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.

‘Foxcatcher,’ ‘Unbroken’ receive Oscar nominations

U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new up-tempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. women’s basketball team won its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headlined a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, included neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team had nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 60 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The U.S. beat China in the final, while host Australia took bronze to send 41-year-old Lauren Jackson into retirement.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), wasn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA 88, Serbia 55 Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada 79, Puerto Rico 60 Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China 85, France 71 Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia 86, Belgium 69 Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA 83, Canada 43 Semifinals
5:30 a.m. China 61, Australia 59 Semifinals
11 p.m. Australia 95, Canada 65 Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. USA 83, China 61 Gold-Medal Game