Ashley Wagner

Ashley Wagner shatters records for third U.S. figure skating title

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Ashley Wagner felt terrified. She skated terrific.

Wagner shattered the U.S. Figure Skating Championships women’s records for free skate and total scores, compiling 148.98 and 221.02, respectively, to win her third national title in Greensboro, N.C., on Saturday night.

“I’m terrified,” Wagner told her coach, Rafael Arutyunyan, before gliding out for her free skate with a five-point lead over defending U.S. champion Gracie Gold, who was yet to skate.

Wagner, 23, landed seven triple jumps in her program to break Gold’s records of 139.57 and 211.69 from last year. She became the oldest U.S. women’s champion since Michelle Kwan in 2005 and the first woman since Kwan to win three national titles. Kwan won nine.

“This, of my three titles, is the one that tastes the sweetest,” Wagner, also the 2012 and 2013 U.S. champion, said on NBC. “I’ve had so many critics over the past couple of months. I’ve had so many people who said I’m too old for this, I am burnt out. But, you know what, I am so hungry to make a career for myself. I was able to turn all this negativity into something positive.”

Gold finished second with 205.54 points, which was 15.48 behind Wagner (full results here). She fell on a triple flip. Gold was the top U.S. woman at the Sochi Olympics (fourth) and 2014 World Championships (fifth).

“It was really hard to skate a long program after the roar of the crowd and the standing ovation,” said Gold, who skated right after Wagner. “It brought me back to Sochi, skating after Adelina Sotnikova, who won.

“We’ve been at each other’s throats raising the bar,” Gold said of her rivalry with Wagner. They’ve been one-two at two of the last three U.S. Championships.

Wagner and Gold will next head to the World Championships in Shanghai in March, looking to win the first U.S. women’s medal at a Worlds or Olympics since 2006. That’s the longest U.S. women’s drought in the Winter Olympic era.

Wagner has bounced back after finishing fourth at the 2014 U.S. Championships and being controversially put on the three-woman Sochi Olympic team over third-place Mirai Nagasu.

“Last year’s nationals, that was horrifying,” Wagner said. “Then I had a so-so Olympics and Worlds. Then my Grand Prix season was solid but nothing all that remarkable. I felt like people were starting to write me off, and I wasn’t giving them any reason to believe I’m competitive.”

Then came the Grand Prix Final in December.

Wagner showed she can win a medal at Worlds when she improved from last place of six skaters in the short program at the Barcelona event to win bronze. The Grand Prix Final is the second biggest annual international competition behind Worlds.

“I am a force to be reckoned with,” said Wagner, who was seventh at the Sochi Olympics and Worlds last year and is looking for her first World Championships medal. “It’s time for people to start considering me someone who’s coming for the podium.”

Karen Chen, 15, finished third with 199.79 points in her senior national debut, landing six triple jumps in her fantastic free skate. Chen became the youngest U.S. women’s medalist since Nagasu won at age 14 in 2008.

Chen, however, is too young for the World Championships.

That could open the door for Olympian Polina Edmunds, 16, to make her second World Championships team since the U.S. will send three women to Shanghai. Edmunds fell on a triple Lutz in her free skate and dropped from third after the short program to finish fourth at 192.62.

Wagner mentioned one more thing, going back to her pre-skate conversation with her coach.

“I watched this awesome commercial before I skated, and throughout the commercial it was this coach giving a pregame speech, and one of the quotes within the commercial was, ‘Passion has a funny way of trumping logic,'” Wagner said, adding she has the quote on her mirror at home and repeated it to herself Saturday.

Earlier, Madison Chock and Evan Bates held off siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani to win their first U.S. ice dance title. Chock and Bates were eighth at the Sochi Olympics behind gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who are sitting out this season.

Chock and Bates and the Shibutanis will be medal threats at the World Championships against top couples from Canada and the reigning World champions, Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy.

In pairs, Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim won their first U.S. title with the highest total score in U.S. Championships history. They completed the first quad twist by a U.S. pairs team in competition. Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier were second, likely locking up the second U.S. pairs berth at Worlds.

Neither team is likely to end a 12-year U.S. pairs medal drought at the World Championships. They were both outside the top six international pairs teams during the Grand Prix season. Russia, Canada and China dominate the event.

