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

Katie Ledecky swims fastest at U.S. Open from B final

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For what must have been the first time in seven years, Katie Ledecky failed to qualify for an A final in one of her primary events on Friday morning. No matter, she swam the fastest 200m freestyle at the U.S. Open from the B final at night.

Ledecky, owner of 20 combined Olympic and world titles, clocked 1:56.24 to win the B final by nearly three seconds in Atlanta. In the very next race, American record holder Allison Schmitt touched first in the A final in 1:56.47.

Full results are here. The final day of the meet airs live on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Ledecky has rarely lost domestically in freestyles from 200m through 1500m since she made her first Olympic team at age 15 in 2012.

She kept the streak intact, giving her a sweep of the 200m, 400m and 800m frees in the first three days of the U.S. Open, what could be the deepest domestic meet before the Olympic trials in June.

Internationally, Ledecky faced challengers in the 200m free in this Olympic cycle, unlike the last one. Italian veteran and world-record holder Federica Pellegrini won the last two world titles, with Ledecky missing the event this summer due to her mid-meet illness.

Ledecky ranks seventh in the world in the 200m free this year but likely would have been faster if she was able to race at her best at world champs.

Domestically, Simone Manuel has crept up, clocking 1:56.09 to lead off the 4x200m free relay at worlds to rank second among Americans in 2019. Manuel was the third-fastest American on Friday, recording 1:57.21, her fastest time ever outside of a major summer meet.

In other events Friday, Phoebe Bacon upset world-record holder Regan Smith in the 100m backstroke. Bacon, who like Smith is 17 years old, overtook Smith in the last 25 meters and prevailed by .05 in 58.63. Bacon, while shy of Smith’s world record 57.57, took .39 off her personal best to become the fifth-fastest in the world this year.

Olympic and world champion Lilly King dominated the 100m breaststroke, beating a strong field by .62 of a second in 1:05.65.

Chase Kalisz won a potential Olympic trials preview in the 400m individual medley in 4:13.07. Kalisz, the Rio silver medalist, held off 18-year-old Carson Foster by 1.69 seconds. Ryan Lochte, the 2012 Olympic champion in the event, was fifth, 6.65 seconds behind.

Rio Olympian Townley Haas won the men’s 200m free in 1:45.92, his fastest time since August 2018. Haas, the 2017 World silver medalist, improved to the second-fastest American in the event this year behind Andrew Seliskar.

Torri Huske won the 100m butterfly on the eve of her 17th birthday. Huske clocked 57.48, taking .23 off her personal best to move from sixth fastest to third fastest in the U.S. this year.

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Ester Ledecka stuns again, wins World Cup downhill from bib No. 26

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Consider 26 a lucky number for Ester Ledecka.

Ledecka, the snowboard champion who stunningly captured the PyeongChang Olympic super-G from bib No. 26, won her first World Cup ski race on Friday — also from bib No. 26.

Ledecka was fastest in a downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta.

She kept Swiss Corinne Suter from her first World Cup win by .35 of a second. Austrian Stephanie Venier was third. Mikaela Shiffrin was 10th in her weakest discipline. Full results are here.

“I am for sure more shocked than everybody here,” Ledecka said. “I was a little bit, not disappointed about the run, but I was not super satisfied. Then I was really surprised about the time.”

Ledecka, an Olympic and world champion in Alpine snowboarding from the Czech Republic, had a previous best Alpine skiing World Cup finish of seventh. The top-ranked racers all go in the top 20 of the start list.

Last season, Ledecka raced more World Cup skiing events than snowboarding events for the first time. She was forced to choose between world championships in skiing and in snowboarding due to schedules and picked the former with a top finish of 15th.

She’s undecided about her upcoming schedule. She could continue on the Alpine skiing tour with a super-G in Switzerland next weekend, or she could fly to Italy for a snowboarding event.

The women race another downhill and a super-G in Lake Louise the next two days. A full TV and live stream schedule for the weekend races is here.

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