Katie Ledecky dominates, Caeleb Dressel upset to open swim nationals

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IRVINE, Calif. — Katie Ledecky didn’t feel very fast. Couldn’t find the gear in the second half of the 800m freestyle on Wednesday night.

She still won by 10 seconds.

Ledecky opened the U.S. Swimming Championships with a convincing — but not especially satisfying — victory in her trademark Olympic event to qualify for August’s Pan Pacific Championships. The five-time Olympic gold medalist bagged an uncharacteristic victory on a night that included two upsets among six finals, notably world champion Caeleb Dressel finishing sixth in the 100m freestyle.

Ledecky was under world-record pace at 350 meters at the outdoor Irvine High School pool. She finished 7.19 seconds slower than her world record in 8:11.98. It’s still faster than any other woman has ever covered 800 meters, giving Ledecky the 19 fastest times in history.

“I’m fine with it, didn’t feel super sharp, but it always takes me a little bit of time to get into these meets,” Ledecky said, noting swimming in 80-degree heat. “My best races are when the first 400 and the second 400 are pretty even.”

It’s nit-picking, but Ledecky’s splits were not even. She went 7.4 seconds slower in the back half than the first 400 meters. Of her 18 other fastest times in history, Ledecky’s biggest difference in splits was 5.9 seconds.

Second-place Leah Smith still couldn’t close on Ledecky, even with a personal best.

Ledecky is just getting started in Irvine. She’s scheduled to swim three more events, starting with the 200m freestyle on Thursday. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA airs live finals coverage at 9 p.m. ET.

SWIM NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Results | Swimmers to Watch

This is the biggest domestic meet between now and the 2020 Olympic Trials because it’s a qualifier for the next two major international meets. It’s likely that the top three finishers per individual Olympic event will make the Pan Pacs team, which is capped at 26 men and 26 women.

Once a swimmer makes Pan Pacs in one event, he or she can swim any event at Pan Pacs, taking some of the pressure off this week’s meet. Swimmers’ best times between nationals and Pan Pacs determine the 2019 World Championships team.

The biggest star in danger of not qualifying for Pan Pacs and worlds is Missy Franklin.

The quadruple 2012 Olympic champion missed Wednesday’s 100m freestyle final. Her only other event this week, in her first major meet since her disappointing Rio Games, is the 200m free on Thursday. Franklin must finish in the top four, but she ranks 10th in the U.S. in the event this year.

The meet already lacks 12-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte, who is suspended until July 2019 for an illegal IV infusion after a social media blunder.

In other Wednesday events, co-Olympic champion Simone Manuel clocked the fastest 100m free ever on U.S. soil — 52.54, also her second-fastest time ever. She beat Mallory Comerford by .55. Margo Geer and Abbey Weitzeil were third and fourth to make the Pan Pacs team, too.

The men’s 100m free didn’t go to plan. Dressel, who won seven medals at the 2017 Worlds, was stunningly sixth (after qualifying seventh into the eight-man final). Dressel lowered the American record in the 100m free twice at worlds but was 1.53 seconds slower than his best time in Wednesday’s final.

Instead, Blake Pieroni clocked a personal-best 48.08 for the upset. Pieroni snuck onto the Rio Olympic 4x100m free relay by placing sixth at trials. He beat a field Wednesday that included all three active members of the Rio 4x100m free final team, edging Nathan Adrian by .17. Adrian lost the 100m free at nationals for the first time since the 2008 Olympic Trials.

Dressel is entered in seven more events this week. All he must do is make the team in one of them, and he can re-enter the 100m free at Pan Pacs.

Olympian Hali Flickinger captured the 200m butterfly by 1.04 seconds over Katie Drabot in 2:06.14. Flickinger, seventh in Rio, made her third straight major international meet in the 200m fly and now ranks third all-time among Americans in the event.

Justin Wright took 1.48 seconds off his 200m fly personal best on Wednesday en route to upsetting Olympians Chase Kalisz and Jack Conger.

Jordan Wilimovsky, fourth and fifth in two Rio distance events, won the 1500m freestyle in 14:48.89, 6.45 seconds ahead of Robert Finke.

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Weightlifting investigation finds doping cover-ups

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DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping cover-ups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

McLaren said 40 positive doping tests were “hidden” in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events. The cases will be referred to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“We found systematic governance failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF,” McLaren said.

The International Olympic Committee said it was studying the report “very carefully,” adding that “the content is deeply concerning.”

McLaren said former IWF president Tamas Ajan was “an autocratic leader” who kept the board in the dark about finances and left officials fearing reprisals if they spoke out. Ajan received cash payments on behalf of the IWF as doping fines from national federations or sponsors, the report said, but what happened to some of the money is unclear.

McLaren said $10.4 million was unaccounted for, based on his team’s analysis of cash going in and out of the IWF over several years. Ajan denies any wrongdoing.

