Missy Franklin, Katie Ledecky finally give U.S. women’s swimming a one-two punch

Katie Ledecky, Missy Franklin
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IRVINE, Calif. — Heads turned when Missy Franklin entered the dance room at Irvine High School on Tuesday morning. One belonged to Katie Ledecky.

The last two Female World Swimmers of the Year hadn’t seen each other since 2013, Franklin believed. They embraced and exchanged how-are-yous inside a makeshift media center at the U.S. Swimming Championships, which begin Wednesday.

Franklin, 19, and Ledecky, 17, make up the changing wave of U.S. swimming, which has benefited from the popularity of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte more than any other athletes over the last decade.

Franklin and Ledecky follow an exceptional line of headlining U.S. women’s swimmers, including Amanda BeardNatalie Coughlin and Katie Hoff.

But the difference is Franklin and Ledecky seem to be on similar trajectories, hitting new peaks every year and pushing each other. Their specialties are vastly different — the backstrokes for Franklin and distance freestyles for Ledecky.

But they meet in the 200m freestyle, which gives swim fans who relish the Phelps-Lochte duels something to savor after the leading men step away.

It could also bring history over the next couple years. The last time U.S. women went one-two in any Olympics or World Championships event was 2000 (Brooke Bennett-Diana Munz 400m freestyle in Sydney). U.S. men have gone one-two 25 times in the same 14-year span.

The 200m free is Thursday at the U.S. Championships, perhaps the most star-filled event at the meet factoring in Olympic champion Allison Schmitt.

When Ledecky was 14, she first came to know Franklin on TV, tearing up the pool at the World Championships in Shanghai and beaming with excitement that her parents brought her brand-new Colorado driver’s license to the meet.

Franklin and Ledecky first crossed paths at domestic meets in early 2012, but Franklin said she didn’t really get to know Ledecky until the 2012 Olympics.

“She really came on the scene like March of 2012, and so I think all of us were just starting to meet her,” Franklin said. “She’s just one of those personalities where she just fits right in, just one of the new people on the National Team, and she came in and just molded with everyone.”

Ledecky, nearing 6 feet, can tower above the student population at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, an all-girls, Catholic preschool through 12th grade institution in Bethesda, Md. She is entering her senior year and committed to Stanford.

She is slightly shorter than the rising Cal sophomore Franklin, who met skyscraping expectations by winning five medals, four gold, at the 2012 Olympics.

Ledecky stroked away a little more under the radar in London. She was no less impressive in her only event, winning the 800m freestyle with the second-fastest time ever.

Franklin won the year-end Female Swimmer of the Year awards.

In 2013, Franklin raised the bar by becoming the first woman to win six gold medals at a single World Championships. But it was Ledecky who was awarded a special FINA trophy as the female swimmer of the meet, winning four gold medals with two world records.

Ledecky, whose dryland activities include repairing bikes that are shipped to developing countries, took the honor with humility.

“Missy deserves this probably more than I do,” she said, pointing to the trophy at the Barcelona meet, according to Reuters.

A grateful Franklin said that was tough to hear.

“I want Katie to feel like she deserves it because she absolutely 100 percent does,” Franklin said. “Her summer was unbelievable. Her summer before that was unbelievable. And her summers for the next 10 years are going to be unbelievable.”

Ledecky also swept FINA and Swimming World‘s year-end awards, over Franklin. In June, Franklin heard that Ledecky broke another world record at a small meet in Texas, via a text from Franklin’s mom, and said she started “freaking out” at dinner.

“[Ledecky’s] accomplishments over the past two years have been unreal and she just keeps getting better, which is so incredible,” Franklin said. “She’s an inspiration for me just watching her race every single time with so much passion and just fierceness.”

Franklin and Ledecky are obviously thrilled to be teammates, cherishing prep and college competition so much that neither has turned pro yet.

But in an individual sport they are also competitors. And they go against each other in the 200m free, where Franklin is the reigning World champion.

