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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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WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics