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

Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

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Italian skier Elena Fanchini, whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in Dec. 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won a silver medal in downhill at the 2005 World Championships and also won two World Cup races in her career — both in downhill.

She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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