Kathleen Baker breaks 100m backstroke world record (video)

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IRVINE, Calif. — For the last year, the number 58.10 flashed on Kathleen Baker‘s phone as a regular reminder. She will now change that to 57.99.

Baker, the Olympic and world 100m backstroke silver medalist, broke the world record in the event at the U.S. Swimming Championships on Saturday night.

The 21-year-old clocked 58.00 seconds, taking one tenth off Canadian Kylie Masse‘s world record. Masse set the mark at the 2017 Worlds, relegating Baker to second place. Baker immediately set a reminder on her phone with the time, 58.10, and last saw it at 8 p.m. on Friday.

“I watched a lot of Shark Week, so I was channeling my inner shark,” Baker, who wore her trademark sparkly blue Uggs on the pool deck, said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “Definitely unexpected.”

Well, not completely unexpected.

Baker and her coach, David Marsh, were together at the warm-up pool when Katie Ledecky was under world-record pace halfway through her 400m freestyle earlier Saturday night. Ledecky fell off the pace and still easily won, but Marsh sensed a hush in the crowd at the outdoor venue.

“When she didn’t break it, it sort of calmed back down,” he said. “I said, Kathleen, I think what the crowd needs tonight is a world record. She goes, yeah.”

Baker and the 100m back world record have a long history.

In 2008, an 11-year-old Baker was a grumpy spectator at the Olympic Trials, wishing she could be competing there. The memory of the women’s 100m back final in Omaha remains with her because she lost a tooth during the event.

As Natalie Coughlin broke the world record, Baker stood there, awestruck, with blood streaming down her chin.

Two years later, Baker was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which still affects her training.

“I really look at her face when she comes in [for practice],” Marsh said. “I ask how you feel today. If she doesn’t say excellent or outstanding, I know that she doesn’t feel good. … I’m constantly adjusting her program every day.”

That program has recently included more 200m backstroke-focused training. Baker said that and her Panera You Pick Two® lunch helped her down the stretch of Saturday’s race. Still, she knows she can improve. She nearly smacked her face on the lane rope making the turn at 50 meters.

The rising University of California senior powered home to beat Olivia Smoliga by .75, while 16-year-old Regan Smith broke the world junior record with a 58.83. Baker touched the wall and, after a brief pause, flung her left arm in the air.

“I was looking to see if I won first, and then I realized I went 58,” Baker said. “I was literally shook.”

The U.S. now owns all the Olympic backstroke event world records. Missy Franklin has the 200m back mark, while Ryan Murphy (100m back) and Aaron Peirsol (200m back) are the fastest men of all time.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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SWIM NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Results | Swimmers to Watch

WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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