Katie Ledecky would not trade 800m for 1500m freestyle at Olympics

Katie Ledecky
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Katie Ledecky figures to capture plenty of gold in Rio.

She won’t be winning one of her best events, however.

She won’t even get a chance to swim it.

Ledecky has been the world-record holder in the 1500m freestyle for almost three years, but the metric mile has never been part of the Olympic program for women.

The longest event the 19-year-old can tackle at the Summer Games is the 800 free.

“It’s not something where I’m disappointed,” Ledecky said recently. “Tell me what events are there, and I’ll work toward those events. This year, the 800m is the longest thing I have to work toward.”

That’s quite a shame, especially for the fans in Rio de Janeiro, Italian coach Stefano Morini said.

“They’ll miss a great performance, almost surely another world record, and probably a swim that would have put her even closer to the times of the elite men,” he said.

Janet Evans, long regarded as the greatest female distance swimmer, held the 1500m world record for almost two decades, until it was taken down by Kate Ziegler in 2007. That mark stood until Ledecky went even faster at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, Spain.

Since then, Ledecky has eclipsed her own 1500m record four more times, most recently with a time of 15 minutes, 25.48 seconds at last year’s Worlds in Kazan, Russia, where she broke the mark she set in the preliminaries by more than two seconds and romped to victory in the final by nearly 27 seconds over runner-up Lotte Friis.

FINA, the sport’s governing body, has pushed to add the women’s 1500m to the Olympic program (along with the 800m free for men), which would match the program at the biennial World Championships. The International Olympic Committee has rejected those proposals, not wanting to add more events to an already crowded schedule.

With the list of races already set for Rio, the next chance to make a change will be at Tokyo in 2020.

“We believe the World Championship program is excellent,” said Cornel Marculescu, executive director of FINA. “We believe it’s also good for Olympics. But there are other criteria. Hopefully for Tokyo they’ll consider our requests differently.”

Morini, who coaches Italian distance swimmers Gregorio Paltrinieri and Gabriele Detti, said the Olympic races are a holdover from a long-disproved belief that women weren’t capable of swimming a grueling event such as the 1500m.

“Obviously, that’s ridiculous,” said American Connor Jaeger, who took silver in the men’s 1500m at last year’s World Championships.

Even more so when considering that men and women have both competed in a 10km open-water event since the 2008 Beijing Games.

“I find it strange that the only races at the Olympics where men and women don’t compete at the same distance are the 800m and the 1500m,” Morini said. “It’s a bit antiquated.”

Women didn’t even compete in swimming at the first four Olympics, joining the program with two events at the 1912 Stockholm Games. There remained a disparity between the number of events for men and women until the 1996 Atlanta Games, when swimming equality was finally achieved with 16 events for both men and women — a pool program that has remained in place ever since.

But men and women have never competed in the same swimming events at the Olympics. While the men’s 1500m free has been around since 1908, the longest individual event for females was 400m until the 1968 Mexico City Games. That’s when the 800m free was added, and it remains their longest pool event at the Olympics.

The World Championships, on the other hand, have grown to include the same events for both men and women, including 50m races in all four of the strokes (as opposed to the Olympics, which have only the 50m free).

Ledecky’s coach, Bruce Gemmell, believes there is a better chance of the IOC approving 50m events for the backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly than adding the women’s 1500m free.

“Everybody wants immediate gratification — short, quick races,” he said.

The 1500m, on the other hand, is a long, tedious race that can look a bit boring to the casual fan — especially when a dominant swimmer such as Ledecky is lapping the field.

Not necessarily what the IOC is looking for in its quest to appeal to a younger, hipper crowd.

“They want to put it on TV, and they want to have 40 people that are in theory competitive to win,” Gemmell said. “If you put a 1500m out there now, or even an 800m for the men, how many people are really competitive to win it? Not very many. I think the 50s are a stroke where at least somebody, even if lose, they can say, ‘Oh, I was only three-10ths (of a second) off.’ That’s a lot in the 50m, but it doesn’t sound like it.”

Ledecky wouldn’t want to add the 1500m free if it meant dropping the 800m, an event she won at the 2012 Olympics and was one of Evans’ signature races.

“There’s such a strong history in it,” Ledecky said. “I don’t think the 800m should ever be eliminated from the Olympics.”

Even without the 1500m free, she’ll be busy enough in Rio. Ledecky is an overwhelming favorite to win the 400m and 800m free (she also holds the world record in those two races) and looks to be one of the top contenders in the 200m free as well. Throw in a couple of relays, and she’s got the potential to take as many five gold medals.

“I don’t think it would add anything this year if she was swimming a 1500m,” Gemmell said. “Just another race.”