Ledecky, though, has improved greatly in the event, the shortest on her program, and is the fastest American this year in the 200m free. She finished second in the 200m free behind Franklin at last year’s U.S. Championships but dropped it from her Worlds program because it conflicted with the 1500m free.

The 1500m free is not an Olympic event, however, meaning Ledecky could be inclined to swim it at the Rio Olympics.

When you ask both Franklin and Ledecky about the 200m free, neither thinks about the individual race. Their answers immediately go to the 4x200m free relay, where they bookended the U.S. gold-medal team at Worlds last year.

“The more we push each other the faster we’re going to go,” Ledecky said, “and the faster our relay is going to be.”

Will Rio de Janeiro be ready for 2016 Olympics?

Jessica Pegula upset in French Open third round

Jessica Pegula French Open
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Jessica Pegula, the highest-ranked American man or woman, was upset in the third round of the French Open.

Elise Mertens, the 28th seed from Belgium, bounced the third seed Pegula 6-1, 6-3 to reach the round of 16. Pegula, a 29-year-old at a career-high ranking, had lost in the quarterfinals of four of the previous five majors.

Down 4-3 in the second set, Pegula squandered three break points in a 14-minute game. Mertens then broke Pegula to close it out.

“I feel like I was still playing good points. Elise was just being really tough, not making a lot of errors and making me play every single ball. And with the windy conditions, I felt like it definitely played into her game,” Pegula said.

Pegula’s exit leaves No. 6 seed Coco Gauff, last year’s runner-up, as the last seeded hope to become the first U.S. woman to win a major title since Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major span without an American champ is the longest for U.S. women since Monica Seles won the 1996 Australian Open.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Mertens, who lost in the third or fourth round of the last six French Opens, gets 96th-ranked Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the 2021 French Open runner-up, for a spot in the quarterfinals.

Earlier, ninth-seeded Russian Daria Kasatkina became the first player to reach the fourth round. She won 6-0, 6-1 over 69th-ranked American Peyton Stearns, the 2022 NCAA champion from Texas.

Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, is the lone American woman left in the bottom half of the draw. She plays Kazakh Yulia Putintseva later Friday. Gauff, Bernarda Pera and Kayla Day remain in the top half.

Friday’s featured men’s matches: Top seed Carlos Alcaraz versus 26th seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada, and No. 3 Novak Djokovic against No. 29 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Fred Kerley flies into Florence via Grenada; Diamond League broadcast schedule

Fred Kerley
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American Fred Kerley is about to race on a fourth different continent this year, but the seeds for this season — and all of his medal-winning seasons — were planted on the sand, grass and pavement of Grenada.

Kerley, the world 100m champion, headlines Friday’s Diamond League meet in Florence, Italy. Peacock streams it live from 2-4 p.m. ET. CNBC airs coverage Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.

It was to be a showdown between Kerley and the Olympic 100m champion, Marcell Jacobs of Italy. But Jacobs withdrew on Tuesday due to the nerve pain that has pushed back the start of his outdoor season. Jacobs withdrew from six scheduled races with Kerley dating to May 2022 due to a series of health issues since winning that surprise gold in Tokyo.

Kerley, who traded social media barbs with Jacobs earlier this spring, indicated a detente in a press conference Thursday.

“I’m not upset that he’s not competing, just wish him health and that he gets back to competing at 100 percent,” he said.

When speaking of himself, Kerley kept his trademark confidence. He wore a hat with a goat on it on Thursday and repeated that his focus is on two numbers: 9.69 (Tyson Gay‘s American record in the 100m) and 9.58 (Usain Bolt‘s world record). Kerley’s personal best, in two-plus years since dropping down from the 400m, is 9.76.

He resides in South Florida, a place that allows an outdoor athlete to train year-round. Kerley eschews that. He annually flies to Grenada for up to six-week stays.

“[I] work on a lot of specific stuff in Grenada to get me to the level I need to be when Budapest comes around,” Kerley said, referring to August’s world championships in the Hungarian capital, where he will bid to become the first man to repeat as world 100m champion since Bolt in 2013 and 2015.

