Three takeaways from USA Swimming Nationals

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Three thoughts following the USA Swimming National Championships, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast, heading into the world championships in three weeks … 

1. Katie Ledecky will have her best medal output ever at worlds

Here’s another adjective for Katie Ledecky: Consistent. Her times at the 2016 Olympic Trials and 2017 World Championships Trials:

100m Freestyle
2016: 53.99
2017: 54.35

200m Freestyle
2016: 1:54.88
2017: 1:54.84

400m Freestyle
2016: 3:58.98
2017: 3:58.44

800m Freestyle
2016: 8:10.32
2017: 8:11.50

Total
2016: 14:58.17
2017: 14:59.13

In four finals covering 1,500 meters, Ledecky swam within one second of her pool time at the Olympic Trials. Some key differences from year to year:

  • The Olympic Trials was an eight-day meet. The World Championships Trials was five days.
  • The Olympic Trials ended five weeks before the Olympics. The World Championships Trials ended three weeks before the world championships. This could have impacted Ledecky’s tapering schedule. She said last week she was less tapered for world trials than she was for Olympic Trials, which makes swimming nearly identical times all the more impressive.
  • Ledecky is coming off her freshman year at Stanford.

Ledecky will contest the exact same individual events in Budapest as she did at the 2015 Worlds — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees — and she is No. 1 in the world this year in each event, comfortably. She is expected to swim one more relay than in 2015, adding the 4x100m free to her 4x200m free.

Her path to a potential six gold medals (tying Missy Franklin‘s female worlds record) is boosted by two swimmers whom she will not be racing.

Swede Sarah Sjöström, who came the closest of anyone to beating Ledecky in Rio, is skipping what would have been a showdown with Ledecky in the 200m free in Budapest to focus on 50m and 100m events.

Australian Cate Campbell, the 100m freestyle world-record holder, is skipping worlds altogether. This is key, given Campbell anchored Australia to 4x100m free relay gold over the U.S. at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics.

Australia loses more than one second without Campbell in its relay quartet. Counting times from each nation’s nationals, Australia (without Campbell) would beat the U.S. (with Ledecky) by one tenth of a second in an on-paper 4x100m free.

MORE: Full U.S. roster for worlds

2. Caeleb Dressel joins Phelps, Lochte

In the last 15 years, only two U.S. men have raced in four individual events at a single Olympics or world championships — Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.

Well, Caeleb Dressel can join that club in Budapest. The 20-year-old rising Florida senior qualified for the 50m and 100m butterfly and freestyles. He’s also eligible for five relays, meaning he must choose from nine total events at the eight-day Budapest meet.

No way he swims them all. For one, the 50m freestyle prelims and semis, 100m butterfly prelims and semis and 4x200m free relay prelims and final are all on the same day. (Dressel squeaked into the 4x200m free relay pool by placing sixth at nationals.)

Dressel has been the next big phenom in U.S. sprint freestyles since he was a high schooler, swimming for the same club team as Rio gold medalists Ryan Murphy and Joseph Schooling. He almost quit the sport entirely three years ago as the No. 1 recruit in the nation.

But he may be better in the butterfly. Dressel clocked the fastest time in the world in the 100m fly by .42 at nationals, lowering his personal best by 1.35 seconds. Only Phelps and Ian Crocker have swum faster among Americans all time.

Medals in Dressel’s other three individual events will be harder to come by. He ranks Nos. 3, 4 and 5 in the world in the 50m free, 100m free and 50m fly.

3. Lilly King, Yulia Efimova times three

The most memorable head-to-head in Rio was between American Lilly King and Yulia Efimova in the 100m breaststroke. King memorably finger-wagged an image of the Russian and then said she disagreed with Efimova being allowed to compete in Rio due to her previous doping ban.

King would beat Efimova in the 100m breast, but less remembered is that King flamed out in the 200m breast semifinals. Efimova made that final and finished second.

Well, King has improved drastically in the 200m breast. In sweeping the breaststrokes last week, she lowered her 200m personal best by 2.2 seconds.

Now, King and Efimova are right next to each other in the 2017 world rankings in every breaststroke, which should make for plenty more headlines in Budapest:

50m Breast
1. King — 29.66
2. Efimova — 29.88

100m Breast
1. Efimova — 1:04.82
2. King — 1:04.95

200m Breast
1. Efimova — 2:19.83
2. King — 2:21.83

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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Conseslus Kipruto tests positive for coronavirus, canceling world-record bid

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Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion, tested positive for the coronavirus without symptoms, which will keep him from a world-record chase on Friday, according to his social media.

The Kenyan was to race in the first in-person Diamond League meet of the year in Monaco on Friday.

“Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities,” was posted. “Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League.

“I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well.”

Kipruto, 25, is the 14th-fastest steepler in history with a personal best of 8:00.12. The world record is 7:53.63, set by Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2004.

Last year, Kipruto won the world title by .01, extending a streak of a Kenyan or Kenyan-born man winning every Olympic or world title in the event since the 1988 Seoul Games. He was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot until opening his season extremely late on Aug. 24.

MORE: Trayvon Bromell’s road back through destruction, death

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Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities. Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League on August 14th. I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well. Wish to thank Monaco for all the work they have done and I wish them and my colleagues a wonderful competition. Athletics is back and I will be back as well. Anyone willing to organise a steeple once I can be cleared? @diamondleaguemonaco #nike #quarantine #WR #Kenya

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