Katie Ledecky sets table for unprecedented world championships

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Katie Ledecky passed every test at nationals. Now, she has the option of taking on her biggest workload ever at a major meet.

Ledecky won her last race, the 400m freestyle, at the USA Swimming Nationals, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast, in Indianapolis on Friday night.

Ledecky clocked 3:58.44, the third-fastest time ever, 5.33 seconds ahead of runner-up Leah Smith. Ledecky has gone sub-4 a total of 10 times in her career. Only one other woman has done it once — former world-record holder Federica Pellegrini of Italy.

In other events Friday, Lilly King completed a sweep of the breaststrokes by winning the 100m in 1:04.95. The time was .02 off her Olympic-winning swim and .13 off Russian rival Yuliya Efimova‘s fastest in the world this year.

Olympian Kevin Cordes broke Cody Miller‘s American record in the men’s 100m breast, clocking 58.74. Miller was second to make the world team after taking Olympic bronze. The event is dominated by Brit Adam Peaty, who owns the world record of 57.13 and the eight fastest times ever.

Matt Grevers won the men’s 100m backstroke, one year after failing to make the Rio team and defend his London gold medal. He was followed by Rio gold medalist Ryan Murphy. Olympic silver medalist Kathleen Baker took the women’s 100m back.

In the men’s 400m free, Zane Grothe and Clark Smith went one-two after finishing fourth and fifth at the Olympic Trials.

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This week, Ledecky qualified for July’s world championships in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees and as part of the 4x100m and 4x200m free relay pools. She could tie Missy Franklin‘s female record six golds at a single worlds from 2013.

Ledecky will swim 6,300 meters in seven days at worlds in Budapest if she makes the final in all of those individual events and swims once in each relay.

With the addition of the 4x100m free, it would be 100 more meters than she swam at the 2015 Worlds, where she completed the Ledecky Slam by winning five gold medals.

In Rio, Ledecky swam 3,400 meters and won four golds and one silver. The women’s 1500m free was not on the Olympic program. Michael Phelps swam 3,300 meters when he won eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games.

None of the other great recent distance swimmers — Grant HackettSun Yang and Kate Ziegler among them — swam 6,300 meters at a major meet.

Smith has qualified for worlds in the 200m, 400m and 800m frees and in the 400m individual medley with a 1500m free spot available at nationals Saturday, should she enter the race and win it.

Ledecky’s potential schedule at worlds in Budapest:

Day 1 — July 23
400m freestyle heats (morning)
400m freestyle final (night)
4x100m freestyle final (night)

Day 2 — July 24
1500m freestyle heats (morning)

Day 3 — July 25
200m freestyle heats (morning)
200m freestyle semifinals (night)
1500m freestyle final (night)

Day 4 — July 26
200m freestyle final (night)

Day 5 — July 27
4x200m freestyle (night)

Day 6 — July 28
800m freestyle heats (morning)

Day 7 — July 29
800m freestyle final (evening)

Day 8 — July 30 (last day)

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New generation of male figure skaters owns spotlight at worlds; preview

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Nobody in the men’s field at figure skating worlds owns an Olympic or world title for the first time since 1985. This could lead to the best U.S. men’s results in years.

Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan combined to win every gold medal since 2011, but all of them ended their seasons at the Olympics.

This week in Milan, the four leading men, who just competed in their first Olympics, are all 20 years or younger. And that includes two Americans.

Nathan Chen can become the first world singles champion from the U.S. since Evan Lysacek in 2009. Chen and Vincent Zhou could be the first U.S. men to finish in the top five together since Lysacek and Johnny Weir in 2005. Chen, Zhou and Max Aaron could make up the best U.S. trio at a worlds in more than 20 years.

Start with Chen. The 18-year-old said he planned to compete this week regardless of what happened at the Olympics, but after his struggles in the team event and individual short programs, the quad master nailed his free skate, came home to California and said he took maybe one day off of training before this event.

Chen is one of three men in the gold-medal hunt, along with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China. While Chen largely struggled at the 2017 Worlds and in PyeongChang, Uno and Jin each made the podium at both events. And each can come close to or equal Chen in quad numbers.

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Zhou, 17, has a chance to become the youngest man to earn a world medal since Hanyu in 2012. Or the first man to win the world junior title one season and make the world senior podium the next since Yevgeny Plushenko in 1997-98.

Zhou is riding momentum. He struggled in the fall and entered nationals in January ranked fifth among Americans for the season. He placed third to make the Olympic team and then landed three clean quads in his Olympic free skate to jump from 12th to sixth.

“I did better there than a lot of people thought I would,” Zhou told NBC Sports research last week. “I knew I was capable of that all season.

“I want to reach my ultimate goal of being Olympic champion, and my best chance is in 2022 … because by 2026 I will probably be old and creaky with four prosthetic limbs.”

Aaron made it to Milan after Olympian Adam Rippon gave up his spot, and the top two alternates (Jason Brown and Ross Miner) both declined. Still, Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, is seeded seventh in the men’s field based on top scores this season.

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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Carolina Kostner the sentimental favorite at figure skating worlds

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova is without question the favorite at this week’s world figure skating championships, especially after the sprightly Russian’s training partner and rival Yevgenia Medvedeva withdrew because of injury.

She won’t be the sentimental favorite, though.

That would be Carolina Kostner, the ageless Italian star who could be competing at worlds for the last time on home soil. The 2012 champion and six-time world medalist seemed to indicate that retirement could be looming after she finished fifth at the PyeongChang Games, where she was chosen to carry the Italian flag at the Closing Ceremony.

Kostner will have a huge home crowd behind her when the event begins Wednesday in Milan.

“Decisions like that should never be taken in a hot moment. It will come naturally,” said Kostner, who no longer can compete with the sport’s high-fliers when it comes to technical marks, but whose elegant artistry and presentation often make up the difference.

“She is an example of perseverance, of a long-lasting athlete,” Medvedeva said. “I have trouble imagining how someone can stay in that shape for a very long time. When you see people like Carolina, you understand that if she can do something, then that something is possible. If you love what you do, you put all of yourself into it, like Carolina Kostner.”

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When asked about retirement, Kostner brought up her cousin, Isolde Kostner, who won three Olympic Alpine skiing medals before deciding to step away from competition.

“She stopped skiing shortly before the (2006) Olympics in Italy,” Caroline Kostner said. “Many did not understand why she wouldn’t pull through because it was her home country, and she said, ‘You will feel strongly when it is time to stop.’ And I haven’t felt it yet.”

The biggest story at the world championships in an Olympic year tends to be who is missing rather than who shows up. The grind of competing for an entire season builds toward the quadrennial event, and athletes who medal or intend to retire rarely press on to worlds. Then there are the injuries, which accumulate during the year.

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