The largest fine recorded in the report was $500,000 paid by Azerbaijan. It’s unclear how that payment was made. On one trip to Thailand for a competition and conference, Ajan collected more than $440,000 across 18 cash payments, according to the report.

“Everyone was kept in financial ignorance through the use of hidden bank accounts (and transfers),” McLaren said. “Some cash was accounted for, some was not.”

McLaren said that the investigation found information which law enforcement “might be interested in,” and that he would cooperate with any later investigations. That was echoed by Ajan’s successor at the IWF.

“The activities that have been revealed and the behavior that has occurred in the years past is absolutely unacceptable and possibly criminal,” IWF interim president Ursula Garza Papandrea said.

She added that the IWF will pass on information to law enforcement if it indicates there were “potential crimes.”

McLaren said Ajan “permitted the (federation) elections to be bought by vote brokers” as he kept the presidency and promoted favored officials. Large cash withdrawals were made ahead of federation congresses, McLaren said, adding that voters were bribed and had to take pictures of their ballots to show to brokers.

The 81-year-old Ajan stepped down in April, ending a 20-year reign as president and a total 44 years in federation posts. A month before that he also gave up his honorary membership of the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement to Hungarian state news agency MTI, Ajan said the IWF’s finances were managed in a “lawful” manner with oversight from the board.

“All my life, I’ve abided by the laws, the written and unwritten rules and customs of the sport,” he said.

Ajan accused McLaren’s team of not giving him enough information to respond to the allegations about his conduct.

Ajan was a full IOC member between 2000 and 2010, voting to select Olympic host cities. A previous complaint about IWF finances in 2010 was closed by the IOC.

McLaren’s investigation was sparked in January when German broadcaster ARD reported financial irregularities at the federation and apparent doping cover-ups.

The focus of the investigation was on the period from 2009 through 2019. McLaren said he heard allegations of misconduct dating back as far as the 1980s, but chose to prioritize more recent matters with stronger evidence.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it welcomed McLaren’s findings.

“Once WADA has had the opportunity to review that evidence as well as the report in full, the Agency will consider the next appropriate steps to take,” it said in a statement.

Some allegations regarding doping misconduct around the 2019 world championships in Thailand and involving athletes from Moldova were passed to the International Testing Agency, which is still investigating.

McLaren, a Canadian law professor, was WADA’s lead investigator for Russian doping and has judged cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Weightlifting’s reputation under Ajan had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

Since he left office in April, the IWF has begun moving its headquarters from Ajan’s home country of Hungary to the Swiss city of Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based.

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Gwendolyn Berry gets apology from USOPC CEO after reprimand for podium gesture

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Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland apologized to her Wednesday “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” after Berry was put on probation last August for one year after raising her fist at the end of the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games.

“I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,” Hirshland said in a statement. “I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.”

Berry and fencer Race Imboden were sent August letters of reprimand by Hirshland, along with each receiving probation, after each made a podium gesture at Pan Ams in Peru.

This week, Berry tweeted that she wanted a public apology from Hirshland. That tweet came after Hirshland sent a letter to U.S. athletes on Monday night, condemning “systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States.”

Then on Wednesday night, Berry said she had a “really productive” 40-minute phone call with Hirshland, USATF CEO Max Siegel and other USATF officials.

“I didn’t necessarily ask for [an apology] from [Hirshland],” Berry said Thursday. Berry said she lost two-thirds of her income after Pan Ams, that sponsors dropped her in connection to the raised fist fallout.

“We came to some good conclusions,” Berry said of the group call. “The most important thing were figuring out ways to move forward. [Hirshland] was aware of things that she did and how she made me feel about the situation, and I was happy that I was able to express to her my grievances and she was able to express to me how she felt as well about the situation.”

Berry said her probation, which is believed to still be in effect, wasn’t discussed. She made a point to say that USATF has always been on her side.

“The conversation was more for awareness purposes, and we’ll probably have more conversations this week,” said Berry.

Berry also plans to participate in a U.S. athlete town hall Friday.

“First and foremost, we should and we will discuss how people are just feeling and how people are holding up because athletes in general, because of the pandemic and because of everything that’s been going on, I know a lot of people are in distress, they’re sad, they’re confused,” she said. “I think that’ll be the main point of the discussion. Just to make sure everybody’s OK. Just to see how everybody’s holding on.”

On Aug. 10, Berry raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after winning the Pan American Games title.

The next morning, Berry said the gesture, which drew memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games, wasn’t meant to be a big message, but it quickly became a national story.

“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she said then. “A lot of things need to be done and said and changed. I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”

Berry said then that the motivation behind her gesture included the challenges overcome of changing coaches and moving from Oxford, Miss., where her family resides, to Houston.

“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” she said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country.”

Berry also said that weekend, according to USA Today, that she was standing for “extreme injustice.”

“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about. Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse,” Berry said, according to that report. “It’s too important to not say something. Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

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