Katie Ledecky nearly breaks 800m freestyle world record in Austin (video)

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Katie Ledecky just about started the new year with a world record in Austin, Texas, on Saturday.

Ledecky clocked 8:11.21 in an 800m freestyle at the Arena Pro Swim Series meet, just missing her world record of 8:11.00 set last year. Ledecky settled for the second-fastest time ever in the event in which she won her 2012 Olympic gold medal.

Ledecky was under world-record pace for most of the race, including at the 600-meter mark. (full meet results here)

“I could really tell the crowd was getting into it about halfway through,” Ledecky told Universal Sports. “I just wanted to give it my all. It really wasn’t hurting at the point where it usually hurts when I’m having a bad swim. So I knew it was a pretty good swim.

“I really didn’t have an awful feeling this time,” she said, smiling. “Shoot, I should’ve gone 22 one hundredths faster.”

Ledecky, a Maryland high school senior committed to Stanford, won the race by 28.54 seconds over Elizabeth Beisel, the Olympic silver medalist in the 400m individual medley. She said she would have been happy with anything under 8:20.

In Austin, Ledecky won the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles over the three-day meet. She will now go back to Bethesda, Md., to finish her high school swimming career. The biggest international meet this year is the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, in the summer.

“I’m light years ahead of where I was at this meet last year,” Ledecky told media in Austin.

In other races Saturday, 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin was out-touched by Canadian Dominique Bouchard in the 100m backstroke. That Coughlin lost is not the story.

The interesting note is that Coughlin swam the 100m back in competition for the first time since the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, when she failed to make the Olympic team in the event, which she won at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

Coughlin turned into a freestyle sprinter after the London Games but failed to make the 2015 World Championships team in the 50m and 100m freestyles.

Coughlin, 32, said she’s been doing more backstroke training to complement her freestyle. But her focus is still on freestyle.

Coughlin’s time Saturday was 1:00.7, which was faster than any of her 100m backstroke times in Grand Prix events leading up to the 2012 Olympic trials. She was faster than 1:00.7 at the Olympic trials. Her 100m back time Saturday would’ve ranked fourth among U.S. women last year.

Then there’s Michael Andrew, the 15-year-old phenom who turned professional two years ago. Andrew rewrote 13- and 14-year-old national age group record books.

Andrew notched his first senior-level USA Swimming series win Saturday, taking the 100m breaststroke in 1:01.67. Andrew shaved nearly two seconds off his personal best in the event on Saturday.

“I knew I had the capability to do it,” Andrew told Universal Sports. “It’s pretty cool to be able to come to a stage like this and really give it my everything and to finally be in a point where I know, I feel the power.”

His time would’ve ranked fifth among U.S. men last year. Breaststroke is historically the U.S. men’s weakest stroke, but it will likely take a sub-1:00 to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic team. No male swimmer as young as Andrew will be in 2016 has made the U.S. Olympic team since Michael Phelps and Aaron Peirsol in 2000.

Ryan Lochte and the 400m IM

U.S., China set for FIBA Women’s World Cup gold-medal game

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SYDNEY — Breanna Stewart and the United States used a dominant defensive effort to beat Canada and reach the gold-medal game of the FIBA Women’s World Cup for the fourth consecutive tournament.

Stewart scored 17 points and the Americans raced out to an early lead to put away Canada 83-43 on Friday, reaching a Saturday gold-medal game with China. The 43 points was the fewest scored in a semifinal game in World Cup history.

“Canada has been playing really well all tournament and the goal was just to come out there and really limit them,” said U.S. forward Alyssa Thomas. “We were really locked in from the jump with our game plan.”

China edged host Australia 61-59 in the later semifinal to reach its first global championship game since the 1994 Worlds, the last time it won a medal of any color. The U.S. beat China 77-63 in group play last Saturday, the Americans’ closest game of the tournament.

“Our goal was to to win a gold medal and we’re in position to do that,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said.

The U.S. (7-0), which is on a record pace for points and margin of victory in the tournament, took control of the game early scoring the first 15 points. The Americans contested every shot on the defensive end as the Canadians missed their first nine attempts from the field. On the offensive end, Stewart, A’ja Wilson and Thomas basically got any shot they wanted.

“I think after that punch, it really took the air out of them,” Thomas said. “They didn’t know what to do with their offense anymore after that.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

Laeticia Amihere, who plays at South Carolina for former U.S. coach Dawn Staley, finally got Canada on the board nearly 5 minutes into the game making a driving layup.

By the end of the quarter the U.S. led 27-7. Canada had committed four turnovers — the same number the team had against Puerto Rico in the quarterfinals which was the lowest total in a game in 30 years.

The Americans were up 45-21 at the half and the lead kept expanding in the final 20 minutes. The win was the biggest margin for the U.S. in the medal round topping the 36-point victory over Spain in the 2010 World Cup.

Canada (5-2) advanced to the medal round for the first time since 1986 and has a chance to win its first medal since taking the bronze that year.

“We didn’t get it done today, but what we’re going to do is take this with what we learned today and how we can turn it up tomorrow,” Canada captain Natalie Achonwa said. “It’s still a game for a medal and it’s just as important for us.”

The U.S. has won seven of the eight meetings with Canada in the World Cup, although the last one came in 2010. The lone victory for Canada came in 1975.

The victory was the 29th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86. This is only the second time in the Americans’ storied history they’ve reached four consecutive gold-medal contests. They also did it from 1979-90, winning three times.

This U.S. team, which has so many new faces on it, is on pace to break many of the team’s records that include scoring margin and points per game. The Americans also continued to dominate the paint even without 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner, outscoring its opponents by an average of 55-24.

Amihere led Canada with eight points.

RECORD BREAKING

The low point total broke the mark of 53 that South Korea scored against Russia in 2002.

“We’re starting to build that identity,” Wilson said of the defensive effort. “We’re quick and scrappy and I think that’s our identity.”

The U.S. is averaging 101 points a game. The team’s best mark ever coming into the tournament was 99.1 set in 1994.

STILL RECOVERING

Kahleah Copper sat out after injuring her left hip in the win over Serbia in the quarterfinals. Copper landed hard on her hip driving to the basket and had to be helped off the court. She hopes to play on Saturday. Betnijah Laney, who also got hurt in the Serbia game, did play against Canada.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. goes for 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, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes 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 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’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 vs. Canada Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. USA vs. China Gold-Medal Game