murphy, the 22-year-old who swept the backstrokes in Rio.

Kalisz and Dressel are only the third and fourth U.S. men other than Phelps or Lochte to win individual world titles since 2009 (Aaron PeirsolMatt Grevers).

“We’re still in a rebuilding phase,” said Kalisz, previously a world team member in 2013, 2015. “This has been probably the best world championships I’ve been to as far as the team being close.”

Kalisz, who took 400m IM silver at his first Olympics in Rio, may just be getting started.

He can go for double IM gold in the 400m, his trademark event, in Budapest on Sunday.

“When I had the opportunity to step into the 200m IM, it was an honor,” Kalisz said on NBCSN. “I like [the 200m IM] a lot more than the 400m IM. It doesn’t hurt as bad. If you were to tell me four months ago that would be my first world title [in the 200m IM rather than the 400m IM], I probably would have laughed in your face.”

Dressel nearly quit swimming three years ago as the No. 1 recruit in the nation. Then, under perhaps more pressure than any swimmer in Rio, swam a personal-best time in his very first Olympic splash leading off the 4x100m free relay team to gold.

Dressel has only improved after his junior year at the University of Florida. He qualified to swim in up to nine events in Budapest and is now up to three golds with a few more events left. He led off the 4x100m free relay on Sunday with an American record in the 100m free, then went even lower in Thursday’s final.

“Before the race, I was like, hey man, this is going to be the first of many, many finals that you’re going to be in,” said Adrian, who took bronze in Rio, where Dressel was sixth. “He’s going to be incredible in the years to come.”

In other events Thursday, Spain’s Mireia Belmonte followed her Olympic 200m butterfly gold with her first world title. She won by .13 over German Franziska Hentke, with Hungarian superstar Katinka Hosszu earning bronze.

Americans Simone Manuel and Mallory Comerford qualified second- and third-fastest into Friday’s 100m freestyle final. Swede Sarah Sjöström, who shattered the world record leading off the 4x100m free relay Sunday, leads the eight-woman final.

Lilly King and Yulia Efimova set up another breaststroke showdown, this time in the 200m distance. Efimova will be heavily favored, while King was the last qualifier into Friday’s final in a tougher distance for the 100m gold medalist and world-record holder.

Murphy was the No. 2 qualifier into Friday’s 200m back final, behind China’s Xu Jiayu, who beat Murphy in the 100m back earlier this week.

Americans Kevin Cordes and Nic Fink qualified for Friday’s 200m breast final, but the favorites are Olympic bronze medalist Anton Chupkov of Russia and world-record holder Ippei Watanabe of Japan.

Etiene Medeiros became the first Brazilian woman to win an Olympic or world swim title in the pool in the 50m backstroke. She prevailed by .01 over China’s Fu Yuanhui in the non-Olympic event.

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WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Schedule/Results

Men’s 100m Freestyle Results
Gold: Caeleb Dressel (USA) — 47.17
Silver: Nathan Adrian (USA) — 47.87
Bronze: Mehdy Metella (FRA) — 47.89
4. Cameron McEvoy (AUS) — 47.91
5. Duncan Scott (GBR) — 48.11
5. Marcelo Chierighini (BRA) — 48.11
7. Jack Cartwright (AUS) — 48.24
8. Sergii Shevtsov (UKR) — 48.26

Men’s 200m Individual Medley Results
Gold: Chase Kalisz (USA) — 1:55.56
Silver: Kosuke Hagino (JPN) — 1:56.01
Bronze: Wang Shun (CHN) — 1:56.28
4. Max Litchfield (GBR) — 1:56.86
5. Daiya Seto (JPN) — 1:56.97
6. Qin Haiyang (CHN) — 1:57.06
7. Philip Heintz (GER) — 1:57.43
8. Jeremy Desplanches (SUI) — 1:57.50