Katie Ledecky faces decisions in 2015, 2016

Katie Ledecky
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NEW YORK — Katie Ledecky‘s coach recently tried, and failed, to discuss a dilemma with her about next summer.

Here’s the situation:

Ledecky can enter as many as four individual events at August’s World Championships in Kazan, Russia — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles.

She swept the four at the biggest meet this year, the Pan Pacific Championships in August. She won a fifth gold anchoring the 4x200m free relay, after which a medal presenter proposed to her.

But the Worlds schedule is different and more grueling in some respects. Generally, the women’s 1500m free final — a 16-minute crucible (well, 15 1/2 for Ledecky) — and the 200m free semis are in the same night session at Worlds.

Ledecky broke her 1500m free world record at Pan Pacs, but she had the luxury of not worrying about any other events that night.

In 2013, Ledecky dropped the 200m free from her Worlds program because of the crowded schedule.

Will she drop the 200m free again next year, or will she shed the 1500m free, as it is an event not swum at the Olympics?

“I’ve tried to have the conversation with her about next summer and dropping something,” Coach Bruce Gemmell said before Ledecky won three Golden Goggles awards Monday night. “Right now, she doesn’t want to hear it.”

Ledecky felt the same when asked about dropping an event Monday night. Normally reserved, she began answering before a reporter could finish the questions.

Have we seen you swim a 1500m free for the last time …

“You’ll see me swim it again,” she said. “I don’t know when, but I’ll swim it again. I’m not done with that race. I love that race. It did hurt [at Pan Pacs], but I love that feeling.”

But you’ll have to drop that or the 200m free for Worlds …

“I’m two years older now [than going into 2013 Worlds],” the 17-year-old said, smiling. “I have more experience.”

But Ledecky also cautioned.

“I’m not saying I’m swimming them all,” she said.

Ledecky kept a busy schedule since Pan Pacs. She took about a week and a half off from swimming after returning from Australia.

The Bethesda, Md., high school senior used the extra hours out of the pool to help decorate the hallways with classmates at the all-girls Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, study in the library and just hang out.

Once back in the pool, she was beaten in one fall meet (by men) and wore the cap of a swimmer injured in a car accident at another.

Gemmell discussed Ledecky swimming in mixed-gender races with fellow coach David Marsh on Monday morning. Losing was good, he said.

“She talked about how she swam the races were a little different than she might if she was out there swimming all by herself, which is a good thing because next time she finds herself in a tight race with somebody, it’s another experience she’s had,” he said.

She agreed.

“It was a fun little challenge,” she said. “Bruce told me before I think it was the 500 [free], first race. He said boys like to go out really fast, so don’t go out really fast. The first 75, I conserved my energy. Sure enough, they all went out fast. I sort of was able to catch up. It was a lot of fun. Hopefully, I’ll, once or twice, get the opportunity to do that again.”

Ledecky will swim the 100-, 200-, 500- and 1,500-yard freestyles and the 200-yard individual medley at Winter Nationals in Greensboro, N.C., next week. The meet is held in a 25-yard pool, rather than an Olympic-size 50-meter pool.

Before that, Ledecky got some training in before an appearance on TODAY on Monday morning. She swam in a New York pool at 5 a.m.

Missy Franklin learned of it and joined Ledecky. Franklin is based in California, so for her it was like swimming at 2 a.m.

“We split the lane and didn’t hit each other’s hands once the entire time,” Franklin said with her constant smile. “I think that was very impressive.”

Ledecky’s goals for the Rio OlymPics, mostly about hitting specific times in events, were laid out before Pan Pacs. They were revisited after the meet and left unchanged.

Perhaps the 100m free is on that list. Ledecky is already the top U.S. swimmer in the 200m free. She would have a shot to at least finish in the top six at the 2016 Olympic trials and get on the 4x100m free relay.

“You know she’s going to get faster to swim a world-class 200, and with that comes a pretty good 100,” Gemmell acknowledged. “If she snuck on the team in a fifth or sixth spot, I don’t know if we’d be given the opportunity to swim it [in the relay] at the Olympics. The coaching staff would have to get together and say, hey, what’s the benefit here of doing this thing. Risk, reward.”

Ledecky said she would consider it.

“We’ll see how that progresses,” she said. “You never really know. It’s not something I’ll focus heavily on. I’m not going to jeopardize my other events for the 100.”

Michael Phelps back in the pool

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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