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Katie Ledecky races to tie in NCAA Champs 200-yard freestyle

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Katie Ledecky notched another career first at the NCAA Championships on Friday. Not a record (she has plenty of those). But a tie.

Ledecky, a Stanford freshman, and Mallory Comerford, a Louisville sophomore, touched the wall in the 200-yard freestyle final at the same time in 1 minute, 40.36 seconds, in Indianapolis. Video is at the 40-minute mark here.

“I put my head down, and I had no idea what happened,” Ledecky said on ESPN3 on her 20th birthday. “I never tied for first before. That’s pretty cool.”

Ledecky is undefeated in individual finals at major international meets — 15 for 15 at the Olympics, World Championships and Pan Pacific Championships.

NCAA swimming is done in 25-yard pools versus 50-meters pools in major international meets.

The 200-yard free was the most anticipated event of the four-day NCAA meet. But the attention hyped a different showdown, between Ledecky, the five-time Rio gold medalist, and Stanford teammate Simone Manuel, who bagged four medals in Rio.

Manuel is the only swimmer to beat Ledecky in a freestyle final longer than 100 meters since January 2014, doing so twice this season.

Manuel, the faster sprinter, led after 50, 100 and 150 yards on Friday. Comerford was out even slower than Ledecky but came back on both Olympians in the last 50 yards with the fastest split time. Manuel got third, .24 behind (full results here).

“It’s amazing to be racing them,” Comerford said, standing next to Ledecky. “It’s just a great experience. I was just sticking to my own race and having some fun. I’ve got nothing to lose.”

Comerford, who is five months younger than Ledecky, was 13th in the 2016 Olympic Trials 200m freestyle, more than four seconds slower than Ledecky.

But she made everyone take notice at NCAAs on Wednesday night, posting the fastest split in the 4×200-yard freestyle relay. Faster than both Ledecky and Manuel.

Ledecky won NCAA titles in the 4×200 free relay and the 500-yard free on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. She’s an overwhelming favorite in the 1650-yard free on the final day of the meet Saturday.

She called racing at NCAAs “pretty unique.”

“It ranks right up there with competing for the U.S.,” said Ledecky, who has turned down millions of dollars to stay eligible for NCAA competition. “You’re competing for your teammates that you go to school with. It’s something pretty special.”

Earlier Friday, Stanford sophomore Ella Eastin broke Ledecky’s American record in the 400-yard individual medley. Ledecky beat Eastin in setting the record at the Pac-12 Championships but did not race it at the NCAA Championships.

Stanford is favored to take home its first NCAA women’s team title since 1998, when the Cardinal were led by another freshman — Misty Hyman, who would go on to win the 2000 Olympic 200m butterfly.

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Annemiek van Vleuten wins La Course with epic comeback (video)

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Annemiek van Vleuten, the cyclist who returned from a horrific Rio Olympic road race crash to become world champion, repeated as La Course winner with an epic last-kilometer comeback on Tuesday.

Van Vleuten sprinted from several seconds behind countrywoman Anna van der Breggen to win the one-day race, including four categorized climbs, contested on part of the Tour de France stage 10 course later that day.

“With 300 meters to go, I still thought I got second, and then I saw her dying,” Van Vleuten said, adding later, according to Cyclingnews.com, “With 500 meters to go my team director in the car gave up and stopped cheering for me.”

In Rio, van Vleuten suffered three small spine fractures and a concussion when her brakes appeared to lock, and she flipped over into a ditch during the road race. Van Vleuten was alone in the lead at the time with about seven miles to go of the 87-mile course.

She was eventually hospitalized in intensive care.

Van der Breggen went on to win the Olympic title, while van Vleuten returned quick enough to race at the October 2016 World Championships.

Van Vleuten, 35, won her first world title 13 months after the Rio Games, taking the time trial crown ahead of van der Breggen by 12 seconds. She also won the 10-stage Giro Rosa that concluded on Sunday.

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Greg Van Avermaet triples Tour de France lead in first mountain stage

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Belgian Greg Van Avermaet more than tripled his Tour de France overall lead in the first day in the mountains on Tuesday, but Wednesday may be his last day in the yellow jersey.

Julian Alaphilippe became the first Frenchman to win a stage in this year’s Tour, claiming the 10th stage that included three first-category climbs and a beyond-category climb but ended with a descent and the contenders together in the peloton.

Van Avermaet finished fourth, 1:44 behind Alaphilippe. More importantly, Van Avermaet crossed the Grand-Bornand finish line 1:39 ahead of a group that included most of the main contenders to top the podium in Paris on July 29.

The Olympic road race champion increased his overall lead from 43 seconds to 2:22.

Van Avermaet has worn the maillot jaune for a week straight, but he is not a climber, and the biggest test of the Tour thus far is imminent.

“No disrespect, but he’s not going to win the Tour,” said Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who is in second place.

The Tour continues with stage 11, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold on Wednesday (full broadcast schedule here). The 67-mile stage starts in the 1992 Winter Olympic host Albertville and includes two beyond-category climbs. It concludes with a category-one summit at La Rosière.

“Tomorrow’s a climber’s day,” Van Avermaet said. “It will be super hard to keep [the yellow jersey]. … Tomorrow it will be over.”

Chris Froome, eyeing a record-tying fifth Tour de France title, is best placed of the pre-Tour favorites.

Froome is in sixth place and 3:21 behind Van Avermaet. Froome is followed by Spaniard Mikel Landa in the same time and 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali another six seconds back.

Colombian Rigoberto Uran, the 2017 Tour runner-up, finished 2:36 behind the group with Froome, Landa and Nibali.

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