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

Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

Shelby Houlihan
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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

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