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships conclude with the men’s free skate Sunday (4 p.m. ET on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra).

Jason Brown tops men’s short program; quad debate stoked

Women’s final results
1. Ashley Wagner — 221.02
2. Gracie Gold — 205.54
3. Karen Chen — 199.79
4. Polina Edmunds — 192.62
5. Samantha Cesario — 182.82

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold finished one-two at each of the last three U.S. Championships.

Caeleb Dressel, after 7 golds in 2017, is on record watch at swim worlds

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For Caeleb Dressel, the comparisons began in earnest two years ago when he matched Michael Phelps‘ record seven gold medals at a single world championships (albeit two were in mixed-gender relays that weren’t on the program when Phelps swam).

They will likely spread at this summer’s worlds, which begin Sunday in Gwangju, South Korea (TV schedule here). And they likely won’t dissipate through the next year and the Tokyo Olympics.

For as Dressel endured new obstacles in and out of the pool last summer, winning two of seven individual races at the two major 2018 meets, he came back this May and June with his fastest times since 2017 Worlds.

“I personally think he’s going to break three world records,” next week, NBC Sports analyst Rowdy Gaines said. “I think he’s going to break two for sure, 50m and 100m freestyle. The only one that’s doubtful, to me, would be the 100m fly.”

Dressel, the former prep prodigy who left the sport for five months before joining the University of Florida team in 2014, is expected to swim no less than the same program next week that he did in 2017.

That would mean eight races — the 50m and 100m freestyles and butterflies, the 4x100m free, 4x100m medley and two mixed-gender relays. Two years ago, Dressel won seven of eight, surprisingly taking fourth in the 50m fly (which is not on the Olympic program).

His coach in Gainesville, Gregg Troy, did not rule out adding a ninth event as part of the 4x200m free. However, that would likely give Dressel three swims in one session next Friday and next Saturday, something Phelps never did in his prime when contesting eight events at the Olympics and worlds.

The 2020 question is whether Dressel will try to swim a Phelpsian eight events in Toyko. With no 50m fly and only one mixed-gender relay on the Olympic program, he must add two events to get to eight, perhaps the 200m free and 4x200m free relay.

“I’m not too sure,” Dressel said. “I just want to stay focused on this year. I’ve got the biggest meet of my year coming up in less than a week. I’ll get through this meet, and then me and Troy, we’ll start looking forward next year and maybe add some new events. But I’m not too sure at the moment.”

Dressel turned pro last spring after an unprecedented NCAA career, where his routine included carrying a blue bandana in his mouth on the pool deck. The demands on his time were new, from choosing an agent to signing with a swimwear company.

Troy, who coached Ryan Lochte in his prime to overtake Phelps as the world’s best swimmer in 2011, said he may have overtrained Dressel before last summer’s nationals and Pan Pacific Championships.

After Pan Pacs, Dressel revealed that an earlier motorcycle incident where he was forced off the road by another motorist, but didn’t suffer serious injury, maybe interfered with training.

Now, Dressel chalks that summer to uncharacteristically poor swimming at the wrong time. “I can put as many excuses as I want on that, but that’s really just what it was,” he said. “I mean, it happens to athletes all over the world.

“I’m glad it happened when it did. It can mess with you. It can turn into a downward spiral of self-doubt if you don’t just pick and choose what you want to learn from bad experiences like that. I don’t take it as all too negative. I certainly wouldn’t want it to happen again. Just a bad meet. Move on from it.”

Troy went further, noting the scrutiny on Dressel. Phelps is retired, Lochte suspended (and, at age 34, staving off Father Time), creating an opening for a male U.S. swim star to pair with Katie Ledecky. In 2017, Dressel became that alpha.

“It’s one thing being the guy coming up. It’s another thing being the guy that’s hunted,” Troy said this week. “He’s a little more mature to handle all the outside factors that we had to deal with last summer.”

In 2017, Dressel’s winning times in the 50m and 100m freestyles and the 100m butterfly were a combined .56 shy of three world records. This year, he’s ranked Nos. 1, 3 and 5 in the world in those events.

His 2019 times are a combined .64 faster than his best pre-worlds times in 2017, which is why some believe he’s in for a special week in South Korea. But not everyone buys that logic.

“The meets leading up to it don’t really mean too much,” Dressel demurred.

