Katie Ledecky looks like Olympic team contender in 100m freestyle

Katie Ledecky
AP
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Katie Ledecky showed she’s a contender, arguably a favorite, to make the U.S. Olympic team in the 100m freestyle at her first meet of the year in Austin, Texas, on Friday.

Ledecky, the World champion in the 200m, 400m, 800m and non-Olympic 1500m frees, chopped eight tenths of a second off her personal best in the 100m free, an event she rarely swims at the top international level.

The 18-year-old clocked 53.75 seconds to finish second in the 100m free final in Austin, behind Swedish rival Sarah Sjöström (full Friday results here).

Sjöström won in 53.12, the fastest-ever in an American pool, and swam the fastest-ever 100m butterfly in an American pool 35 minutes later.

Ledecky won the 400m freestyle about 55 minutes after the 100m free, posting the fifth-fastest time ever in 3:59.54.

She outshined Michael Phelps (first in 100m butterfly, sixth in 100m freestyle), Missy Franklin (sixth in 100m free) and Ryan Lochte (fifth in 100m free and 100m butterfly) on the first of three nights of competition.

The Austin meet continues with finals Saturday and Sunday at 7 ET each night, streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra.

An Olympic 200m free duel between Ledecky and Sjöström has been anticipated since Ledecky won the World 200m free title in August, and Sjöström clocked a faster time leading off the 4x200m free relay. Sjöström opted out of the individual 200m free at Worlds.

Now, it looks like Ledecky may join Sjöström in the 100m free at the Rio Olympics.

One U.S. woman has swum the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles at one Olympics — Shirley Babashoff in 1976. Here’s more from Ledecky discussing the 100m freestyle from August.

Ledecky’s time Friday night would have won the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials 100m free (by .21 of a second) and ranked her No. 2 in the country in the event last year (.07 behind Missy Franklin).

At the very least, Ledecky solidified an argument to be part of the U.S. Olympic 4x100m free relay pool, which is usually six or seven swimmers combined across prelims and finals.

Keep in mind that swimmers train to peak during the summer, but most of the U.S. Olympic medal contenders are competing in Austin. The top two in each individual event at the June/July Olympic trials make the Olympic team.

In other events Friday, Phelps took the 100m butterfly in 51.94 seconds. That’s .47 of a second faster than his time at this meet four years ago.

U.S. Olympic champion Nathan Adrian took the men’s 100m free in 48.91, with Lochte in fifth and Phelps in sixth. All three were part of the 2012 U.S. Olympic 4x100m free relay final quartet and are relay contenders again this year.

Sjöström trounced Dana Vollmer by 1.23 seconds in the 100m butterfly final, clocking 56.38. It marked their first head-to-head since the 2013 World Championships.

Vollmer won the 2012 Olympic title and returned last season after a nearly two-year break that included having a baby. Sjöström won the 2013 and 2015 World titles. They are the only women to break 56 seconds in the event all time.

“I want her to know that I’m going to be there, and I’m going to be a challenge and she wasn’t just going to crush me,” Vollmer told media in Austin. “I didn’t feel like she just blew me away. I felt like I was there ’til the end.”

Vollmer’s time, 57.61, marked her best since 2013. It would have ranked second among Americans last year behind Kelsi Worrell, who is not competing in Austin.

Katie Meili, the fastest U.S. woman in the 100m breast last year, had the best 200m breast time Friday night despite being in a consolation final.

Meili clocked a personal-best 2:23.69, which would have ranked third among U.S. women in 2015 behind two-time World medalist Micah Lawrence and Laura Sogar. Meili was one second faster than Sogar on Friday and nearly five faster than Lawrence.

MORE: Phelps remembers frustration in return to Austin

*Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated no U.S. woman has swum the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles at one Olympics.

World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
Getty
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”

Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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