Katie Ledecky completes unprecedented World Championships sweep

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On Aug. 8, 2011, a high school freshman named Katie Ledecky won the U.S. Junior Championship in the 800m freestyle in 8:36.05, knocking 7.45 seconds off her personal best.

Ledecky, then 14, would rank No. 55 in the world in the 800m free for 2011. The time was very impressive, but she was not on the radar for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team just yet.

She made the U.S. Olympic team 11 months later. Then, on Aug. 3, 2012, Ledecky swam in the Olympic 800m free final and clocked the fastest time in the world for the year, an 8:14.63 to beat British champion Rebecca Adlington for gold in London.

On Aug. 8, 2015, the great Ledecky finished another perfect World Championships with an 800m freestyle title, becoming the first swimmer to sweep the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees at a single Worlds in Kazan, Russia, on Saturday.

She did so in her usual fashion, by breaking one of her world records. Ledecky clocked 8:07.39 to win by 10.26 seconds. She chopped 3.61 seconds off her 800m free world record from 2014 of 8:11.00.

“I kind of figured the next step would be under 8:10, kind of thought it would be 8:08,” Ledecky told media in Kazan. “So to see the 8:07 was great. It’s August 8th, I was swimming the 800 and, believe it or not, it would’ve been my grandpa’s 88th birthday.”

Ledecky’s reaction was to slam her right arm into the pool twice while other swimmers were still stroking into the finishing wall.

Why so excited?

“Just a combination of things, being done, swimming so well and finishing on a good note,” Ledecky said. “Couldn’t be happier with how that swim went or how this whole week went.”

Ledecky, coming off a high school graduation and without a driver’s license, also became the third swimmer to win four individual gold medals at a single Worlds. She joined Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in that category.

“I didn’t realize how fast Katie was going, 8:07 is absolutely incredible,” said Jaz Carlin, the British bronze medalist 10.76 seconds behind Ledecky and six years older than Ledecky, on Eurosport. “She’s getting faster every time she races. She’s younger than me. She’s quite a bit younger. So, obviously, yeah, it’s tough. But I think it’s definitely given us girls something to aim for. And it’s really moving the distance events along. And obviously she’s won the 200 now as well, so we all need to work on our speed as well.”

Ledecky has entered 10 Olympic and World Championships events over 2012, 2013 and 2015 and won gold in all of them.

Olympic sports are measured in four-year cycles. It’s hard to come up with strong enough descriptors of Ledecky’s rise in that time.

“It gives you a headache as a coach,” French coach Romain Barnier said on Eurosport before Saturday’s races. “World record in the morning without training [in the 1500m freestyle Monday]. … She doesn’t seem to plateau, and she’s pushing the barriers again and again. … She’s special. She’s the breed of Michael Phelps.”

Ledecky is finished swimming in Kazan. She goes into the Olympic year hoping for four gold medals in Rio de Janeiro, possibly more if she adds the 100m freestyle, and just may be the biggest star of U.S. swimming.

Phelps and Lochte are in their 30s, though both are still arguably the best in the world in one event each. Missy Franklin, who won zero individual gold medals in Kazan, is not quite in the form that saw her take six overall golds at the 2013 Worlds.

“I set very high goals a couple years ago,” Ledecky said. “I’ve a little bit of a ways to go still. I’m chipping away at those goals.”

Also Saturday, Franklin and Nathan Adrian earned silver medals in the 200m backstroke and 50m freestyle, respectively. Franklin won 2011 and 2013 World titles and the 2012 Olympics in the 200m back, along with holding the world record.

The U.S. has 18 medals with one day left in the eight-day meet. Its fewest medals won at a Worlds or Olympics in the last 50 years was 21 at the 1994 World Championships.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will have coverage of the World Swimming Championships on Saturday from 3-4 p.m. ET.

World Swimming Championships: Saturday results | Broadcast schedule

Franklin took silver behind Australian Emily Seebohm in the 200m backstroke, failing to win a third straight World title in her trademark event. Franklin led Seebohm by 1.31 seconds after 150 meters, but Seebohm ended up prevailing by .53 with the fastest final 50 meters in the field by 1.45 seconds. Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu placed third.

