Nathan Adrian, James Magnussen

Pan Pacific Championships men’s events preview

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The U.S. swimming headlines have largely focused on the big four in recent weeks — Phelps, Lochte, Franklin, Ledecky — but, in Australia, the most anticipated event of the biggest meet of the year is a showdown between two other swimmers.

That’s U.S. Olympic champion Nathan Adrian vs. Australian World champion James Magnussen in the 100m freestyle at the Pan Pacific Championships, the latest head-to-head rivalry between the world’s two pool power nations.

Pan Pacs begin Thursday in Gold Coast, Australia, which is 14 hours ahead of Eastern time. NBC will have coverage Saturday from 3:30-4:30 p.m. ET and Sunday from 1-2:30.

Pan Pacs are not only the biggest meet for U.S. and Australian swimmers this year, but times from Pan Pacs and the U.S. Championships will also determine the U.S. team for the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia.

The men’s and women’s 100m free finals are on Friday night’s finals session, which starts at 5 a.m. Eastern time.

Pan Pacs women’s preview

In 2012, Adrian edged Magnussen for Olympic 100m free gold by .01, a sliver margin that drastically altered the perception of Magnussen, the biggest Australian swimming star going into London.

The Games were considered a failure for Australia’s “Missile,” who also led off the 4x100m freestyle relay team that finished fourth after winning the World title in 2011.

But Magnussen, 6 feet, 6 inches, stood tall again at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, winning the 100m free. American Jimmy Feigen was second, followed by Adrian in third.

Magnussen is the world’s fastest man in the 100m free this year, but his status as favorite is a bit in doubt due to a “pretty dodgy” back.

His biggest threat is one of his teammates, Cameron McEvoy, who is the second-fastest man this year. Adrian is third, his best time .49 of a second slower than Magnussen’s world lead.

Michael Phelps: The most decorated Olympian of all time is swimming his first international meet since the London Olympics.

It should be a busy one for Phelps once he gets going in the 100m free on Friday, followed by the 100m butterfly Saturday and the 200m individual medley Sunday. He could also swim in relays.

Remember, Phelps won zero events at the U.S. Championships two weeks ago, but he clocked the world’s fastest time in the 100m fly this year (in the prelims).

He is not the favorite in the 100m free (Magnussen, Adrian) or the 200m IM (Ryan Lochte, Kosuke Hagino).

But Phelps may just be the man in the 100m fly, where he will be out to flip his finish from Nationals. He lost to Tom Shields by .01 in the final in Irvine, Calif., two weeks ago. Unfortunately, the field is lacking the reigning World champion in the event, Chad le Clos, who is not on South Africa’s roster in Gold Coast.

The key for Phelps — and all U.S. swimmers — will be to see who has the top two times per event over finals races from Nationals and Pan Pacs. The top two make the 2015 Worlds team in each of those Olympic events. The top four (and perhaps fifth and sixth) in the 100m free and 200m free make it to Worlds for relays.

Ryan Lochte: Phelps’ longtime rival is entered in the same three events, plus the 200m free and 200m backstroke. It’s another test for a man who suffered a major knee injury in November, aggravated it in February and again in April.

Lochte said last week that the knee was strong but not “110 percent.”

Like Phelps, Lochte is not expected to challenge Magnussen and Adrian in the 100m free. He’s also not among the world’s fastest in the 200m free this year.

He appears likelier to vie for wins in the 200m back and, even moreso, the 200m IM, the only event he won at Nationals. The young Japanese star Hagino has been more than a second faster than Lochte in the 200 IM this year, though.

Here’s the full schedule of men’s events in Gold Coast:

Thursday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

200m freestyle
100m backstroke
200m butterfly
1500m freestyle

Friday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Thursday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

100m breaststroke
100m freestyle
400m individual medley
4x200m freestyle relay

Saturday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Friday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

100m butterfly
400m freestyle
200m backstroke
4x100m freestyle relay

Sunday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Saturday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

800m freestyle
200m individual medley
50m freestyle
200m breaststroke
4x100m medley relay

Phelps a vocal leader in Australia

Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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Mikaela Shiffrin runner-up in Lake Louise downhill

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LAKE LOUISE, Alberta (AP) — Here’s a scary thought for her competition: Mikaela Shiffrin is still getting comfortable with the intensity and the speed of the downhill.

That’s why podium finishes are still a little surprising even to her.

The American three-time overall World Cup champion finished runner-up to Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria in a downhill race Saturday. Schmidhofer cruised through the course in 1 minute, 49.92 seconds to edge Shiffrin by 0.13 seconds. Francesca Marsaglia of Italy wound up third.

Schmidhofer has four career World Cup wins, with three of them arriving at Lake Louise.

Known as a tech specialist, Shiffrin is steadily getting up to speed in the speed events. This was Shiffrin’s fourth career World Cup podium finish in the downhill, which includes a Lake Louise win in 2017.

So, does Shiffrin anticipate this kind of downhill success?

“No, no, no,” the 24-year-old from Colorado said. “It’s certainly not normal (for a downhill podium). Even racing downhill doesn’t feel normal. But I feel every year like I have more experience and get more comfortable.”

Shiffrin currently sits at 62 World Cup wins, which ties her with Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell for second-most on the women’s side. Lindsey Vonn had 82 wins before her retirement.

“I’m certainly more comfortable with the long skis,” Shiffrin said of downhill racing. “Right now, it’s enjoying it, because speed is a little bit extra for me. My goal is to be able to succeed in speed as well. It’s making the transition and trying to have fun with it.”

Czech Republic skier and snowboarder Ester Ledecka finished fourth Saturday. She was the surprise winner of Friday’s season-opening downhill, which was delayed and shortened by heavy snowfall on the mountain. The race Saturday was restored to its full length.

Next up, a super-G on Sunday.

“It’s always been a little bit tricky for me from downhill skis to super-G skis and to change the timing a little bit,” Shiffrin said. “I’m going to have fun.”

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