How Katie Ledecky can be an underdog at the Rio Olympics

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Katie Ledecky has entered 10 Olympic and World Championships races and won all of them, but her perfection could be put to the test like never before at the 2016 Olympics.

In Rio, Ledecky may have to deal with the addition to the 200m freestyle of the world’s fastest swimmer in the event each of the last two years. Swede Sarah Sjostrom sat out the 200m free last week at the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, where Ledecky won by .16 over Italian world-record holder Federica Pellegrini.

Pellegrini is 27 and debuted at the Olympics in 2004, meaning the veteran could have a tough time keeping pace with Ledecky, nine years her junior, going into 2016.

However, Sjostrom is just 21 and closer to peak age.

The Swede led off the 4x200m free relay in Kazan in a personal-best 1:54.31, which was .85 faster than Ledecky’s winning time in the individual 200m free.

Sjostrom won as many medals as Ledecky in Kazan (five) but sat out the individual 200m free because it could have harmed her fitness for her “main events,” the 50m and 100m freestyles and butterflies.

While in Kazan, Sjostrom said she will most likely enter the 200m free at the Rio Olympics. That makes sense, given the 200m free in Rio takes place on the two days Sjostrom has off from her main events.

“I bet that she’ll swim that event in Rio,” Ledecky said of Sjostrom and the 200m free on Eurosport on Sunday. “I’ve never had the opportunity to race her yet, so, hopefully, I’ll get that chance.”

That could create a female version of the Race of the Century from the 2004 Olympics, when Ian ThorpePieter van den Hoogenband, Michael Phelps and Grant Hackett lined up in the 200m free final.

In Rio, a women’s 200m free final could include the world-record holder Pellegrini, the 2013 World champion Missy Franklin, the 2015 World champion Ledecky, the world’s greatest all-around swimmer Katinka Hosszu and the fastest woman in the event the last two years, Sjostrom.

Regardless of Sjostrom, Ledecky could seek a greater challenge by adding another event — the 100m freestyle. Ledecky could earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic 4x100m free relay team by clocking a top-six time at the Olympic trials either June 30 or July 1.

The Rio Olympic 4x100m free relay takes place on the first day of competition, when Ledecky has no other events.

“You know she’s going to get faster to swim a world-class 200, and with that comes a pretty good 100,” her coach, Bruce Gemmell, said in November.

Ledecky was asked what her 100m free personal best was in Sunday’s Eurosport interview.

“54.5, which is OK,” she said. “It’s not very competitive at this stage yet. Hopefully I can get that time down a little bit.”

Ledecky is right. The 54.55 she swam on Jan. 15 ranks her No. 42 in the world and No. 9 among Americans. However, that 54.55 came at a time of the year when swimmers aren’t peaked. There’s reason to believe she would have been much faster in a 100m free in Kazan.

Even if Ledecky made it onto the U.S. 4x100m relay in Rio — likely with Franklin and Simone Manuel leading the group — the U.S. would be decided underdogs.

An Australian quartet anchored by sisters Bronte and Cate Campbell broke the 4x100m free relay world record at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Australia then routed the U.S. by 1.77 seconds at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships. At Worlds, the U.S. was 3.13 seconds behind Australia and .94 behind the Netherlands.

After Ledecky won five golds in five events in Kazan, her coach said there were “many ways” his 18-year-old pupil can get better after her impending break to have her wisdom teeth removed.

“Her turns are still not particularly good,” Gemmell told media in Kazan. “She of course can get stronger.”

That might be required for perfection at the Rio Olympics.

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Cyclist in induced coma after Tour of Poland crash

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Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen was put into an induced coma Wednesday after suffering injuries in a crash on the final stretch of the Tour of Poland, organizers said.

A massive crash at the finish of the first stage resulted in Dylan Groenewegen‘s disqualification from the race.

Leading a bunch sprint, Groenewegen veered toward the right barrier, pinching countryman Jakobsen, who barreled into the barrier meters from the finish line.

Jakobsen went head over heels, his bike went airborne and the barriers exploded onto the road, causing more cyclists to crash.

Jakobsen was airlifted to a hospital in serious condition and was put into an induced coma, the Tour de Pologne press office said.

Groenewegen crossed the finish line first but was disqualified, giving Jakobsen the stage win, according to the stage race website.

Groenewegen, a 27-year-old Jumbo-Visma rider, owns four Tour de France stage wins among the last three years.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) “strongly condemned” Groenewegen’s “dangerous” and “unacceptable” behavior. It referred Groenewegen’s actions to a disciplinary commission for possible sanctions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

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