Missy Franklin, Ryan Lochte miss medals; Katie Ledecky breaks record at Worlds

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Missy Franklin and Ryan Lochte finished out of the medals in their first individual events at the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, on Tuesday, one day after the U.S. went medal-less on one day at a Worlds for the first time ever.

The U.S. has won four medals in three days in Kazan with five days left. Its lowest medal total at an Olympics or Worlds in the last 50 years was 21 at the 1994 World Championships.

“I guess we got to go back to the drawing board,” U.S. Olympic champion Matt Grevers said after an unsatisfying bronze in the 100m backstroke on Eurosport. Grevers’ response was to a question about his event, but it could be relevant for every U.S. star other than Katie Ledecky.

Ledecky broke her 1500m freestyle world record for the second time in as many days, winning gold in 15:25.48 to improve 2.33 seconds on her record set in the semifinals Monday.

Ledecky won by 14.66 seconds over New Zealand’s Lauren Boyle, refusing to take it easy despite having to swim a 200m freestyle semifinal 30 minutes after finishing the 1500m free.

“It’s really inspiring to see someone like that because it really shows what is possible for the human body, especially in women’s swimming,” Boyle said on Eurosport. “It really shows what we can all be capable of.”

In the 200m free semis, Ledecky was in last place at 100 meters but recovered to finish third in her race and make the eight-woman final by .25, saying she thought over the last 50 meters, “Don’t mess this up.” She and Franklin will go head to head in the final Wednesday.

“That was a lot harder than I was hoping it would be,” Ledecky told Michele Tafoya on Universal Sports, after slipping down stairs following her 1500m free medal ceremony. “I only have 2,000 meters left of racing this week.”

Franklin finished fifth in the 100m backstroke Tuesday, 1.14 seconds behind Australian winner Emily Seebohm, her first individual World title in her fifth Worlds appearance. Franklin had a poor start, was in last place at the 50m turn and couldn’t catch silver medalist Madison Wilson of Australia or bronze medalist Mie Oe Nielsen of Denmark.

Seebohm said she was not surprised of Franklin’s fifth-place finish.

“I think she has worked very hard, and it took her a long time to get over her injury [back spasms at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships last August],” Seebohm, the silver medalist behind Franklin at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds, said on Eurosport. “I think she’ll be back on fire next year. We can’t expect to be on our best all the time. It’s definitely a fight to the finish, and she fought the whole way. … She’ll be back to give me another go next year.”

Franklin won the 100m back at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 World Championships. She has three individual events left this week — 200m back, 100m freestyle and 200m free.

“Definitely disappointed with the 100,” Franklin said, according to The Associated Press. “Obviously, that’s not what I wanted to go. But that’s where I am right now.”

Worlds broadcast schedule | Tuesday results | Women’s preview | Men’s preview

Lochte finished fourth in the 200m free, .69 behind British winner James Guy. Lochte, 31, came in with the fastest qualifying time but went slower in the final than the semifinals.

“I never thought I’d make the final,” Guy, who also took 400m free silver behind Sun on Sunday, said on Eurosport. “I never thought I’d beat Sun Yang.”

China’s Sun led after 150 meters but lost to Guy by .06, ending Sun’s bid to become the first swimmer to sweep the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees at a Worlds. Ledecky could become the first. German world-record holder Paul Biedermann took bronze behind Guy and Sun.

Lochte has one individual event left this week, the 200m individual medley.

Neither Franklin nor Lochte was at peak form in 2014 or so far in 2015, at least in part due to injuries.

Franklin, 20, suffered back spasms two days before the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships, the major international meet of that year, and left with one individual medal, a bronze.

Lochte, 31, re-aggravated a 2013 knee injury in 2014 and, like Franklin, won one individual medal at Pan Pacs. Lochte won four individual gold medals at the 2011 Worlds.

Also Tuesday, Grevers earned the first U.S. men’s medal at Worlds, bronze in the 100m backstroke after he won the 2013 World title and the 2012 Olympic title. Grevers finished .26 behind Australian gold medalist Mitch Larkin and .18 behind French silver medalist Camille Lacourt.

“Right off the start, my head slipped of my cap, I kind of hurt a lot of momentum,” Grevers told Tafoya on Universal Sports. “There’s a lot of little things that went wrong. Turn wasn’t great. My breakouts weren’t my best. A little disappointing. I thought I had a lot more in the tank than that. … I thought I should have won that.”

Russian Yulia Efimova capped the night by winning the 100m breaststroke, igniting the Kazan crowd. Olympic and 2013 World champion Ruta Meilutyte took silver, followed by Jamaican Alia Atkinson. Efimova was competing after serving a doping ban. Atkinson won Jamaica’s first Worlds medal ever.

Great Britain’s Adam Peaty broke the world record in the 50m breaststroke semifinals at 26.42. The 50m breast is not contested at the Olympics.

Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh and South African Olympic champion Chad le Clos led the qualifiers into Wednesday’s 200m butterfly final.

