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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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Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

MORE: Five-time Olympic kayak medalist banned four years

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