Katie Ledecky comes back from suit malfunction for nationals win

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IRVINE, Calif. — It’s not about the suit for Katie Ledecky.

On Thursday morning at the U.S. Championships, the five-time Olympic champion experienced what she guessed was the most unexpected obstacle thrown her way in the minutes before a major meet race.

Ledecky ripped a racing swimsuit in the locker room. Then she ripped a backup suit. With about 15 minutes before her 200m freestyle heat, Ledecky put on a practice suit of a different makeup, not designed for top speed.

“It didn’t make me too nervous,” Ledecky said. “It was a blessing in disguise because it really pushed me to get out of my comfort zone.”

Ledecky suffered a rare defeat in her preliminary heat, placing second to Gabby DeLoof, but she still easily advanced to Thursday night’s final. Job done. She of course won the final, without any wardrobe malfunctions, by 1.22 seconds over Allison Schmitt.

Ledecky said many women ripped suits in the morning and even some more before Thursday’s 200m backstroke finals. She blamed the heat at this outdoor Southern California meet, creating sweat and moisture and making it uncomfortable to change in the locker room.

“Everyone’s suit is sticking to them,” she said. “We’re all sweating in there.”

Ledecky’s experience is reminiscent of others. Swede Therese Alshammar famously ripped a high-tech suit before the 2008 Olympic 50m freestyle semifinals, where Dara Torres helped hold up the race for Alshammar to change.

Michael Phelps had a mid-race malfunction when his googles filled with water in the 2008 Olympic 200m butterfly. He had to count strokes to know where he was in the pool.

“It is a good challenge,” said Ledecky, who raced Thursday in front of Phelps and Kobe Bryant in a VIP section. “You’re going to get big meets, and things like that are going to happen. It’s all just about adjusting and making sure you’re prepared.”

Nationals continue Friday with finals at 9 p.m. ET, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming for subscribers on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. Caeleb Dressel, the seven-time 2017 World champion, is expected to headline the action in the 100m butterfly.

Ledecky has two events left at nationals — the 400m freestyle on Saturday and 1500m freestyle on Sunday.

Swimmers are vying for spots at the two biggest international meets before the 2020 Olympics — August’s Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo and the 2019 World Championships in South Korea.

Once a swimmer makes the Pan Pacs team in one event — like Ledecky by winning the 800m free on Wednesday — he or she can swim any event at Pan Pacs. The two fastest swimmers per individual Olympic event, using best times from nationals and Pan Pacs, qualify for worlds.

Missy Franklin, a four-time 2012 Olympic champion, failed to qualify for Pan Pacs and worlds by not making the A final of either the 100m or 200m frees the first two days.

In other events Thursday, Olympic champion Ryan Murphy won the 200m backstroke by 1.53 seconds over Jacob Pebley. Murphy is motivated by his defeats at the 2017 Worlds, where Russian Evgeny Rylov won the 200m back. Rylov is the only man to go faster than Murphy’s 1:54.15 this year.

Micah Sumrall, formerly Micah Lawrence, won the 200m breaststroke in her first major meet since failing to make the Rio Olympic team. Sumrall, a two-time world medalist in the 200m breast, had turned to coaching before deciding to return to competition last year.

Triple 2017 World medalist Kathleen Baker and 16-year-old Regan Smith tied for the women’s 200m backstroke title in 2:06.43.

Andrew Seliskar emerged as 200m free champion by .23 over Olympian Blake Pieroni, who had won the 100m free on Wednesday. Seliskar, a former junior world-record holder, entered five events at the 2016 Olympic Trials, but the 200m free was not one of them. He came into nationals ranked fifth in the U.S. in the 200m free this year.

Olympic silver medalist Josh Prenot overtook Andrew Wilson in the last half of the men’s 200m breast, cruising to win by 1.43 seconds in 2:07.28, the fastest time in the world this year.

Dressel was upset by Michael Andrew in the 50m butterfly, one day after shockingly finishing sixth in the 100m free.

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SWIM NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Results | Swimmers to Watch

Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record with slopestyle gold

Mark McMorris
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Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, American David Wise earned his first major ski halfpipe title since repeating as Olympic champion in 2018. Wise landed back-to-back double cork 1260s to end his winning run, according to commentators.

“I wouldn’t still be out here if I didn’t think I had a chance,” Wise, 32 and now a four-time X Games Aspen champ, said on the broadcast. “I’m not going to be the guy who just keeps playing the game until everybody just begs me to stop.”

U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

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