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

U.S. junior champions crowned in ladies’ and men’s events

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Gabriella Izzo is the newest junior ladies’ national champion, crowned this week at the U.S. Championships in Detroit. Junior ladies’ national champions of the past include eventual Olympians Mirai Nagasu, Gracie Gold, Polina Edmunds and Bradie Tennell.

Izzo had a commanding lead after the short program, with 60.97 points, where she pulled off her first-ever triple Lutz, triple loop combination in competition. (However, it was deemed under-rotated.) Regardless, her 111.45 points in the free skate combined for 172.42 points and the gold medal.

Audrey Shin, who actually won the free skate by just over a point, earned the silver medal with 165.61 points. Emilia Murdock took home the bronze with 154.48 points.

On the junior men’s side, Ryan Dunk rebounded from second after the short program to win the event. His 132.85-point free skate was enough to crack the 200-point overall score, the only man in the field to do so, and win the gold.

Men’s junior champions include eventual world champion Nathan Chen (twice) as well as Olympians Vincent Zhou and Jason Brown.

Dinh Tran finished second with 196.03 points after a fourth-place short program. Joonsoo Kim, who lead after the short program on Tuesday, ended up with the bronze medal with 187.95 points.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream each junior competition and replays will also be available on-demand. Check out the full schedule and live streaming information here.

The junior rhythm dance took place earlier Wednesday. Siblings Caroline and Gordon Green lead the field with 70.82 points, while Avonley Nguyen and Vadym Kolesnik are second with 65.92 points. The brother-sister team of Oona and Gage Brown are in third with 63.34 heading into Friday’s junior free dance.

Also Wednesday, Laiken Lockley and Keenan Prochnow took the lead in the junior pairs’ short program. The junior pairs’ free skate is Thursday. Kate Finster and Balazs Nagy are second, followed by Isabelle Martins and Ryan Bedard in third.

MORE: Full streaming schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the junior and senior U.S. Championships 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.

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Chloe Kim, David Wise among X Games headliners

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The X Games return to Aspen, Colorado, this week at Buttermilk Mountain. A marquee event on the yearly snowboarding and freeskiing calendar, the X Games will feature a handful of Olympic gold medalists and notable names in action sports. Below are a few storylines to watch for this week:

Nearly full field of Olympic gold medalists will compete in Aspen

All four freestyle skiing gold medalists in X Games events (halfpipe, slopestyle) and five of six Olympic snowboarding champions (slopestyle, halfpipe, big air) are expected to compete in Aspen. Among them is Chloe Kim, who has not lost a contest since the Olympics. She finished last season with a win at the US Open, and has three victories already this season, including at the Dew Tour in December. Since the Olympics, Kim’s star has only grown: she’s thrown out the first pitch at a Dodgers game and become an awards show regular, but her ability to crush her competition on the pipe remains unchanged.

In addition to Kim, the three other U.S. gold medalists from 2018 should all contend: in men’s ski halfpipe, two-time defending Olympic gold medalist David Wise has continued to impress this season, but as in previous years, he’ll be challenged by his teammates, Aaron Blunck and Aspen native Alex Ferreira, who would skip school as a kid to watch the X Games in person. Snowboard slopestyle gold medalists Red Gerard and Jamie Anderson are both podium threats as well.

After missing Olympics, can Sildaru sweep in Aspen?

Three years ago, a quiet and unassuming Kelly Sildaru won her first X Games title at 13, becoming the youngest ever winner in a winter event. Pegged early as a star for the PyeongChang Games in both slopestyle and halfpipe, the Estonian teenager missed the Olympics with a torn left ACL. Sildaru, who hails from a country with no mountains, will attempt a rare triple in Aspen: she’ll compete in slopestyle, halfpipe, and big air. No winter sports athlete has ever won three gold medals at the same X Games contest. Sildaru missed last year’s event due to her knee injury and has looked sharp so far this season: she won the U.S. Grand Prix in halfpipe and the Dew Tour in slopestyle. Sildaru has four X Games medals in total: two in slopestyle and two in big air.

White’s protégé awaits his big moment

Toby Miller learned from the best: the 18-year-old was mentored by three-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, who brought Miller to PyeongChang as his guest. White hasn’t competed since the Olympics, focusing instead on skateboarding, while Miller is having a notable season of his own: he finished third at the Dew Tour and second at the U.S. Grand Prix. The U.S. halfpipe contingent remains deep: Olympians Jake Pates, Ben Ferguson and Chase Josey are all contenders on any given day, though PyeongChang bronze medalist Scotty James will likely be the favorite.

Big tricks

The X Games are often a staging point for new tricks: in 2017, Norway’s Marcus Kleveland became the first to land a quad in competition, only to be topped by Canadian Max Parrot, who won the event with a quad of his own. Chloe Kim and PyeongChang big air gold medalist Anna Gasser have been at the forefront of innovative tricks this season. Kim, a four-time X Games winner, is still far ahead of the field with back-to-back 1080s, which she used last weekend at a World Cup event in Laax. In October 2018, she became the first woman to land a frontside double cork 1080, though she has yet to execute it in competition. Kim can win easily with the arsenal of tricks she already has – but she’d make a bit of history if she decides to go for it.

In November, Gasser became the first woman to land a cab triple underflip, though like Kim, she has not done so in competition. Known for her progressive approach to the sport and impressive arsenal of difficult tricks, Gasser could attempt the triple at the X Games.