Katie Ledecky sweeps 100m, 400m freestyles in Austin

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Katie Ledecky opened the new year with her usual domination — with a twist.

The world record holder in the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles dipped down to the 100m free and set a personal best both in the morning preliminaries and the final at the Arena Pro Swim Series stop in Austin, Texas, on Thursday.

Ledecky, a Maryland high school senior, won the 100m free final in 54.55 seconds. She came into the day with a personal best of 54.96.

“I definitely kind of exceeded my expectations,” Ledecky told reporters in Austin (full Thursday results here).

About 40 minutes after her victory, Ledecky clocked the eighth-fastest 400m free of all time to win that event.

“That was my best 400 unshaven,” meaning that was her fastest 400m free outside of a U.S. Championships, World Championships or Pan Pacific Championships. “I was pretty surprised when I touched the wall, because it didn’t feel really fast.”

In both races, Ledecky beat Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, the woman whom FINA tapped as the 2014 World Swimmer of the Year over Ledecky. Hosszu is the world’s best all-around swimmer, and she is arguably better in the backstroke and butterfly than freestyle. Ledecky is the world’s best freestyle swimmer.

Ledecky shaving four tenths of a second off her 100m free time makes one wonder if she will try to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic team in the 100m free (individually or relay), in addition to the 200m, 400m and 800m. Ledecky and her coach, Bruce Gemmell, did not rule out adding the 100m free in November interviews.

Her 54.55 on Thursday would not be fast enough to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic team in the individual 100m free, but for her to set a personal best in a January meet is impressive, even for her. Swimmers train to peak in the summer, not the winter.

On Thursday, Ledecky beat Megan Romano by .24 in the 100m free. Romano famously had the second-fastest split of 32 swimmers in the 2013 World Championships 400m free relay, though she was slower in 2014 and did not make the U.S. team for this summer’s World Championships.

Neither of the U.S.’ top two 100m free swimmers — Missy Franklin and Simone Manuel — are swimming in Austin this week.

If Ledecky continues to improve in the 100m free and made the 2016 U.S. Olympic team in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m frees, she could swim seven events at the Rio Olympics when including relays. No woman has won seven swimming medals at a single Olympics (only one has done so in any sport, summer or winter, Soviet gymnast Maria Gorokhovskaya in 1952).

If the yet-to-be-released 2016 Olympic swimming schedule mirrors that of London 2012, she could swim all seven events without having to race more than two times in one session (a key for Michael Phelps in the past).

In other events Thursday, 11-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte finished fourth in the 100m butterfly (won by Jack Conger).

Olympic champion Nathan Adrian won the 100m free ahead of Conor Dwyer, who was also second to World bronze medalist Connor Jaeger in the 400m free.

World bronze medalist Micah Lawrence won the women’s 200m breaststroke.

Finals continue Friday and Saturday in Austin.

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Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

Oleksandr Abramenko
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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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Freestyle skiers in World Cup action on NBC Sports, Peacock

Ski Halfpipe
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Olympic gold medalists David Wise and Alex Hall headline World Cup freestyle skiing and snowboarding stops in the U.S. this weekend, airing on NBC Sports and Peacock.

Wise, who last Sunday won his fifth X Games Aspen ski halfpipe title, led the qualifiers into the final at the Mammoth Mountain Grand Prix in California.

He’s joined in the 10-man final by U.S. Olympic teammates Aaron Blunck and Birk Irving. The women’s ski halfpipe final includes the top three from last week’s X Games — Brit Zoe Atkin, Canadian Rachael Karker and American Svea Irving. Olympic champion Eileen Gu of China is out after suffering a knee injury in an X Games training crash.

The ski slopestyle finals include the reigning men’s and women’s Olympic gold medalists — Hall, plus Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland.

The marquee snowboarders in Mammoth finals are Olympic big air silver medalist Julia Marino (slopestyle) and X Games silver medalist Maddie Mastro (halfpipe). Two-time Olympic champion Chloe Kim is taking the season off, and another double Olympic champion, Jamie Anderson, is pregnant.

Aerials and moguls skiers are competing in their lone U.S. World Cup stop in Park City, Utah.

The moguls fields including Olympic gold medalists Walter Wallberg of Sweden, Mikael Kingsbury of the U.S., Perrine Laffont of France and Jakara Anthony of Australia. Olympic silver medalist Jaelin Kauf is the standout American.

The aerials include every member of the U.S. team that took gold at last year’s Olympics — Ashley Caldwell, Chris Lillis and Justin Schoenefeld.

Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding World Cup Broadcast Schedule

Day Event Time (ET) Platform
Saturday Moguls 11 a.m. CNBC, Peacock
Ski Halfpipe 3 p.m. NBC, Peacock
Sunday Ski Slopestyle 12 p.m. CNBC, Peacock
Sun., Feb. 12 Aerials, Dual Moguls 2 p.m. NBC, Peacock
Snowboard Halfpipe 2 p.m. CNBC, Peacock

All NBC and CNBC coverage also streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.

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