Katie Ledecky smashes her first world record since Rio Olympics

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You could say Katie Ledecky‘s first race as a professional swimmer was memorable. She destroyed one of her world records by five seconds on Wednesday.

The five-time Olympic champion won a 1500m freestyle at a USA Swimming Pro Series meet in Indianapolis in 15 minutes, 20.48 seconds. It’s her first world record since the Rio Olympics. World records are usually broken in August, when swimmers are tapered for major international meets. Not May.

“I knew I was going to have a good swim,” Ledecky told media in Indianapolis but adding she didn’t expect to go that quick. “I’ve just been training really, really well, doing some things I haven’t done before, just, like, times in practice.

“Was pretty surprised when I saw the 20 [seconds next to 15 minutes on the scoreboard]. I knew as it was going on, it was a great swim. Maybe it was going to be 24, 25, 26, somewhere around there. Something under 15:30, I would say. When I saw the 20, yeah, I was pretty shocked.”

Ledecky reacted to the record by smashing her fist in the water and sticking her tongue out before the runner-up touched the wall 49.4 seconds later. Ledecky ended her longest drought between world records since she broke the first of her 14 marks in 2013.

“It’s a feeling that never gets old,” said Ledecky after her first world record since relocating from the Washington, D.C., area to Stanford. “Each one is unique and special.”

She now owns the eight fastest women’s 1500m freestyle times. The next-fastest swimmer, retired Dane Lotte Friis, has a personal best that is 18.4 seconds slower than Ledecky’s world record.

The women’s 1500m free makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo in 2020. Ledecky is undefeated over the distance in five years of senior competition. Her original target for this season in the 1500m free was to break 15:30 after going 15:31 to win 2017 Worlds by 19 seconds.

“Might have to recalibrate some goals a little bit now,” she said. “That’s one I’ll never forget. … couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Ledecky is racing this week for the first time since turning professional following the NCAA Championships in March, where she competed as a Stanford sophomore.

NBCSN, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and the NBC Sports app will air live coverage of the meet starting Friday.

Ledecky is also entered in the 400m freestyle (Thursday), 100m freestyle (Thursday), 400m individual medley (Friday), 200m freestyle (Friday), 200m individual medley (Saturday) and 800m freestyle (Saturday).

Other individual U.S. Olympic champions in the field are Nathan AdrianMatt GreversLilly KingSimone Manuel and Allison Schmitt.

Broadcast Schedule
Thursday (7 p.m. ET): USASwimming.org
Friday (7 ET): Olympic Channel, OlympicChannel.com, Olympic Channel app*
Saturday (7 ET): NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app
Olympic Channel coverage also streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for Olympic Channel subscribers.

Swimmers are preparing for the U.S. Championships in July and Pan Pacific Championships in August, the two meets that will determine the 2019 World Championships team.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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Another Jesse Owens Olympic gold medal being sold

Jesse Owens
AP
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One of Jesse Owens‘ four 1936 Olympic gold medals will be put up for sale next week by Goldin Auctions.

Owens triumphed in the face of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany at the Berlin Games, taking the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.

This could be the second Owens gold to be sold in recent years, after one was auctioned in 2013 for $1,466,574, the highest price ever for a piece of Olympic memorabilia.

Two more were said to be put up for auction in 2017, but there are no widespread reports of sales actually happening.

This gold medal was gifted by Owens to John Terpak, a U.S. Olympic weightlifter in 1936 and 1948, after Terpak helped Owens garner speaking engagements, according to Goldin. The previous gold that sold for $1.4 million was gifted by Owens to a different friend.

Terpak died in 1993 and passed the medal on to his son and daughter, who consigned it to Goldin.

The medal is part of Goldin Auctions’ Holiday Auction from Monday through Dec. 7 on GoldinAuctions.com. The listings also include Tommy Lasorda‘s autographed lineup card from the 2000 Olympic baseball gold-medal game.

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Jesse Owens Olympic Gold Medal Jesse Owens Olympic Gold Medal