Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin lead Santa Clara GP storylines

Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin
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Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin share a competition pool this week for the first time since the 2012 Olympics, another meeting of the U.S.’ top male and female swimmers that appeared unlikely after the London Games closed.

Phelps retired after his fourth Olympics as the most decorated Olympian of all time. Franklin went back to high school in Colorado.

Events over the last year led to this week’s Santa Clara Grand Prix being their first competition together in nearly 23 months.

Phelps had returned to training in Baltimore by last fall and competition in April. Santa Clara marks his third meet of the season, and it’s shaping up to be his busiest.

Franklin began her freshman year at California last August, after becoming the first woman to win six gold medals at a single World Championships earlier that month (with Phelps in attendance for part of the Barcelona meet).

She focused on NCAA competition, winning the 200-yard freestyle national title. Santa Clara marks her first Grand Prix meet of 2014 now that the spring semester has ended.

Questions float about Phelps’ and Franklin’s plans for the summer’s two biggest meets, the U.S. Championships and Pan Pacific Championships in August. Perhaps they will be answered in Santa Clara, the final Grand Prix meet before Nationals.

Competition begins Thursday, Phelps and Franklin won’t swim until Friday and Universal Sports and UniversalSports.com air coverage Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. Morning preliminaries are at 12 p.m. ET and finals at 8 p.m. ET on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Psych sheets are here.

Here are four swimmers to watch:

Michael Phelps

Phelps is entered in four events in Santa Clara — 100m freestyle (Friday), 200m freestyle (Saturday), 100m butterfly (Friday) and 200m individual medley (Sunday). If he swims them all, Phelps will be busier this weekend than in his first two comeback meets combined.

The last time we saw him, Phelps notched his first win since London in the 100m butterfly in Charlotte on May 16. He also swam the 200m freestyle in Charlotte, but he has not contested the 100m free or 200m IM since unretiring.

How Phelps’ body reacts to, potentially, three straight days of racing should help determine his slate for Nationals, but he is expected to swim at least one more meet between now and then. He’s spent time since Charlotte training at altitude in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Missy Franklin

Franklin’s entries for Santa Clara are just as interesting. They include her normal events — 100m and 200m backstroke and 100m and 200m freestyle — as well as the 100m butterfly and 200m IM. She has never competed in a butterfly or IM at a major international meet.

Franklin tasted new waters in NCAA competition, though, racing up to 1,000 yards at a time. The 100m fly field in Santa Clara does not include the two best Americans of the last two years — Dana Vollmer and Claire Donahue. The 200m IM field is headlined by Caitlin Leverenz, who won bronze in London and took fifth at the 2013 World Championships.

Nathan Adrian

Adrian is entered in both of his sprints, the 50m and 100m free. The competition is strong in both, with two-time Olympian Anthony Ervin and Brazil’s second fastest sprinter, Bruno Fratus, also doubling up.

But it’s the 100m free that could become the highlight event of the entire weekend. Adrian is the Olympic champion. Phelps has set American and meet records in the 100m free in 4x100m free relay leadoff legs. There’s also Phelps’ training mate, France’s Yannick Agnel, who posted the fastest split in the 2012 Olympic 4x100m free relay, when he ran down Ryan Lochte on anchor for gold.

Allison Schmitt

Schmitt is entered in five events, but focus on three — 100m, 200m and 400m freestyles. She could face Franklin in the first two and Dane Lotte Friis in the 400m in another test of her mettle after surprisingly failing to make the 2013 World Championships team. Remember, Schmitt won just as many medals as Franklin at the London Olympics.

Flopping at World Cup impresses U.S. Olympic diving coach

Kaori Sakamoto leads figure skating worlds; U.S. in medal mix in women’s, pairs’ events

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Defending champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan topped the women’s short program at the world figure skating championships, while Americans are in the medal mix in the women’s and pairs’ events going into the free skates.

Sakamoto, trying to become the first Japanese skater to win back-to-back world titles, tallied 79.24 points, taking a significant 5.62-point lead over South Korean Lee Hae-In going into Friday’s free skate in Saitama, Japan. It’s the largest lead after a women’s short program at worlds since 2015.

“Usually, when I go into my short program, there’s some uncertainties and anxiety,” Sakamoto, who skated clean with a triple flip-triple toe loop combination, said through a translator. “But today I was doing very well in practice, and I wasn’t making any mistakes. So I knew that I could just put everything out there, and that’s exactly what I was able to do.”

