World Swimming Championships women’s preview

Katie Ledecky
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It’s Katie Ledecky‘s turn to headline a World Swimming Championships.

In 2009, Michael Phelps won a meet-leading five gold medals at the World Championships in Rome.

In 2011, Ryan Lochte won a meet-leading five gold medals at the World Championships in Shanghai.

In 2013, Missy Franklin won a meet-leading six gold medals at the World Championships in Barcelona.

Ledecky, the youngest member of U.S. swimming’s big four, will win more individual titles next week in Kazan, Russia, than any other swimmer if the last two years’ rankings hold true.

She plans to swim four individual events and one relay, a slate of distances ranging from 200m to the grueling 1500m freestyle. The 200m freestyle semifinals and the 1500m free final are separated by about 20 minutes, a double arguably more daunting than anything seen before from Phelps, Lochte or Franklin at a major international meet.

Worlds broadcast schedule | Daily schedule of events | Entry lists | Men’s preview

Ledecky, an 18-year-old who graduated from a D.C.-area Catholic all-girls school on June 4, is scheduled to swim each of the first seven days of the eight-day meet. On Sunday, Aug. 9, the final day, she will rest.

She’s the world-record holder in the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles (finals this Sunday (400m), then Tuesday (1500m) and then Saturday (800m)).

Ledecky swept those three events at the 2013 World Championships, one year after she took Olympic gold in her only event in London, the 800m free, as the youngest member of the entire U.S. Olympic team of more than 500 athletes.

She has since grown to dominate the distance freestyles so much that she added the 200m free to her program in 2014. How did that go? Ledecky was the second fastest woman in the world in the event last year behind Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom, who is not swimming the 200m free in Kazan next week.

If Ledecky sweeps the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees, she will become the first woman to win four individual golds at a single World Championships. The only men to do so? Phelps and Lochte.

“It’s going to be a busy week for me, but I’m just excited for the challenge,” Ledecky told media in Kazan on Friday.

Ledecky eyes daunting double at Worlds

Franklin, meanwhile, is a bit of a question despite being a tested and proven swimmer at major meets (four golds at the 2012 Olympics, six golds at the 2013 Worlds). She needed help walking following back spasms two days before last year’s major international meet, the Pan Pacific Championships, and came home with one individual medal (bronze).

Though Franklin hasn’t had back flare-ups at competitions since, her form going into Worlds is a little unclear. She’s raced in one meet since the NCAA Championships in March. Her FINA world rankings in her four individual events the last two years (keeping in mind last season’s back spasms and this year’s lack of racing long-course meters):

Event 2014 World Ranking 2015 World Ranking
100 Freestyle T6 105
200 Freestyle 8 13
100 Backstroke 4 31
200 Backstroke 6 18

 

Franklin remained confident in interviews at her only meet this spring or summer, in June in Santa Clara, Calif. She’s returned to her longtime Colorado coach, Todd Schmitz, since turning professional.

“We don’t really know quite what to expect, but when you think about how many times we’ve swam these races and the experience we got on previous trips and hold on to that confidence and know that we know what we’re doing,” Franklin told media in Kazan on Friday.

Missy Franklin on her dream relay, unusual autographs, ‘the worm’

Ledecky and Franklin were the only U.S. women to earn individual golds at 2013 Worlds. Again, there might not be any others this year.

Across all Worlds events, only one other U.S. woman owns a top-three world ranking either of the last two years — Jessica Hardy was second in 2014 in the 50m breaststroke, which is not contested at the Olympics.

Granted this year, U.S. swimmers haven’t needed to post fast times in competition before going to Kazan, because the U.S. team for Worlds was determined in 2014. Americans could have spent all year in heavy training, while many swimmers from other nations needed to peak in competition in the spring for Worlds qualifying meets.

One swimmer who has been on fire this year is Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, the 2013 World champion in the 200m and 400m individual medleys. Hosszu, nicknamed “Iron Lady” for her Ripken-like durability while swimming several events in three- and four-day meets, could show up in seven individual events in Kazan.

Hosszu is world No. 1 in the 200m medley the last two years, No. 1 in the 400m medley this year and No. 2 last year, No. 2 in the 200m back this year and No. 3 in the 100m back last year.

Hosszu is set for showdowns with China’s Ye Shiwen in the individual medleys in Kazan. Ye was the 16-year-old who broke the Olympic record in both medleys at London 2012, including the 400m IM world record by swimming the final 50 meters faster than Lochte did in the men’s race.

Katinka Hosszu emerges from depression to become swimming’s Iron Lady

In other events, the favorites are Australian Cate Campbell and the Netherlands’ Femke Heemskerk in the sprint freestyles, Australian Emily Seebohm in the backstrokes (if recovered from May’s dislocated kneecap), Lithuanian breaststroker Ruta Meilutyte and the Swede Sjostrom in the sprint freestyles and butterflies.

Key women’s finals:

Sunday, Aug. 2
400m freestyle — Ledecky is the world-record holder
4x100m freestyle relay — Australia vs. USA vs. Netherlands, who have traded Olympic and World titles since 2003

Monday, Aug. 3
100m butterfly — Sjostrom is the defending champion and world-record holder; Olympic champion Dana Vollmer is not competing at Worlds after having a baby
200m individual medley — Hosszu was fastest in the world in 2013, 2014 and 2015, but Ye lurks

Tuesday, Aug. 4
100m backstroke — Franklin is the 2012 Olympic and 2013 World champion, but Seebohm has been world No. 1 the last two years
1500m freestyle — Ledecky is 14 seconds faster than anyone else this year
100m breaststroke — Meilutyte is the 2012 Olympic and 2013 World champion and world-record holder

Wednesday, Aug. 5
200m freestyle — Ledecky and Franklin’s only shared individual event

Thursday, Aug. 6
200m butterfly — Missing the reigning Olympic and World gold and silver medalists
4x200m freestyle relay — Ledecky and Franklin expected to lead U.S.