“I put up a fight, and I’m proud of that,” Franklin said on Eurosport. “That’s all that matters.”

Franklin, after winning three individual golds and six overall at the 2013 Worlds, will go into the Rio Olympics without a major international meet individual title since 2013.

She took one individual medal (bronze in the 100m back) at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships after suffering back spasms two days before the competition.

Franklin earned silver, bronze (200m freestyle), fifth (100m back) and seventh (100m free) in her four individual events in Kazan. All of her finals times were at least a half-second slower than in 2013.

“Trying to come back from that [back injury], gaining confidence again in my swimming and really getting back to the shape I want to be in,” Franklin said. “This meet, even though the results weren’t where I wanted them to be, they’re exactly where I need them to be right now. I’m going to be much better when I come back next summer.”

Australia swept the men’s and women’s 100m and 200m backstrokes with Seebohm and Mitch Larkin. The U.S. had swept the backstrokes at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds.

In the 50m free, French Olympic champion Florent Manaudou took back the title of world’s fastest swimmer in 21.19 seconds. U.S. Olympic 100m free champion Adrian was .33 behind for silver, followed by Brazil’s Bruno Fratus for bronze.

South African Chad le Clos repeated as 100m butterfly World champion, clocking an African record 50.56. Phelps, the three-time Olympic 100m fly champ who is swimming the 100m fly at the U.S. Championships in San Antonio on Saturday, had a best time in 2014 of 51.17.

Earlier this week, le Clos said Phelps has been “talking a lot of smack about how slow the butterfly is,” around the world. Phelps said this spring he was open to re-adding the 200m butterfly to his schedule because the world’s best times were not that much more impressive than 15 years ago.

On Saturday, le Clos again mentioned Phelps.

“I just did a time that [Phelps] hasn’t done in four years, so he can keep quiet now,” le Clos said on Eurosport, incorrectly, actually, since Phelps hasn’t clocked 50.56 or better in the 100m butterfly since 2009, when he set the world record of 49.82.

Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh, who upset le Clos for 200m fly gold, took silver in the 100m behind the South African. He was followed by Joseph Schooling of Singapore, a nation whose four Olympic medals are in table tennis and weightlifting. American Tom Shields was fourth.

On Friday, Phelps clocked a 200m butterfly time at the U.S. Championships that would have beaten Cseh’s 200m butterfly winning time at Worlds by .54.

“I saw his time,” Cseh said on Eurosport. “It’s quite good, but it doesn’t matter because I won the World Championship.”

Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom won the 50m butterfly, which is not an Olympic event, in 24.96. Sjostrom also won the 100m butterfly and took silver in the 100m freestyle at Worlds.

Sjostrom skipped the 200m freestyle, but her time leading off the 4x200m free relay was faster than Ledecky’s gold medal-winning time in the individual 200m free. Sjostrom said she will most likely swim the 200m free at the Rio Olympics, which could pose the biggest competition for Ledecky in the American’s four individual events.

Sjostrom came back for the 50m freestyle semifinals an hour after the 50m fly final in Kazan and qualified third into Sunday’s final along with 100m free champion Bronte Campbell, 2013 World 100m free champion Cate Campbell and defending World champion Ranomi Kromowidjojo. American Simone Manuel qualified sixth into the 50m free final.

U.S. Olympic 100m back champion Matt Grevers was the No. 2 qualifier into Sunday’s 50m back final. The 50m back is not on the Olympic program. Grevers took bronze in the 100m back earlier in the meet.

Lochte, Franklin, Adrian and Manuel combined to win the first-ever World Championships 4x100m freestyle mixed relay to cap the night.

