Katie Ledecky

Katie Ledecky, Sun Yang open quests for history with golds at World Championships

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Katie Ledecky and Sun Yang earned their first gold medals en route to what could be unprecedented sweeps on the first day of the World Swimming Championships in Kazan, Russia, on Sunday.

Ledecky, an 18-year-old recent high school graduate, took the 400m freestyle in 3:59.13 with a 3.89-second margin of victory. She was around one second under her 2014 world-record pace halfway through the race, finished .76 off her mark and showed little celebration in the pool.

“I can’t complain about that,” Ledecky said on Eurosport. “You always want to improve and go best times and things like that, but it gives me things to work on in the future. … It gives me some momentum moving forward for the rest of the week.”

Sun, a 23-year-old Chinese, captured the men’s 400m free in 3:42.58, taking the lead in the final 100 meters and winning by a comfortable 1.17 seconds. He flexed his biceps and screamed in celebration, as is his custom. The U.S.’ Connor Jaeger and Michael McBroom were fourth and eighth, respectively.

Ledecky and Sun could become the first swimmers to sweep the 200m through 1500m freestyles at a World Championships. They also could join Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte as the only swimmers to earn four individual gold medals at a single Worlds.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will have coverage of Sunday’s events from 1:30-3:30 p.m. ET.

Swimming World Championships: Men’s preview | Women’s preview | TV schedule | Sunday results

Missy Franklin debuted with a bronze medal leading off the U.S. 4x100m freestyle relay, which was attempting to repeat as World champion for the first time. The Americans were no match for Australia, which broke the world record in 2014 and won by 2.19 seconds over the Netherlands and 3.13 over the U.S. on Sunday.

The shocker of the earlier morning preliminaries session was the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay. The U.S. and Australia both finished tied for 11th and 13th, respectively, missing the eight-nation final. Olympic champion France ended up winning the final over Russia and Italy.

The U.S. held out of the preliminary heat its fastest 100m freestyler — Olympic champion Nathan Adrian — to save him for the final, as is custom for swimming powers. It burned them. The U.S.’ heat time included a 49.69 split from 34-year-old Anthony Ervin, the slowest 4x100m free relay split by an American at a Worlds or Olympics since 2007.

“I died real bad at the end of my leg, which is not uncommon,” Ervin, a 2000 Olympic co-champion in the 50m freestyle and the oldest member of the U.S. team at Worlds, said, according to media in Kazan. “I didn’t really see the rest of the relay. I was still kind of rolling around in a bit of a lactic acid blackout.”

The first World Championships were in 1973, and the U.S. had won a medal in the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay at every Olympics and Worlds where it competed save the 2001 Worlds when it was disqualified for using a swimmer who wasn’t on the event entry list.

In the women’s 100m butterfly semifinals Sunday, defending World champion Swede Sarah Sjostrom broke U.S. Olympic champion Dana Vollmer‘s world record from the London Games.

Sjostrom clocked 55.74 to join Vollmer as the only women to ever break 56 seconds. Vollmer, who is not competing at Worlds following childbirth, swam 55.98 at the London Olympics. The Kazan final, which will include zero Americans, is Monday night.

In the women’s 200m individual medley semifinals, Hungarian defending World champion Katinka Hosszu broke her European record with a 2:06.84, which was .69 off American Ariana Kukors‘ world record from 2009.

Chinese Olympic champion Ye Shiwen snuck into Monday’s final by .07 in the eighth and final qualifying spot. Ye has dealt with reported ankle problems leading into Worlds.

In the men’s 100m breaststroke, British world-record holder Adam Peaty was the top qualifier into Monday’s final. Peaty was followed by South African Olympic champion Cameron van der Burgh. No Americans made the final.

