Grant Hackett qualifies for World Championships after 6-year retirement

Grant Hackett
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Seven-time Olympic medalist Grant Hackett made the Australian team for the World Swimming Championships this summer after a six-year retirement.

Hackett, 34, finished fourth in the 200m freestyle at the Australian Championships. That earned a spot on the Australian 4x200m freestyle relay team at the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, in August.

Hackett last raced internationally at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, where he earned silver in the 1500m free and bronze as part of the 4x200m free relay.

On Sunday, Hackett finished behind Cameron McEvoy, David McKeon and Thomas Fraser-Holmes in the Australian Championships 200m free final.

“I by no means expected it,” Hackett said in a poolside interview. “It didn’t really feel like I executed everything that well.”

He swam .01 slower than Fraser-Holmes. In August, Fraser-Holmes won the 200m free at the biggest international meet of the year at the Pan Pacific Championships, topping Ryan Lochte and the world’s best all-around swimmer, Japan’s Kosuke Hagino.

“It’s like one of the biggest achievements of my life to make that team after such a long amount of time off – and in only such a short preparation,” Hackett said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

No Australian male swimmer has won individual Olympic gold since Hackett captured the 1500m free at the Athens 2004 Olympics. He and Ian Thorpe are the only Aussie men to take individual Olympic gold in the last four Olympics. Thorpe failed in his comeback attempt for the London 2012 Olympics, after a four-year retirement.

Hackett could become the oldest Australian Olympic swimmer by three years if he makes the Rio 2016 team, according to sports-reference.com.

He struggled with domestic disputes and sleeping-pill addiction since retiring following the Beijing Olympics, spending time last year in a U.S. rehab facility.

Hackett returned to swim training last summer, later saying he was inspired by a conversation with Michael Phelps in August.

“Michael said, ‘You should swim again,’ and it was the first time that I felt like I wanted to get back in the water,’’ Hackett said, according to The Australian.

Two other swimmers posted notable results in the 200m free final.

The winner McEvoy clocked a time that would have won last year’s Pan Pacific Championships. McEvoy, a physics buff, did win last year’s Pan Pacific Championships 100m free, upsetting World champion James Magnussen and Olympic champion Nathan Adrian. McEvoy could be looking at a five-medal haul at the World Championships, including the three men’s relays (perhaps more if including mixed-gender relays).

Then there’s Dan Smith, who finished in fifth, which should earn him a place in the World Championships relay in the preliminary heats. Smith, a former 14-year-old prodigy compared to Thorpe a decade ago, came back from heroin addiction.

In other events, five-time 2012 Olympic medalist Alicia Coutts failed to qualify for the World Championships team in the 100m butterfly. She’s the two-time reigning World silver medalist in the event. Australian media reported Coutts, 27, may retire. Coutts’ five medals at London 2012 were the most by an Australian in any sport at an Olympics since Thorpe took five at Sydney 2000.

Christian Sprenger finished second in the 100m breaststroke, which he won at the 2013 World Championships. But Sprenger’s time failed to meet Australian criteria to be named to a World Championships team. He could still be a discretionary selection, but the 29-year-old may also retire.

“I have some decisions to make in the next few months, I suppose,” Sprenger said, according to the Australian Associated Press.

Japanese woman, 100, swims 1500m record

In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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