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Men’s 200m Freestyle
Gold: James Guy (GBR) — 1:45.14

Silver: Sun Yang (CHN) — 1:45.20
Bronze: Paul Biedermann (GER) — 1:45.38
4. Ryan Lochte (USA) — 1:45.83
5. Sebastiaan Verschuren (NED) — 1:45.91
6. Chad le Clos (RSA) — 1:46.53
7. Aleksandr Krasnykh (KAZ) — 1:46.88
8. Cameron McEvoy (AUS) — 1:47.28

Women’s 100m Backstroke
Gold: Emily Seebohm (AUS) — 58.26
Silver: Madison Wilson (AUS) — 58.75
Bronze: Mie Oe Nielsen (DEN) — 58.86
4. Fu Yuanhui (CHN) — 59.02
5. Missy Franklin (USA) — 59.40
6. Anastaslia Fesikova (RUS) — 59.66
7. Lauren Alice Quigley (GBR) — 59.78
8. Kathleen Baker (USA) — 59.99

Women’s 1500m Freestyle
Gold: Katie Ledecky (USA) — 15:25.48
Silver: Lauren Boyle (NZL) — 15:40.14
Bronze: Boglarka Kapas (HUN) — 15:47.09
4. Lotte Friis (DEN) — 15:49.00
5. Jessica Ashwood (AUS) — 15:52.17
6. Sharon van Rouwendaal (NED) — 16:03.74
7. Kristel Kobrich (CHI) — 16:06.55
8. Aurora Ponsele (ITA) — 16:09.57

Men’s 100m Backstroke
Gold: Mitch Larkin (AUS) — 52.40
Silver: Camille Lacourt (FRA) — 52.48
Bronze: Matt Grevers (USA) — 52.66
4. Xu Jiayu (CHN) — 52.89
5. Chris Walker-Hebborn (GBR) — 53.02
6. Ryosuke Irie (JPN) — 53.10
7. Evgeny Rylov (RUS) — 53.23
8. Liam Tancock (GBR) — 53.37

Arnie the Terminator: Aussie rival to Katie Ledecky an unlikely swim story

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In August 2016, a 15-year-old Australian swimmer named Ariarne Titmus followed the Rio Olympics as she prepared to fly to Maui for the Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

Titmus paid special attention to her best events, the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles. Katie Ledecky swept them, breaking two of her own world records.

“I remember watching her races thinking, like, this chick is nuts,” Titmus told NBC Sports in Australia early this year. “She’s just doing stuff that no one’s gonna get near.”

Three years later, Titmus stunned Ledecky at the world championships, chasing down the American in the last 50 meters of the 400m freestyle. She became the first woman to beat Ledecky in a distance race in seven years and a bona fide rival one year from the Tokyo Games.

Ledecky at first attributed her late fade to tight and tired legs. Then she spent seven hours the next day in a South Korean emergency room with what she believed was a stomach virus.

“She was sick,” said Dean Boxall, Titmus’ South African-born coach, “and we happened to pounce.”

Titmus’ time — 3:58.76, a personal best by .59 — was slower than Ledecky’s wins at her previous three major international meets — Rio Olympics, 2017 Worlds and 2018 Pan Pacific Championships.

“It wasn’t a good swim by Arnie,” said Boxall, a vocal coach known to shout Ledecky’s name in practices. “And I know it wasn’t a good swim by Katie. Definitely not. But there was things that Arnie did in that race I was pleased with, and there was a lot of things that she did that I was not happy with at all.”

The Olympic postponement to 2021 gives Titmus and Boxall another year to work on those inefficiencies down in Brisbane. Another year to mature, to turn 20 years old before the Games.

“I try not to dwell on that [beating Ledecky] too much,” Titmus, sometimes called “the Terminator” by Australian press, said of the world championships, where she also out-split Ledecky in the 4x200m free relay and took bronze behind the American in the 800m free. “Next year’s the big one at the Olympics.”

Nowhere is swimming closer to a national sport than in Australia, but none of its Olympic champion Dolphins hail from Tasmania, an island 150 miles south of the mainland.

Notable Tasmanian sports persons include cricketer Ricky Ponting, retired NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose and woodchopping world champion David Foster, but no listed swimmers.

Stephanie Rice, the last Australian female swimmer to win an individual Olympic title in 2008, visited “Tassie,” the state a little bigger than West Virginia, nearly a decade ago. She met a young Titmus, who still remembers what Rice scribbled: “Be the best you can be.”

“I say it’s my favorite quote,” Titmus said. “She wrote it on my shirt, so it has to be my favorite quote.”

Titmus was born a week before the Sydney Olympics — “She loved watching Thorpie,” her mom said — and grew up on 16 acres of country land. The family — parents Steve and Robyn and younger sister Mia — had horses, a trampoline and a swimming club just down the road in Launceston.

