Katie Ledecky wins again at nationals; Lilly King sets Russian showdown

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Katie Ledecky, racing while not very rested, still lowered her fastest time in the world this year in the 200m freestyle by a half-second Wednesday night.

And Lilly King set up another showdown with her Russian rival.

Ledecky took her second title in as many days at the USA Swimming Nationals, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast.

The quadruple Rio Olympic champion clocked 1:54.84 to win by 1.84 seconds over Leah Smith, repeating their one-two finish from the 800m freestyle Tuesday in Indianapolis.

“Certainly growing in confidence in that race,” Ledecky said. “It’s right on, or faster than what I was at Trials last year [1:54.88].”

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The top two swimmers per individual event are in line to make the team for the world championships in Budapest in July, plus extra swimmers in the 100m and 200m frees for relays.

The women’s 200m free was loaded with not only Ledecky and Smith, but also Mallory Comerford, who on Tuesday swam the second-fastest 100m free ever by an American. Plus, Olympic 100m free champion Simone Manuel and Olympian Melanie Margalis.

They made up the top five in the 200m free final, putting them all in the world 4x200m free relay pool.

Ledecky has one race left at nationals, the 400m freestyle on Friday. She is the least tapered she’s ever been at a trials meet, meaning she should be much faster at worlds.

If she finishes top two in the 400m free, she’ll be in line to swim six events at worlds in Budapest, her busiest schedule yet at an Olympics or worlds. In 15 career Olympic/world events, Ledecky brought home 14 golds and one silver.

In other events Thursday, King took 2.2 seconds off her 200m breaststroke personal best to win in 2:21.83 over Bethany Galat.

Only Rebecca Soni and Micah Lawrence have swum faster among Americans all time. Only Russian rival Yuliya Efimova has swum faster this year (though significantly, 2:19.83). King of course won the Rio 100m breast over Efimova but didn’t make the Olympic 200m breast final.

King smiled and laughed when asked if she looked forward to facing Efimova for the first time since Rio.

“Of course, I love racing fast people,” King said. “That’s why I’m here. I’m here to race the fast people. I’m here to chase people.”

Olympic silver medalist Josh Prenot failed to make the world team in the men’s 200m breast, finishing third behind Rio teammate Kevin Cordes and Nic Fink.

Townley Haas convincingly won the men’s 200m free in a personal-best 1:45:03. Haas had the fastest 4x200m free relay split in Rio but finished fifth in the individual final at his first Olympics.

His time on Thursday is second to only one man over the last three years — Olympic champion Sun Yang.

Rio 4x100m free member Blake Pieroni finished second Thursday (1:46.30) to nab the other world team spot.

Zane Grothe (1:46.39) and Olympic bronze medalist Conor Dwyer (1:47.25) were third and fourth and made the relay. The last time Dwyer did not qualify for the 200m free at a major international meet was the 2012 Olympics.

Olympic champion Ryan Murphy took the 200m backstroke followed by Jacob Pebley in a repeat of the Olympic Trials.

Kathleen Baker won the women’s 200m backstroke by 2.17 seconds in 2:06.38, the fastest time in the world this year. The Olympic 100m back silver medalist dropped 2.98 seconds off her personal best in the 200m back on Wednesday.

Regan Smith, a 15-year-old who finished second, will in Budapest become the youngest American to race individually at a worlds since Elizabeth Beisel in 2007.

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Bernard Lagat commits to Olympic marathon trials, eyes age record

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Bernard Lagat, a 44-year-old, five-time Olympian, reportedly said he will race the Olympic marathon trials on Feb. 29 in a bid to break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner.

“I feel like I can still improve,” Lagat said, according to Runner’s World. “I’m going to give it my best.”

Lagat, a two-time Olympic 1500m medalist, moved to the marathon after becoming the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history at the Rio Games, placing fifth in the 5000m.

He clocked 2:17:20 in his 26.2-mile debut at the 2018 New York City Marathon. He lowered it to 2:12:10 at the Gold Coast Marathon in Australia on July 7 but did not previously commit to entering the trials.

If Lagat finishes in the top three at the marathon trials, he is in line to become the third-oldest U.S. Olympic track and field athlete in history. The oldest are race walker John Deni (49 years old in 1952) and hammer thrower Matt McGrath (48 years old in 1924), according to the OlyMADMen.

Lagat ranks outside the top 20 among U.S. marathoners in this Olympic cycle. The fastest are Galen Rupp (2:06:07), Leonard Korir (2:07:56, from Sunday’s Amsterdam Marathon) and Scott Fauble (2:09:09).

No American has competed in six Olympics in track and field. Lagat’s first two Olympic appearances were for Kenya.

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Natalie Geisenberger, Olympic luge champion, will not race this season

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For the first time in eight years, there will be a new World Cup women’s luge champion.

Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger — the seven-time defending champion and two-time defending Olympic singles gold medalist — announced that she isn’t sliding this season because she and her husband are expecting their first child in April.

“Our happiness is on the way,” Geisenberger said on her Facebook page.

Geisenberger plans to return next season and still has hopes to compete at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where she could match fellow German great Georg Hackl’s feat of winning three consecutive singles golds.

With Geisenberger not sliding this season, the top returning women from last year’s World Cup standings now are Julia Taubitz of Germany and Summer Britcher of the U.S. — second and third, respectively, in 2018-19.

Geisenberger has a luge record-tying four Olympic golds in all, being part of Germany’s victories in the team relays in Sochi in 2014 and Pyeongchang in 2018 as well.

Her 49 World Cup singles wins are another record, and she’s one of two sliders to win seven consecutive World Cup titles — Austria’s Markus Prock took the men’s championships each year from 1990-91 through 1996-97.

Geisenberger’s break from sliding only adds to how the World Cup standings — and the German roster — will look very different this season. Dajana Eitberger, who was fourth in last season’s World Cup standings, is also pregnant and expecting a baby in February. And Tatjana Huefner, who was sixth overall last season, has retired.

Huefner won five consecutive World Cup titles before Geisenberger took over and began her seven-year streak of championships. Geisenberger earned medals 11 times in 12 singles races last year — six golds, four silvers and one bronze.

“We are so happy for you even though we will miss you this season!” two-time Olympic singles gold medalist Felix Loch of Germany wrote in a message to Geisenberger on Instagram.

Geisenberger has been in the top three of the World Cup standings in 12 consecutive seasons. She was third in 2007-08, finished second in each of the next four seasons, and then began her title streak in 2012-13.

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