First two U.S. triathletes qualify for 2016 Olympics

Men’s 400m freestyle final
Gold: Sun Yang (CHN) — 3:42.58
Silver: James Guy (GBR) — 3:43.75
Bronze: Ryan Cochrane (CAN) — 3:44.59
4. Connor Jaeger (USA) — 3:44.81
5. Peter Bernek (HUN) — 3:46.29
6. Wojciech Jacek Wojdak (POL) — 3:46.81
7. Clemens Rapp (GER) — 3:48.52
8. Michael McBroom (USA) — 3:51.94

Women’s 400m freestyle final
Gold: Katie Ledecky (USA) — 3:59.13
Silver: Sharon van Rouwendaal (NED) — 4:03.02
Bronze: Jessica Ashwood (AUS) — 4:03.34
4. Jaz Carlin (GBR) — 4:03.75
5. Lauren Boyle (NZL) — 4:04.38
6. Melanie Costa (ESP) — 4:06.50
7. Diletta Carli (ITA) — 4:07.30
8. Boglarka Kapas (HUN) — 4:08.22

Women’s 4x100m freestyle final
Gold: Australia — 3:31.48
Silver: Netherlands — 3:33.67
Bronze: U.S. — 3:34.61
4. Sweden — 3:35.71
5. Canada — 3:36.44
6. Italy — 3:37.16
7. China — 3:37.64
8. France — 3:38.46

Men’s 4x100m freestyle final
Gold: France — 3:10.74
Silver: Russia — 3:11.19
Bronze: Italy — 3:12.53
4. Brazil — 3:13.22
5. Poland — 3:14.12
6. Japan — 3:15.04
7. China — 3:15.41
8. Canada — 3:15.94

Leanne Smith leads U.S. gold medalists at para swim worlds

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Leanne Smith has never competed at a Paralympics. Came into this week’s world championships with zero world medals. But she leaves London with three individual golds, most for any American, one year before the Tokyo Games.

Smith, 21, won the 150m individual medley, 50m breaststroke and 100m freestyle in her classification, all in American record times. The last two titles came on the final day of the seven-day meet on Sunday.

Smith, diagnosed with a rare neurological muscle disease called dystonia in January 2012, began swimming in 2013. By 2017, she broke a world record and then debuted at the world championships with a best individual finish of sixth.

The U.S. finished with 35 total medals and 14 golds, ranking sixth in the overall standings. Ukraine, usually strong at the Paralympics, led the way with 55 medals. Full results are here.

Jessica Long, the second-most-decorated U.S. Paralympian in history with 23 medals, earned six this week — five silvers and a bronze — to give her 52 career world championships medals.

Two-time Paralympian Mallory Weggemann earned two golds this week, giving her 15 world titles in three appearances (her others being in 2009 and 2010).

She won 50m titles in the butterfly and freestyle. Weggemann won a 2012 Paralympic 50m free title but was fortunate just to make it back for Rio after a 2014 accident that she said was harder to come back from than her teenage paralysis. She left Rio with no medals but a resolve to return for a third Games in Tokyo.

“I’m two seconds away from bursting into tears,” Weggemann said after winning the first of her two golds in the 50m fly, according to U.S. Paralympics. “I had a really rough go these past three years since Rio, so to finally be back after busting my butt to be here, and to be here in London of all places, is absolutely incredible.”

Fellow Rio Paralympians McKenzie Coan and Robert Griswold added two golds a piece.

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MORE: Five storylines to watch for Tokyo Paralympics

Heimana Reynolds wins skateboard world title, nears an Olympic goal from age 10

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In February 2009, a 10-year-old Heimana Reynolds was profiled by his local NBC TV station on Oahu.

“My goal is to become a professional skateboarder and compete in the X Games and the Olympics,” he said, according to the report.

Skateboarding would not be added to the Olympics for another seven years. But here Reynolds is, age 21, having just won the world title in park, one of two skateboarding events that debut at the Games in Tokyo.

Reynolds, who wasn’t named to the four-man U.S. national team in March, consolidated his lead in the Olympic qualification rankings by prevailing over a pair of Brazilians in Sao Paulo on Sunday.

A shirtless Reynolds scored 88 points in the final, beating Luis Francisco (85.50) and Pedro Quintas (85).

No more than three Americans can make the Olympic team in the event, which will make it difficult if three-time Olympic halfpipe snowboarding champion Shaun White decides to continue his skateboarding pursuit. White was the sixth-best American, bowing out in the semifinals in 13th place on Saturday in just his second contest since returning to competitive skating last year.

Back to Reynolds. He grew up on the North Shore and attended the Punahou School, where Barack Obama is the most famous alum. His first name is Tahitian, reportedly referring to the power of Jesus’ crown of thorns.

Reynolds, the son of a surfer, proved a natural on land. After pre-teen media profiles, he blossomed into a world silver medalist last year. He won an Olympic qualifier in China in July to take the top spot in the Olympic rankings despite a best career X Games finish of sixth.

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