Why Grenada? His South Carolina-based coach, Alleyne Francique, competed at three Olympics for the Spice Island, including placing fourth in the 400m at the 2004 Athens Games. That was the best Olympic finish for any Grenada athlete until Kirani James won a 400m medal of every color at the last three Games.

Francique recruited Kerley to Texas A&M out of junior college in 2015. When Kerley turned pro in 2017, he moved to the ALTIS training facility in Arizona. After a year, he went back to Francique at College Station — “It didn’t work out for me. I won’t say anything bad about the program,” he said in 2019, according to Track and Field News. Kerley has since moved to Florida, but Francique still coaches him remotely from South Carolina and with him for meet travel.

Kerley has trained in Grenada’s national stadium in St. George’s, which in 2017 was named after James. But a more unique venue for Kerley is a paved hill near the home of one of Francique’s friends.

“There’s no traffic, so it’s a good area to train,” Francique said.

There are few distractions there, aside from chickens, ducks and cattle. Francique noted that in the three seasons that Kerley trained in Grenada, he won bronze (2019 Worlds 400m), silver (Tokyo Olympic 100m) and gold (2022 Worlds 100m).

“So next year, maybe, he breaks a world record,” Francique said.

Here are the Florence entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

12:30 p.m. — Women’s Discus
12:45 — Men’s Triple Jump
1:15 — Men’s Shot Put
1:43 — Women’s Pole Vault
2:04 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
2:15 — Men’s 200m
2:20 — Men’s High Jump
2:25 — Women’s 3000m Steeplechase
2:42 — Women’s Long Jump
2:44 — Women’s 100m
2:56 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
3:06 — Men’s 5000m
3:28 — Women’s 400m
3:39 — Men’s 100m
3:49 — Women’s 1500m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 1:43 p.m. ET
Just like the Diamond League season opener in Doha, the field has the top five from the last year’s worlds, led by Americans Katie Moon and Sandi Morris, the gold and silver medalists. Moon is the world leader this year indoors and outdoors, though she no-heighted at last Saturday’s Los Angeles Grand Prix. Come August’s worlds, she will look to become the first woman to repeat as world champ in the pole vault in 16 years. Morris, who was third in Doha, eyes her first global outdoor title after four silvers between the Olympics and worlds.

Women’s Long Jump — 2:42 p.m. ET
A gathering of the world’s most accomplishes active jumpers — Olympic and world champion Malaika Mihambo of Germany, Olympic and world medalist Ese Brume of Nigeria — and the top Americans — Quanesha Burks and Tara Davis-Woodhall. They’re all chasing 7.08 meters, the world’s best leap this year recorded by Jamaican Ackelia Smith, a University of Texas sophomore.

Men’s 5000m — 3:06 p.m. ET
Field includes Olympic 5000m champion Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda, Olympic 10,000m champion Selemon Barega of Ethiopia and world silver medalist Jacob Krop of Kenya as well as reigning U.S. 5000m and 10,000m champions Grant Fisher and Joe Klecker. Cheptegei, the world record holder, was ninth at last July’s worlds and since has strictly raced on the roads and in cross country.

Men’s 100m — 3:39 p.m. ET
The entire podium from last year’s worlds meets here: Kerley and countrymen Marvin Bracy-Williams and Trayvon Bromell. It’s a similar field to last Sunday, when Kerley prevailed by five hundredths over South African Akani Simbine. Simbine is back, as is Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala, who is the world’s fastest man this year (9.84) but was third in Rabat.

Women’s 1500m — 3:49 p.m. ET
Kenyan Faith Kipyegon, a double Olympic and double world champion, ran the world’s fastest time of 2023 at the Diamond League opener in Doha on May 5. Then last weekend, four different Ethiopians ran faster. Kipyegon figures to be faster in Florence than she was in Doha given the addition of Brit Laura Muir, the Olympic silver medalist and world bronze medalist, in her outdoor season debut.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Francique is based in Texas. He moved from Texas to South Carolina.

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