Ten-year-old girl competes at World Swimming Championships

Men’s 50m Freestyle
Gold: Florent Manaudou (FRA) — 21.19
Silver: Nathan Adrian (USA) — 21.52
Bronze: Bruno Fratus (BRA) — 21.55
4. Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 21.56
5. Andrii Govorov (UKR) — 21.86
5. Marco Orsi (ITA) — 21.86
7. Kristian Gkolomeev (GRE) — 21.98
8. Ben Proud (GBR) — 22.04

Women’s 200m Backstroke
Gold: Emily Seebohm (AUS) — 2:05.81
Silver: Missy Franklin (USA) — 2:06.34
Bronze: Katinka Hosszu (HUN) — 2:06.84
4. Daria Ustinova (RUS) — 2:07.64
5. Jenny Mensing (GER) — 2:08.49
6. Dominique Bouchard (CAN) — 2:08.51
7. Hilary Caldwell (CAN) — 2:08.66
8. Eyglo Osk Gustafsdottir (ISL) — 2:09.53

Men’s 100m Butterfly
Gold: Chad le Clos (RSA) — 50.56
Silver: Laszlo Cseh (HUN) — 50.87
Bronze: Joseph Schooling (SIN) — 50.96
4. Tom Shields (USA) — 51.06
5. Mehdy Metella (FRA) — 51.24
6. Konrad Czerniak (POL) — 51.28
7. Pawel Korzeniowski (POL) — 51.46
8. Li Zhuhao (CHN) — 51.66

Women’s 800m Freestyle
Gold: Katie Ledecky (USA) — 8:07.39 WR
Silver: Lauren Boyle (NZL) — 8:17.65
Bronze: Jaz Carlin (GBR) — 8:18.15
4. Jessica Ashwood (AUS) — 8:18.41
5. Lotte Friis (DEN) — 8:21.36
6. Boglarka Kapas (HUN) — 8:22.93
7. Sarah Kohler (GER) — 8:23.67
8. Sharon van Rouwendaal (NED) — 8:24.12

Peter Snell, 3-time Olympic track champion, dies

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Three-time Olympic champion and world mile record-holder Peter Snell has died in Dallas. He was aged 80.

Snell, who is regarded as one of the greatest middle-distance runners of all-time, won the 800m at the 1960 Rome Olympics aged 21, and the 800m-1500m double at the 1964 Tokyo Games.

He was the first man since 1920 to win the 800m and 1500m at the same Olympics. No male athlete has done so since.

Snell also won two Commonwealth Games gold medals in the 880 yards and mile at Perth in 1962.

He twice held the mile world record and also held world records in the 800m, 880 yards, 1000m, and the 4xmile relay.

Snell’s death was confirmed by family friend and New Zealand sports historian Ron Palenski, who heads New Zealand’s Sport Hall of Fame.

“It is very sad news, a grievous loss for New Zealand,” Palenski said. “In terms of track and field, he is probably the greatest athlete New Zealand has had.”

Snell was coached by Arthur Lydiard, an innovator who was regarded as one of the world’s finest coaches of middle and long distance athletes. Lydiard also coached Murray Halberg to win the 5000m at Rome in 1960.

Snell’s wife, Miki, said he died suddenly at his home in Dallas around noon on Thursday. He had been suffering from a heart ailment and had required a pacemaker for several years.

Snell’s athletics career was relatively short. He retired in 1965 to pursue educational opportunities in the United States.

Snell graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in human performance from the University of California, Davis, and later with a Ph.D. in exercise physiology from Washington State University.

He became a research fellow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 1981, later becoming director of the university’s Human Performance Center.

Snell was knighted by New Zealand in 2009. A statue in his honor stands at Cooks Gardens, Whanganui, near his birthplace of Opunake, where he broke the mile world record for the first time in 1962.

Grand Prix Final results show women’s figure skating revolution progressing quickly

Grand Prix Final podium
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The revolution in women’s figure skating is being televised.

That’s a turn of phrase on an admittedly dated reference (Google it). The point is we all have been able to witness, from TV broadcasts or live streams, a season with the most radical change in the sport since child prodigy Sonja Henie, then age 11, began doing jumps in her programs nearly a century ago.

