Katie Ledecky needs help to win 2 golds to open swimming worlds

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Katie Ledecky dominated to win her first gold of the world championships. She needed help for her second one.

Ledecky, possibly en route to a record-tying six gold medals at a single worlds, won the 400m freestyle in the second-fastest time in history in Budapest on Sunday.

An hour later, Ledecky swam the third leg of the U.S.’ 4x100m free relay that took gold by .29 over rival Australia. But Ledecky had the slowest split of the U.S. quartet by .67 (and 1.04 seconds slower than her split on the Rio Olympic silver-medal-winning team).

She needed help and got it from Mallory Comerford, who broke the American 100m free record leading off, and Kelsi Worrell and Olympic 100m free co-champion Simone Manuel. The U.S. women broke the American record in the event.

Five American records fell overall Sunday, including Caeleb Dressel breaking the men’s 100m free mark leading off the 4x100m free en route to gold (video here).

One world record came down, too. Sarah Sjostrom shattered the 100m free world record by .35 leading off the Swedish 4x100m free quartet that ultimately finished fifth.

WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Schedule/Results

Earlier, Ledecky clocked 3:58.34 in the 400m free to win by 3.2 seconds over countrywoman Leah Smith. China’s Li Bingjie earned the bronze. Ledecky holds the nine fastest times ever, including the world record of 3:56.46 from Rio.

“There’s no disappointment,” Ledecky said of missing her world record by 1.88 seconds. “It’s a world championship gold medal. There’s nothing to complain about there.”

Ledecky, the quadruple 2016 Olympic champion, won her third straight world title in the 400m free and is now up to 11 world titles overall. She has four more races this week and is favored for gold in all of them.

She can tie Missy Franklin‘s female record of six golds from the 2013 Worlds. Michael Phelps won seven golds at the 2007 Worlds.

In other races Sunday, China’s Sun Yang won his third straight world 400m freestyle title, whooping Australian rival and Rio gold medalist Mack Horton by 2.47 seconds (video here).

Sun, 25, bagged his eighth individual world title, trailing only Ryan Lochte (10) and Phelps (15) on the all-time list.

In semifinals, Sjostrom was the top qualifier into Monday’s 100m butterfly final. While Sjostrom is the heavy favorite, Worrell qualified third into the final as she seeks a first individual major international meet medal.

Kevin Cordes broke his month-old American record in the 100m breaststroke semifinals with a 58.64. Olympic champion Adam Peaty was the fastest qualifier into Monday’s final in 57.75, followed by Cordes and Olympic bronze medalist Cody Miller (59.08).

Dressel broke the American record in the 50m butterfly semifinals, a non-Olympic event. Dressel took .15 off the old record by clocking 22.76 as the fastest qualifier into Monday’s final.

Rio gold medalist Katinka Hosszu began her quest to a possible four individual world titles by topping the 200m individual medley semifinals. Americans Melanie Margalis and Madisyn Cox join her in Monday’s final.

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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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