Dressel didn’t have to peak this year for an NCAA Championships or a nationals (the world team was decided last summer) like in 2017. He had the luxury of putting all his focus the last several months on Gwangju.

“My gut feeling,” Gaines said, “I think he’s going to destroy ’em.”

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MORE: Katie Ledecky faces toughest tests yet at swim worlds

World’s fastest mom leads London Diamond League fields; stream schedule

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Jamaican sprinters headline this weekend’s Diamond League meet in London, while most American stars rest up for next week’s USATF Outdoor Championships.

Olympic champions Shelly-Ann Fraser-PryceElaine Thompson and Yohan Blake dot the two-day meet at the 2012 Olympic Stadium. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage each morning at 8:15 and 8:50 ET.

Fraser-Pryce and Thompson, who combined to win the last three Olympic 100m and share the fastest time in the world this year of 10.73 seconds, are in separate events in London.

Fraser-Pryce goes in the 100m against the fastest women from Europe and Africa. Thompson faces a less daunting field in the 200m; she’s the only entrant who has run sub-22.3. They could both double up in the 100m and 200m at the world championships in Doha in two months.

As for Blake, he races after being called out by former training partner Usain Bolt for leaving their shared coach of several years, Glen Mills. Blake is the second-fastest man in history but hasn’t been within two tenths of his personal-best 9.69 in nearly seven years.

Here are the London entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

Saturday
8:15 a.m. — Men’s Long Jump
9:04 — Women’s 400m
9:09 — Women’s Pole Vault
9:13 — Men’s 5000m
9:20 — Women’s Javelin
9:40 — Men’s Triple Jump
9:55 — Men’s 800m
10:06 — Women’s 200m
10:17 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
10:29 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
10:39 — Women’s 1500m
10:50 — Men’s 100m

Sunday
8:50 a.m. — Men’s Discus
9:04 — Men’s 400m
9:20 — Men’s High Jump
9:35 — Women’s 800m
9:40 — Women’s Long Jump
9:45 — Men’s Mile
9:56 — Women’s 5000m
10:19 — Men’s 200m
10:29 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
10:39 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
10:50 — Women’s 100m

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s 800m — Saturday, 9:55 a.m. ET
Perhaps the greatest race in history came on this track at the 2012 London Games — the men’s 800m final won by David Rudisha in a world record. Botswana’s Nijel Amos took silver that day at age 18 to become the fourth-fastest man ever. Amos has not earned a global championship medal since, but last Friday he clocked his fastest 800m since that evening in London. Here, he faces the next-fastest man in the world this year, Kenyan Ferguson Rotich, and the fastest man of 2017 and 2018, Kenyan Emmanuel Korir.

Men’s 100m — Saturday, 10:50 a.m. ET
Blake hasn’t raced a Diamond League this season and last won on this stage in 2017. Here, he gets an opportunity with the world’s fastest men — all Americans — sitting out. Andre De Grasse, who like Blake has been slowed by leg injuries, is the other marquee name, but he hasn’t broken 10 seconds in 13 tries since taking bronze in Rio, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Men’s Discus — Sunday, 8:50 a.m. ET
Perhaps the deepest field of the meet with the Olympic and world gold and silver medalists and the top three in the world this year. The favorite has to be Swede Daniel Ståhl, who takes up nine of the first 11 spots on the 2019 top list. Ståhl broke the Swedish record three weeks ago with the world’s top throw in 11 years.

Women’s 5000m — Sunday, 9:56 a.m. ET
Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan follows up her world record in the mile (4:12.33) from the last Diamond League stop in Monaco. Hassan was primarily a 1500m runner through the Rio Olympics (where she was fifth) but since added 5000m work. She faces the ultimate test here in world champion Hellen Obiri, the only woman who has been faster over the last two years.

Women’s 100m — Sunday, 10:50 a.m. ET
Fraser-Pryce owns fond memories at this track, though she missed the 2017 World Championships in London due to childbirth. She won her second Olympic 100m in London in 2012 and scored her first post-baby Diamond League win here last summer. Fraser-Pryce has a chance to become the third woman to break 10.75 three times in one year, joining Florence Griffith-Joyner (1988) and Marion Jones (1998). She could get the necessary push from Ivorian Marie-Josee Ta Lou and Brit Dina Asher-Smith, the fastest in the world in 2018.

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