What we watched other child prodigies do at last week’s Grand Prix Final boggled the minds of even those who saw it coming, because no one imagined it coming this soon and to this degree.

This essentially Russian revolution, which has taken maximum advantage of the scoring system and youthful body types to overthrow longtime technical norms of women’s skating, has split the discipline into haves and have-nots.

There are those who have the high-scoring quadruple jumps or multiple triple Axels to seize all the medals. And those who do not have those big jumps and, as of now, no chance to regain the podiums from which they have been summarily ousted.

Given what already had happened this season, it was not surprising that Russian first-year seniors Alena Kostornaia, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova swept the medals in the senior Final. Each had qualified by winning two of the six events in the Grand Prix series.

What is surprising is how far and fast the Troika – as NBC commentator and two-time Olympian Johnny Weir artfully nicknamed them, in a reference to a traditional Russian three-horse sled – has pushed the envelope and how far and fast they have left everyone else behind.

And imagine what the gap could be if women were allowed to do quads in the short program, which likely will be proposed at next year’s International Skating Union congress.

A year ago, it was shocking when the Troika, then all juniors internationally, swept the medals at the senior Russian Championships. Now it will be shocking if they don’t do it again at this year’s Russian Championships, which take place Dec. 24-29.

No women were regularly doing quads until last season. Consider what the Troika has done just this autumn:

*Kostornaia, 16, did not attempt a triple Axel in international competition before this season. Now she is doing one in the short program and two in the free, and all three were very well executed as she took gold at the Grand Prix Final.

*Shcherbakova, 15, began her international season the way she had finished last year at junior worlds, with one quad Lutz in the free skate; at the Grand Prix Final, she did two quad Lutzes (one clean, one under-rotated) and attempted her first quad flip (fall) in finishing second.

*Trusova, 15, began this season after having landed quad Lutz, quad Salchow and quad toe loop as a junior, but she was not attempting more than two in a program. In her senior Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada, she did four quads (three clean). At the Grand Prix Final, she added an excellent quad flip for five free skate quads, one of which she doubled and three of which were clean. She also attempted (and under-rotated) a triple Axel for the first time in the short program.

Even with the mistakes, the quads still racked up enough points for Shcherbakova that she beat a flawless Kostornaia in the free skate. And they gave Trusova a 20.71-point overall margin over fourth finisher Rika Kihira, 17, of Japan, who already had mastered triple Axels but has dropped so far from contention against the Troika that Kihira tried (and fell on) her first quad in competition.

And you have to feel a little sorry for reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova of Russia, at the technical cutting edge of her sport less than two years ago, now utterly overmatched – and still just 17 years old.

Zagitova’s free skate, an error-filled mess, dropped her from second after a fine short (less than six points behind Kostornaia) to sixth overall, more than 42 points behind Kostornaia and nearly 28 behind the third-place Trusova.

Even had she skated cleanly, having a long program with no quads or triple Axels meant the base value of Zagitova’s elements was more than 30 points less than Trusova’s, more than 20 less than Shcherbakova’s and about five less than Kostornaia’s. Zagitova would have needed otherworldly Grades of Execution marks and program component scores to compete for a medal.

Zagitova acknowledged the futility of her current situation by telling a Russian TV station Friday she was effectively putting her competitive career on hold by withdrawing from the Russian Championships and not asking to be considered for selection for either the European or world championships.

According to a Eurosport summary of the interview, Zagitova said she needed to find new motivation to continue competing. The story quoted her as saying she intended to do shows and keep training under her longtime coach, Eteri Tutberidze, who also coaches the Troika.

Zagitova also said she intended to learn new elements and ways to go into jumps.

“I need to find the desire to want to go into a competition,” she said, according to a translation. “The athletes who have gone down that road will understand me.”

Those who decry how much the quads have thrown the sport’s athletic-artistic balance out of whack found some satisfaction in Kostornaia’s having won with a performance and interpretive quality rare for a skater of her age.

