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

Katie Ledecky

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

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara

Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)

There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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