How Katie Ledecky can be an underdog at the Rio Olympics

2 Comments

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.

Michael Phelps feels in 2007 form after another world-leading time

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

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
Getty
0 Comments

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

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)
0 Comments

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!