They also had an indoor pool (areas of Tasmania approach freezing in the winter). One evening more than 15 years ago, Robyn was chopping vegetables and peered to see her elder daughter, then a toddler without formal swim lessons, doing the breaststroke.

“We didn’t know anybody at the swimming club,” said Steve, a longtime TV journalist. “And we turned up and said, hi, we’re the Titmuses. We’ve got a daughter called Ariarne, and she wants to race. Tuesday nights they had club night, and she jumped in the water, and away she went.”

Titmus wasn’t the fastest at first, but by the time she won a third Australian junior title, she became too big for the Apple Isle.

“[My coach] said, look, you can’t really do anything else down here,” Titmus remembered. “There’s no one for you to train with. There’s no one for you to race. It’s all up in Queensland. And he said, if you really want a shot at this, you should really move.”

The family relocated to Brisbane when she was 14 or 15, following Titmus’ coach.

We packed up the car, got on the boat, sailed to Melbourne,” said Robyn, a former national-level track sprinter. “We even stopped at Albury on the way for a training session because the coach she had at the time was a hard task master.”

Right around that time, she first met Boxall while with the Australian junior national team.

“I originally thought this guy is nuts,” Titmus said. “He gave us this speech about the New Zealanders or something were trying to be better than us. His veins were popping. It was crazy. I was like, I’m never ever going to have a coach like him.”

Boxall became her coach about a year later.

“I’ve got great athletes here that hurt themselves, and they enjoy going through the pain,” he said, “but you want to try and get that little bit extra from someone. You have to actually go there with them a little bit.”

In a sitdown, on-camera interview, Boxall first told how he met Titmus, his first impression of her and a bit about their relationship. He first mentioned Ledecky, umprompted, when asked the fourth question, about Titmus’ progression.

Boxall noted that Titmus swam the 400m freestyle in 4:09.81 at the August 2016 Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

“Ledecky went 3:56:46,” Boxall said, correctly noting Ledecky’s Rio Olympic world record to the hundredth, “so we’re 13 seconds off [at] that stage.”

Titmus raced Ledecky for the first time at the 2017 Worlds and finished fourth in the 400m, closing the gap to six seconds. In 2018, she took second to Ledecky at Pan Pacs, 1.16 seconds behind, becoming the first Australian to break four minutes in the event.

At 2019 Worlds, Boxall needed to be alone during the 400m free final. He left the Australian team box and snuck into a VIP area. As Titmus reeled Ledecky in, Boxall stood up and ran.

“Like a shot of adrenaline,” he said. “I couldn’t contain myself, but I was calmer as I’d ever been as well.

“That’s the first race that Arnie has raced Katie and actually was in the race. … Prior to that, it was just Katie.”

Titmus swam 10 seconds faster than when Boxall first compared her to Ledecky in August 2016.

“She’s 2.4 seconds off [Ledecky’s] world record,” Boxall said. “We know what the benchmark is, and we’re still a long way off.”

Titmus recorded the eighth-fastest 400m freestyle in history. Ledecky owns the top seven times.

“The greatest thing apart from obviously winning, I think, [is] being able to actually race someone who has been on her own for so long,” Titmus said. “I find it so crazy that now I’m in this situation where she’s my main rival.”

Scroll down the list, and you’ll see that the top 27 times in history (aside from the now-banned suit era) are shared by Ledecky (23) and Titmus (four).

“She’s certainly special,” Boxall said of his pupil. “Special enough? We’ll see.”

MORE: Simone Manuel’s experiences shape her voice for change today

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Collin Morikawa jumps into projected Olympic golf field

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Collin Morikawa would not have qualified outright for the Tokyo Olympics had they been held this summer. Now, after winning the PGA Championship, he is third overall in global qualifying for the Tokyo Games in 2021.

Morikawa, a 23-year-old who took the same number of PGA Tour starts to win his maiden major as Tiger Woods (29), went from an alternate for the expected four-man U.S. Olympic team to No. 2 among Americans in the early qualifying standings, according to golf rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter.

Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed are the other Americans in qualifying position, according to @VC606.

Morikawa, whose father is of Japanese descent, turned professional in June 2019 and made his first 22 cuts, a feat bettered only by Woods.

The 23-year-old could become the youngest U.S. Olympic male golfer since 1904 (important note: golf was not part of the Olympic program from 1908 through 2012). Come next summer, he will still be younger than all but seven men from the Rio Olympic golf field of 60, according to Olympedia.org.

Olympic golf qualifying standings will fluctuate significantly. There are five major championships left in the qualifying window, starting with the U.S. Open in September and finishing with next summer’s U.S. Open, both airing on NBC Sports.

How tough will it be to make the U.S. Olympic team? Consider that the three Americans to win majors in 2019 — Woods, Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland — are currently not in Olympic qualifying position.

The U.S. has seven of the top nine in the Official World Golf Ranking, which is calculated differently than Olympic qualifying.

MORE: Nosferatu is golf’s Olympic rankings guru. Who is he?

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