Michael Phelps jokingly challenges Katie Ledecky to race

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Katie Ledecky was getting her headset adjusted for a post-race, pool-deck interview with Universal Sports broadcasters when a voice that belonged to neither play-by-play man Ted Robinson nor analyst Rowdy Gaines filtered into her ears.

“Katie, can we have a match race?” a man’s voice said Friday night. That was Michael Phelps.

Ledecky’s eyes widened. She grinned.

“Sure,” she said, not missing a beat.

“We need to have a match race, since we tied this morning, I think a match race would be pretty fun,” Phelps said, referring to the 400m freestyle preliminary heats at the Pro Swim Series at Mesa, Ariz.

Earlier Friday, Ledecky swam a 400m freestyle heat in 4:02.67, well off her world record of 3:58.37, but still 9.2 seconds faster than any other woman.

About a half-hour later, Phelps swam in the men’s 400m freestyle heats and clocked 4:02.67, the exact same time as Ledecky. He placed 17th overall for the men in an event he had not swum since 2009.

Phelps skipped Friday night’s consolation final at his first meet since August. Ledecky did enter the pool in her 400m free final and won in 4:01.95, by 8.39 seconds.

Phelps provided commentary during the race on Universal Sports and was eager to ask Ledecky to a head-to-head race in the post-race interview.

“Sure, want to go in an hour?” Ledecky asked.

“No, I want to go right now, ’cause you’re tired,” Phelps responded without a pronounced laugh but surely in jest.

Check out the back-and-forth at the 5:22 mark in this video.

Phelps also spoke about Ledecky during her race as a broadcast analyst.

“She steps on the gas so hard,” Phelps said. “She has a body-length lead at the 50 [meter mark] here in the 400m free. … I’ve watched her stroke so much, really, over the last couple of years. Really, she swims almost like a guy. Her long, loping stroke … stronger and stronger throughout the race. I think her stroke is so different from all the other females that she swims against.”

Phelps said he and coach Bob Bowman talked about Ledecky’s 400m free world record earlier Friday.

“When Janet [Evans] went 4:03, that record stood forever,” Phelps said, of Evans’ mark set in 1988 that lasted to 2006. “Every time Katie gets in the water, oh yeah, 4:02, no big deal. Just a casual 4:02. And then, hey, we’ll just give the world record a shot tonight. Why not?

“It doesn’t even look like she’s breathing hard,” Phelps said after Ledecky’s victory Friday night. “It’s just unbelievable.”

Phelps has experience racing against women. He was in the pool with Australian Libby Trickett at the 2007 Duel in the Pool for a mixed relay. Phelps clocked 48.72 in a 100m free leadoff leg there, while Trickett swam 52.99, the fastest 100m ever by a woman. It was not ratified as a world record because it came in a race with men.

Interestingly enough, mixed relays will be part of the World Championships program for the first time this year. Phelps and Ledecky don’t appear to be headed to swim in the same relay, though, because Phelps is not on the U.S. roster for Worlds following his DUI arrest in September.

Video: Debbie Phelps texted Michael Phelps about Rio 2016 years ago

Asbel Kiprop, Olympic 1500m champ, banned 4 years

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Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, the 2008 Olympic 1500m champion and a three-time world champ, was banned four years after testing positive for EPO in November 2017, according to track and field’s doping watchdog organization.

The ban is backdated to Feb. 3, 2018, when the 29-year-old was provisionally suspended after the failed test.

Kiprop repeatedly denied doping since last May, when he first acknowledged the positive test. Most recently, a 3,000-word defense from his lawyer was posted on Kiprop’s Facebook page.

Kiprop’s defenses included saying he was a victim of extortion and that he was offered “a reward” of becoming an anti-doping ambassador if he admitted guilt. The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), the IAAF’s independent organization to monitor doping and corruption, denied the latter last May.

A disciplinary panel dismissed six defenses from exonerating him, including the possibility his sample was spiked, in handing out the four-year ban.

Kiprop, the pre-eminent 1500m runner of the last decade, can appeal the ban.

At 19, he finished second in the Beijing Olympic 1500m but was upgraded to gold a year later after Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi failed a drug test. He is the youngest Olympic 1500m medalist of all time, according to the OlyMADMen.

Kiprop went on to earn three straight world titles in the 1500m in 2011, 2013 and 2015, matching the feats of retired legends Noureddine Morceli and Hicham El Guerrouj.

He struggled in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, finishing last in the London final with a hamstring injury and sixth in the Rio final won by American rival Matthew Centrowitz.

Kiprop has targeted El Guerrouj’s world record of 3:26:00, missing the mark by .69 of a second in 2015.

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Maggie Nichols is second woman in 20 years to repeat as NCAA all-around champ

Maggie Nichols
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Oklahoma junior and world champion gymnast Maggie Nichols became the first woman to repeat as NCAA all-around champion in 12 years, returning from a heel injury to compete on all four events for the first time since January on Friday.

Nichols, a Rio Olympic hopeful before being beset by a torn meniscus in 2016, joined 2004 Olympic silver medalist Courtney Kupets as the only women to win back-to-back NCAA all-arounds in the 2000s.

A junior, Nichols can next year join Jenny Hansen as the only women to three-peat in NCAA history.

Oklahoma goes for a third team title in four years on Saturday night against UCLA (featuring Olympic champions Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross), LSU and Denver.

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NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships Individual Results
All-Around
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma) — 39.7125
2. Lexy Ramler (Minnesota) — 39.6625
2. Kyla Ross (UCLA) — 39.6625
4. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 39.65
5. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 39.6

Vault
1. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 9.95
1. Derrian Gobourne (Auburn)
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)

Uneven Bars
1. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 9.95

Balance Beam
1. Natalie Wojcik (Michigan) — 9.95

Floor Exercise
1. Alicia Boren (Florida) — 9.95
1. Lynnzee Brown (Denver)
1. Brenna Dowell (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)