MORE: Ryan Lochte: Katie Ledecky beats me in practice

French Open: Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk says crowd ‘should be embarrassed’ for booing her

Marta Kostyuk, Aryna Sabalenka
Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus (left) and Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine before their French Open first round match./Getty

At first, Aryna Sabalenka thought the boos and derisive whistles coming from the French Open crowd were directed at her after a first-round victory Sunday. Instead, the negative reaction was aimed at her opponent, Marta Kostyuk, for not participating in the usual post-match handshake up at the net.

Kostyuk, who is from Ukraine, avoided so much as any eye contact with Sabalenka, who is from Belarus, after the match, instead walking directly over to acknowledge the chair umpire. Sabalenka walked toward the net as if expecting some sort of exchange.

“What happened today, I have to say I didn’t expect it,” Kostyuk said of the crowd. “I did not, but I have no reaction to it. People should be honestly embarrassed, but this is not my call.

“I want to see people react to it in 10 years when the war is over. I think they will not feel really nice about what they did.”

But this is something Kostyuk has been doing whenever she has faced any opponent from Russia or Belarus since her country was invaded by Russia, with help from Belarus, in February 2022.

Perhaps the fans on hand at Court Philippe Chatrier did not know the backstory and figured Kostyuk simply failed to follow tennis etiquette by congratulating the winner after the lopsided result: Sabalenka grabbed six games in a row during one stretch and came out on top 6-3, 6-2.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

“It was a very tough match — I would say tough emotionally,” said the No. 2-seeded Sabalenka, who won her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January.

During an on-court interview in the main stadium, Sabalenka told the spectators she was sure their jeering “was against me, so I was a little surprised, but then I felt your support.”

Before play began on Day 1 of the clay-court tournament, the players did not pose together for the standard photos up at the net after the coin toss to determine who would serve first.

Kostyuk, a 20-year-old who is ranked 39th, won her first WTA title in March at Austin, Texas, by beating a Russian opponent and neither player went to the net afterward that day.

During her pre-tournament news conference on Friday, Sabalenka was asked about the likelihood there would be no handshake on Sunday.

“If she hates me, OK. I can’t do anything about that. There is going to be people who loves me; there is going to be people who hates me,” Sabalenka said then. “If she hates me, I don’t feel anything like that (toward) her.”

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Ryan Crouser breaks world record in shot put at Los Angeles Grand Prix


Two-time Olympic champion Ryan Crouser registered one of the greatest performances in track and field history, breaking his world record and throwing three of the six farthest shot puts of all time at the Los Angeles Grand Prix on Saturday.

Crouser unleashed throws of 23.56 meters, 23.31 and 23.23 at UCLA’s Drake Stadium. His previous world record from the Tokyo Olympic Trials was 23.37. He now owns the top four throws in history, and the 23.23 is tied for the fifth-best throw in history.

“The best thing is I’m still on high volume [training], heavy throws in the ring and heavy weights in the weight room, so we’re just starting to work in some speed,” the 6-foot-7 Crouser, who is perfecting a new technique coined the “Crouser slide,” told Lewis Johnson on NBC.

Sha’Carri Richardson won her 100m heat in 10.90 seconds into a slight headwind, then did not start the final about 90 minutes later due to cramping, Johnson said. Richardson is ranked No. 1 in the world in the 100m in 2023 (10.76) and No. 2 in the 200m (22.07).

Jamaican Ackeem Blake won the men’s 100m in a personal best 9.89 seconds. He now ranks third in the world this year behind Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala and American Fred Kerley, who meet in the Diamond League in Rabat, Morocco on Sunday (2-4 p.m. ET, CNBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock).

The next major meet is the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in early July, when the top three in most individual events qualify for August’s world championships.

Richardson will bid to make her first global championships team, two years after having her Olympic Trials win stripped for testing positive for marijuana and one year after being eliminated in the first round of the 100m at USATF Outdoors.

LA GRAND PRIX: Full Results

Also Saturday, Olympic champion Jasmine Camacho-Quinn of Puerto Rico won the 100m hurdles in 12.31, the fastest time ever this early in a year. Nigerian Tobi Amusan, who at last July’s worlds lowered the world record to 12.12, was eighth in the eight-woman field in 12.69.

Maggie Ewen upset world champion Chase Ealey in the shot put by throwing 20.45 meters, upping her personal best by more than three feet. Ewen went from 12th-best in American history to third behind 2016 Olympic champion Michelle Carter and Ealey.

Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic ran the fastest women’s 400m since the Tokyo Olympics, clocking 48.98 seconds. Paulino is the Olympic and world silver medalist. Olympic and world champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas is on a maternity break.

Rio Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy won the 800m in 1:44.75, beating a field that included most of the top Americans in the event. Notably absent was 2019 World champion Donovan Brazier, who hasn’t raced since July 20 of last year amid foot problems.

CJ Allen won the 400m hurdles in a personal best 47.91, consolidating his argument as the second-best American in the event behind Olympic and world silver medalist Rai Benjamin, who withdrew from the meet earlier this week.

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