Yet Kostornaia also accumulated some 21 free skate points for her triple Axels, about 13 more points than fifth-place finisher Bradie Tennell of the U.S. got for two clean double Axels. Even if Tennell had not made some relatively small mistakes, there was no way she could make up that difference.

And remember that if Trusova had cleanly landed the quad she doubled and the quad that resulted in a fall, she could have overcome not only her short program mistake but also the margin Kostornaia built in program components with clearly superior skating skills and artistry.

Tennell, 21, the top U.S. woman at the 2018 Olympics (ninth) and the last two World Championships (sixth and seventh), this season has displayed the best overall level of skating in her career. But a lack of quads and triple Axels has dropped her exponentially further behind the leaders.

Yet Tennell presses on.

“She may never catch them, but we keep pushing forward, trying to improve on both components and technical,” said Denise Myers, who coaches Tennell. “She is not settling for where she is now.”

About a month ago, I began to wonder if changing the factoring of the five Program Component Scores (PCS) so that they were the same for women as for men would level a playing field that has tilted so dramatically toward the jumpers.

Since the International Judging System was introduced in 2004, factors of .8 (short program) and 1.6 (long) have been applied to the raw total of each woman’s component score. They are 1.0 and 2.0 for men.

The logic behind the difference was until last season, a men’s free skate was 30 seconds longer with one more element. (Why it also applied to the short program is unclear, since the number of elements and time have been the same.)

“The idea of possible new factors for the program components for men was evaluated in the past season, because for the top skaters the technical score in the last years had considerably increased,” Italy’s Fabio Bianchetti, chair of the ISU technical committee for singles and pairs, said in an email.

“At the moment, for the majority of the [men], the [PCS] is still corresponding to about 50 percent of the total score. In some cases, the relation might not be exact, but a rule must consider all the skaters and not only the top five.

“Now we are dealing with the same situation for the ladies. This is something totally new, and we will study the problem during the season. But again, we cannot look at a couple of skaters only.”

In a recent interview with Nick Zaccardi of NBC Sports, Weir seconded the idea of giving the women’s PCS scores the same weight as the men’s.

“It would give them a little better chance,” Samuel Auxier, an international judge and former U.S. Figure Skating, said in a text message last month.

So much has changed on the jump front since then that it turns out using the men’s PCS factors would have had almost no impact on the women’s results at the Grand Prix Final.

With some computational help from skatingscores.com, I recalculated the PCS scores from the Final with the 1.0 and 2.0 factors, added them to the TES scores and found just one difference: Kostornaia would have moved from second to first in the free skate. The overall and short program finish order would have been the same.

Actual Grand Prix Final scores
One of these (factor .8 / 1.6) shows the actual scores. Skatingscores.com
A re-imagined scoring of the Grand Prix Final
The Refactored scores show what they would be with factors of 1.0 and 2.0. Skatingscores.com

So, the 20% adjustment of PCS factor gender equality is not enough to put women without the most difficult jumps into medal contention.

And as Bianchetti pointed out, making that change or a more substantial one in the women’s factoring must take into consideration not only a few exceptional new talents.

“I truly do not believe that anyone seriously thought a lady would deliver four quads so quickly and especially at such a young age,” Ted Barton of Canada, who was involved in the creation of IJS, said in a text message last month. “Alysa Liu is a good American example of what the present is and future might be.”

(And, yes, there is an elephant in the room: whether the young talents are getting exaggerated PCS scores from judges smitten by their jumping. That’s a question for another day – or lifetime.)

Yet there is every indication the Troika are only the leading edge of a blizzard of jumping phenoms, not only from Russia. After all, Junior Grand Prix Final silver medalist Liu, 14, last season became the youngest singles champion in U.S. history with three triple Axels, and she has added a quad Lutz this season.

“The factoring and [other] calculations were developed on what was being done at that point,” Barton said. “Now that skaters have shown new possibilities, the technical committees will look to see what adjustments can and should be made. Interesting times, indeed.”

For now, though, we are seeing in real time the unsettling effect revolutions can have.

And it seems surreal.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: What’s next for Nathan Chen after third consecutive Grand Prix Final win?

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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