Ryan Murphy: I’m definitely not world’s best backstroker

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Ryan Murphy was the only man to earn 100m and 200m backstroke medals at worlds, but neither was gold like in Rio, leading to a frank assessment.

“I’m definitely not the best backstroker in the world at this point,” Murphy told media in Budapest after taking silver in the 200m back Friday. “It’s a title I want. So I’m going to do everything I can to get that back.”

The U.S. returned to the world podium in the 200m back, its most storied individual event, but a Russian is at the top.

Evgeny Rylov held off Murphy and Jacob Pebley in the last 50 meters to win Russia’s first men’s global title since Alexander Popov swept the 50m, 100m and 4x100m free titles at the 2003 Worlds.

The Olympic bronze medalist Rylov clocked 1:53.61, topping Murphy by six tenths despite having the slowest final split of the top six swimmers. Pebley was a further .85 back, edging Russian Kliment Kolesnikov for bronze by .08.

The U.S. used to own the 200m back, winning 20 straight major international meets (Olympics/Worlds/Pan Pacific Championships) from 1995 through 2014.

But Americans were shut out of the medals entirely at the 2015 Worlds before Murphy restored order in Rio.

Murphy swept the backstrokes in 2016, including breaking the 100m back world record. But the 22-year-old relinquished both titles in Budapest by going six tenths slower in the 100m and 200m than a year ago and taking home silver and bronze medals.

Murphy pointed to a more taxing academic slate as a senior at California, where he took a lighter class load in the Olympic year.

“No one’s going to outwork me the next three years,” said Murphy, who turned pro after the last NCAA season. “I just didn’t have that same level of focus, that same amount of motivation to be great [this year].”

Pebley, 23, improved upon his fifth-place finish in the Olympic 200m back by going .46 faster in Budapest.

Rylov, 20, lowered his European record by .36 this year and figures to be a major rival for Murphy and Pebley for years to come.

Men’s 200m Backstroke Results
Gold: Evgeny Rylov (RUS) — 1:53.61
Silver: Ryan Murphy (USA) — 1:54.21
Bronze: Jacob Pebley (USA) — 1:55.06
4. Kliment Kolesnikov (RUS) — 1:55.14
5. Xu Jiayu (CHN) — 1:55.26
6. Peter Bernek (HUN) — 1:55.58
7. Ryosuke Irie (JPN) — 1:56.35
8. Danas Rapsys (LTU) — 1:56.96

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Kristoffersen topples Hirscher to win giant slalom at worlds

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ARE, Sweden — Norwegian skiing is in safe hands, even with its beloved king now in retirement.

Henrik Kristoffersen gave Norway its second individual gold medal of the world championships by toppling an under-the-weather Marcel Hirscher to win the giant slalom on Friday.

With Kjetil Jansrud also victorious in the downhill last week, Norway appears in great shape heading into the post-Aksel Lund Svindal era.

Svindal signed off his illustrious career with a silver medal behind Jansrud in the downhill, and said he was leaving behind a strong generation of Norwegian skiing talent.

Kristoffersen is at the forefront of that — especially now that he has ended his long wait for a medal at a world championship.

The 24-year-old Kristoffersen had finished fourth in his last three races at the worlds — the giant slalom and slalom in 2017 and the slalom in 2015 — and headed into his second run of the GS in third place behind leader Alexis Pinturault and Hirscher, the favorite and one of skiing’s all-time greats.

However, Kristoffersen produced an aggressive run under the lights, his speed and flow particularly apparent in the bottom section, to win by 0.20 seconds over Hirscher. Pinturault won the bronze medal, 0.42 seconds back.

“It was about time to get a medal,” said Kristoffersen, who wasn’t necessarily expecting it to come in GS.

Kristoffersen’s last win in the discipline came at Meribel in 2015 and he has been consistently behind Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup winner and defending Olympic and world GS champion. He finished second to Hirscher at last year’s Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Kristoffersen was without a win in any discipline for a year but said he gained confidence from the course being doused with salt to maintain the snow surface amid unseasonably warm weather. The temperature in Are for the first leg was 8 C (46 F).

“There’s no one that skis on salt as much as Norwegians do,” he said. “Even though I haven’t trained on salt in GS in a long, long time, I have it from childhood.”

Hirscher’s preparations for the race were affected by a bout of flu that kept him in bed for much of the past two days. He acknowledged after the race that the likelihood of him lining up on the starting gate wasn’t high on Thursday.

“Normally,” Hirscher said, “if you have regular work on those days, you normally tell your boss I’m done for the day.”

Yet he managed to be only 0.10 seconds behind Pinturault after an error-free first run, keeping Hirscher on course for a record-tying seventh gold medal at the worlds. But he went wide at two gates in the top section of his second run, causing him to lose 0.41 seconds on Kristoffersen in the middle section.

“Second place is the first loser but Henrik had an amazing day with two great runs,” Hirscher said. “Henrik is at the top for such a long time. He was more than ready for a world title.”

Hirscher, who was noticeably sniffing after the race, added that he was “looking forward to getting back to bed again” to rest up ahead of Sunday’s slalom.

When Pinturault crossed the finish line in third place, Kristoffersen clenched his fists before walking into the finish area, crouching on one knee and acknowledging the jubilant Norwegian fans in the grandstand.

For Pinturault, it was his second medal of the championships after winning the Alpine combined on Monday.

Wesenberg wins first U.S. skeleton World Cup medal in two years

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With a bronze medal in Lake Placid earlier today, Kendall Wesenberg became the first American to reach the World Cup podium in skeleton in two years.

Wesenberg, who finished 17th at her first Olympics in PyeongChang, had a combined time of 1:51.10 in Lake Placid. Prior to today, her last podium finish at the World Cup was in St. Moritz in January 2017.

“This has never been my strongest track, so we really broke it down piece by piece, and I think it paid off,” Wesenberg said, according to USA Bobsled and Skeleton. “The second run, I kind of tried to throw it away at the top there. By the time I made it to corner 10, I was just thinking ‘build speed, build speed.”

Wesenberg, 28, grew up in California’s Central Valley, but her interest in sliding sports piqued while watching the 2010 Vancouver Games. When the commentators discussed the athletic backgrounds of the athletes, Wesenberg realized she played some of the same sports growing up. A quick Google search brought her to the USA Bobsled and Skeleton page. She told her siblings she was thinking of trying skeleton. They said she’d never do it. Challenge accepted.

Wesenberg emailed a U.S. coach and signed up for a combine and driving training in January 2011. Seven years later, she was sliding on Olympic ice.

Sliding coverage continues today on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, with women’s bobsled live at 3:15 p.m. ET and men’s bobsled live at 4:15.