U.S. champion Isabeau Levito is in fourth (just 59 hundredths out of second), one year after winning the world junior title. Levito, 16, can become the youngest world medalist since 2014.

“I am really happy with my score,” said Levito, who had a negative grade of execution on her triple Lutz-triple toe combination but still had her best score of the season. “Based on this performance, I’m very excited for the long program.”

Fellow Americans Bradie Tennell and Amber Glenn are eighth and 10th, respectively, about in line with their world rankings. The top two American finishes after the free skate must add up to no more than 13 (sixth and seventh, for example) to avoid dropping down to two spots for next year’s worlds.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the pairs’ short program, distancing defending champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier of the U.S., who placed second despite Frazier’s fall on their side-by-side triple toe loops.

Miura and Kihara, the world’s top-ranked pair this season, can become the first Japanese pair to win a world title, a year after taking silver behind Knierim and Frazier.

Knierim and Frazier, who will likely retire after this season, are trying to become the first U.S. pair to win multiple world titles. They’re skating without their primary coaches, Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, who didn’t travel after Sand had a heart attack three weeks ago.

“Todd’s condition is very serious, so it’s difficult to train when you feel broken inside, when your person is not there,” Knierim said. “However, that person is the one that instilled fight in us, so we’re able to work hard every day to make him proud, and I think we did a good job of that today.”

In fourth place are Canadians Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps. Stellato-Dudek, the 2000 World junior silver medalist in singles, came out of a 15-year retirement in 2016 and can become, at 39, the oldest world championships medalist in recent memory.

Worlds continue Wednesday night (U.S. time) with the pairs’ free skate, followed Thursday morning with the men’s short program, live on Peacock and USA Network.

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2023 World Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

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The world figure skating championships from Saitama, Japan, air live on USA Network and Peacock this week.

The U.S. has medal contenders in all four disciplines, one year after winning a medal in all four events for the first time since 1967 (note Russia’s ban, and China sent no skaters).

In the pairs’ event that starts Tuesday night (U.S. time), Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier can become the first U.S. duo to win multiple world titles, one year after becoming the first American pair to take gold since 1979.

They rank second in the world this season behind Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, last year’s silver medalists who look to earn Japan’s first pairs’ world title.

Japan has the world’s top two women’s singles skaters in reigning world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Grand Prix Final winner Mai Mihara.

Isabeau Levito, a 16-year-old American who won last year’s world junior title, ranks fourth in the field by best score this season. She can become the youngest world medalist since 2014.

Ilia Malinin, an 18-year-old American who this season became the first skater to land a quadruple Axel, is seeded second in the men’s field behind Shoma Uno, the reigning world champion from Japan.

In ice dance, Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates posted the world’s top score this season at last month’s Four Continents Championships in Colorado Springs. After 12 seasons together, their goal is to win their first world title after silver in 2015, bronze in 2016 and bronze in 2022.

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2023 World Figure Skating Championships Broadcast Schedule

Day Competition Time (ET) Network
Tuesday Pairs’ Short 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Peacock | LIVE STREAM | Skate Order
Wednesday Women’s Short 2:45-8 a.m. Peacock | LIVE STREAM | Skate Order
Women’s Short 6-8 a.m. USA | LIVE STREAM | Peacock
Pairs’ Free 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Peacock | LIVE STREAM | Skate Order
Thursday Men’s Short 2:45-8 a.m. Peacock | LIVE STREAM | Skate Order
Men’s Short 6-8 a.m. USA | LIVE STREAM | Peacock
Pairs’ Free 8-10 a.m.* USA | STREAM LINK
Rhythm Dance 10 p.m.-3:30 a.m. Peacock | LIVE STREAM
Friday Women’s Free 4:15-8:30 a.m. Peacock | LIVE STREAM | Skate Order
Women’s Free 6:30-8:30 a.m. USA | LIVE STREAM | Peacock
Free Dance 11:30 p.m.-3 a.m. Peacock | LIVE STREAM
Saturday Men’s Free 4:15-8:30 a.m. Peacock | LIVE STREAM
Men’s Free 6:30-8:30 a.m. USA | LIVE STREAM | Peacock
Highlights 8-10 p.m.* NBC | STREAM LINK

*Delayed broadcast.