Friday, Aug. 7
100m freestyle — Franklin is not a medal favorite, behind Australia’s Campbell sisters, Sjostrom and Heemskerk
200m breaststroke — Defending champ Russian Yulia Efimova is back from a doping ban

Saturday, Aug. 8
200m backstroke — Franklin is the Olympic and World champion and world-record holder, but Seebohm is top seed
800m freestyle — Ledecky’s fourth and final individual event

Sunday, Aug. 9
50m freestyle — Campbell looks to dethrone Dutch Olympic and World champion Ranomi Kromowidjojo
400m individual medley — Hosszu vs. Ye II
4x100m medley relay — U.S. has won six of last seven World titles

Mark Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson
Puma
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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, checklist complete, carries lessons into new World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin
Atomic
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Mikaela Shiffrin said she hit every possible statistical goal in the first 11 years of her Alpine skiing career. Keep that in mind as the storyline the next few seasons may turn to the World Cup wins record.

Shiffrin, who begins her 12th World Cup season in Soelden, Austria, in two weeks, is up to 74 victories on the circuit. The 27-year-old ranks third all-time behind Lindsey Vonn, who owns the women’s record of 82 wins, and Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who has the overall record of 86.

Shiffrin did rounds of interviews Thursday at the media day for her ski sponsor, Atomic. In one sitdown streamed by Atomic, she was asked, “Are you aiming for the record? … There’s just 12 left. Normally, winning 12 races, that’s a lot, but you already won 74, so it doesn’t sound that much anymore.”

“Just 12,” Shiffrin joked. “If you look at it like that, but that’s maybe oversimplification.” (Note greats including Americans Picabo Street and Julia Mancuso didn’t win 12 World Cups over a career.)

Then Shiffrin asked if the interviewer did in fact say 74 — “Yeah, you have 74,” the interviewer confirmed to Shiffrin, who sat between fellow stars Sofia Goggia of Italy and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway.

“Even after 74 … one race feels like a lot,” Shiffrin continued. “Twelve [wins] still feels like a large mountain to climb, for sure, but it’s step by step or race by race. If I just focus on what’s coming in the next couple weeks and then keep going from there, then we’ll see.”

From 2017 to 2019, Shiffrin won 11, 12 and 17 times on the World Cup. Her last three seasons were abbreviated after her father’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic and back problems. She still won an average of five races each year.

In an earlier interview Thursday, Shiffrin expressed confidence about her preseason form. She followed February’s Beijing Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth, by bagging her fourth World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport, crowning the best all-around skier.

“Finishing off [at last March’s World Cup Finals] in Meribel, that final race of the season, I was thinking, I could use a moment to breathe,” she said. “There was also this part of me that’s like, I kind of didn’t want this to be the last race. I was a little bit antsy to actually get going on the next season already.”

Shiffrin took less of a break than a year ago, spending 10 days in Maui. She had “really productive” training camps in Colorado, Switzerland and Chile and arrived back in Europe on Wednesday for the run-up to the World Cup opener on Oct. 22.

As always, the priority is keeping her slalom and giant slalom technique top-notch. As long as that’s flowing, Shiffrin feels comfortable branching into the speed events, starting with super-Gs. She plans to race both the slalom and GS at February’s world championships, then possibly the super-G with the combined less of a priority. The downhill is “fairly doubtful,” but she has a few months to make a final decision.

Of course, Shiffrin raced everything at the Olympics in February. In interviews last winter, she couldn’t quite explain why the greatest technical skier in history did not finish any of her three technical runs at the Games.

Shiffrin gave a detailed, two-and-a-half-minute answer when asked Thursday if she went back during this offseason to analyze those races. Or if she is brushing them off as an anomaly.

“Statistically, it’s an anomaly, but there was a lot of culminating factors that could have been involved,” she said.

In basic terms, she got on her inside ski in the opening GS and fell within 13 seconds — “a technical flaw that had a much higher consequence than it’s ever had in any other race that I’ve ever done.” In slalom, she had too much intensity, or too much speed, in a section that required more precision and skidded out within six seconds — “I was not giving anything away, and then I gave everything away.”

“There was less margin for error in Beijing because of the snow conditions,” said Shiffrin, who like every other racer hadn’t previously raced on that slope of manufactured snow. “I don’t think I maybe considered that enough in the moment when I was skiing to kind of reel it in sometimes when it would have been necessary. But I also wasn’t skiing to reel it in or make it to the finish. I was skiing to like, blow the course apart. I was going for it.”

She hopes to take that mentality into this season. In the spring and summer, she devoted more time to developing equipment that works better on softer snow, which is becoming more commonplace at World Cup venues given warmer temperatures.

“If you have a checklist of goals you want to achieve before you retire, actually, my checklist is complete,” she said. “If I had one, it would be complete. Somehow, I feel like I still have something left to accomplish, or faster skiing to do, so that’s kind of why I’m here. Hopefully I can remember that when there’s points in the season that feel stressful or pressure. There’s nothing that has to be done.”

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