Katie Ledecky, after 3rd win at nationals, readies for teen tests

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IRVINE, Calif. — Not too long ago, Katie Ledecky was the teen phenom in the pool. Now, after finishing her nationals slate with a third convincing win, her threats ahead are all younger than she is.

Ledecky prevailed by 3.12 seconds in the 400m freestyle on Saturday night and scratched out of her last event, Sunday’s 1500m freestyle. Don’t worry, she is still eligible to swim the 1500m free at this year’s major international meet, the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo in two weeks.

Ledecky, who holds the 11 fastest 400m free times ever, added the victory in 3:59.09 to her 200m and 800m free titles earlier this week. While Kathleen Baker broke the 100m backstroke world record later Saturday night, Ledecky was under world-record pace through 200 meters.

“I wanted to put myself through some pain tonight,” Ledecky said, “and I’m happy with getting under four minutes.”

The 21-year-old rolls into Pan Pacs, still unchallenged in the U.S.

“Haven’t really had an off-swim [since turning pro in March],” Ledecky said. “I feel like I’m in a really good spot.”

New chasers from around the globe emerged since Rio, namely a pair of teenagers who will be at Pan Pacs.

Pan Pacs are for non-European nations, which means Ledecky will not face older 200m free rivals Federica Pellegrini (Italy) and Sarah Sjöström (Sweden).

Australian distance phenom Ariarne Titmus, 17, will be there. The Tasmania native lowered her personal bests in the 200m, 400m and 800m frees by more than three seconds each since 2017 Worlds (but is still two seconds slower than Ledecky in the 400m free this year, and 12 seconds slower in the 800m free).

Taylor Ruck will also be in Tokyo. The 18-year-old Canadian ranks second to Ledecky in the 200m free this year, just .25 behind (followed by Titmus, .29 behind).

Ruck has taken more than three seconds off her 200m free personal best in the last year. She will join Ledecky at Stanford in the fall (though Ledecky has turned pro and won’t compete for the Cardinal).

Ledecky has never lost a major international meet final to a younger swimmer. It doesn’t look likely to happen in two weeks, but she may never be the youngest woman on the podium again.

“I guess it’s a little different, but I think I have the benefit of knowing … what it’s like to have somebody in mind that you’re chasing,” said Ledecky, who notably beat reigning Olympic 800m free champion Rebecca Adlington at her first Games as a 15-year-old in 2012. “I know that there are a lot of great swimmers out there that are chasing me. That motivates me just as much as chasing someone motivated me when I was 15.”

Nationals conclude Sunday, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA at 9 p.m. ET.

In other events Saturday, Olympic and world champion Lilly King won the 100m breaststroke in 1:05.36, a time that trails only Russian rival Yulia Efimova this year.

Olympic champions Ryan Murphy and Matt Grevers went one-two in the men’s 100m back in 52.51 and 52.55, the two fastest times in the world this year. They shared the podium at 2017 Worlds behind Chinese winner Xu Jiayu.

Michael Andrew, who turned pro at 14 in 2013, won his first national title in an Olympic event, taking the men’s 100m breast in 59.38 seconds. Olympic bronze medalist Cody Miller was sixth and will not swim at Pan Pacs or the 2019 Worlds.

Zane Grothe repeated as U.S. men’s 400m free champion. The 26-year-old clocked 3:46.53, edging Grant Shoults by .37. Grothe was seventh at the 2017 World Championships and ranks 10th in the world this year.

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Brian Orser reveals Hanyu’s, Medvedeva’s, and Brown’s Grand Prix plans

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Over the past decade, the Toronto club where Brian Orser coached South Korea’s Yuna Kim to the 2010 Olympic title has become such an attraction for top figure skaters from around the globe that it could add a word to a name that already is a mouthful.

You could call it the Toronto International Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

But its reach now is limited by the deadly virus pandemic that has effectively frozen out the elite athletes from Japan, Russia, South Korea and Poland who train at the Cricket Club.

That situation won’t change quickly, even with the International Skating Union having announced Monday its plans to proceed with a live format for the international Grand Prix Series. This fall, it will become a series of six essentially domestic competitions scheduled to begin with Skate America Oct. 23-25 in Las Vegas.

If they take place.

“As soon as the skaters can come back, it will be full steam ahead… to where, we don’t know,” Orser said via telephone Wednesday.

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu remains in Japan. Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is in Russia, four-time national champion Cha Jun-Hwan in South Korea, and two-time national champion Yekaterina Kurakova in Poland.

“We would like for them all to come back, but with the Canadian travel restrictions in place until at least Aug. 21, we can’t guarantee approval to get them in, and they would have a 14-day quarantine here if they do get in,” Tracy Wilson, who coaches with Orser, said via telephone Wednesday. “Right now, they are all training at home, and that’s OK.

“The situation is different for each one. The Japanese federation may need Yuzu to do the Grand Prix in Japan, and at this point he would face quarantine entering Canada and returning to Japan.

“For Yevgenia, as soon as she does the Russian test skates (scheduled for early September), we will re-evaluate her situation.”

Orser said he has been doing three video coaching sessions a week with Medvedeva, with whom he is in his third season as coach. Medvedeva, who left Russia for Canada after winning a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics, also is currently getting help from coach Elena Buyanova at the CSKA rink in Moscow.

“She (Medvedeva) looks way ahead of where she was at this point last year,” Orser said.

MORE: Looking back at Yuna Kim’s 10-year gold medal anniversary

Orser also has been having live remote sessions with Cha and Kurakova, and they are also sending videos to him. The only skater he has not seen is Hanyu.

“That’s normal when he is back in Japan,” Orser said. “I wasn’t expecting anything.”

How long Hanyu stays in Japan may depend on travel restrictions being loosened in both his homeland and Canada.

“I would like to get them all back, and they need to come back,” Orser said. “But facing a double quarantine is not in anyone’s best interest.”

Only two of the Cricket Club’s international skaters, 2014 Olympian Jason Brown of suburban Chicago and Yi Zhu of Los Angeles (who represents China), have come back to Toronto after leaving in late winter.

It took Brown two tries to get back across the border because of issues with the paperwork necessary for Canada to consider it essential he be allowed to enter. Orser and Wilson want to be sure any skaters coming from Asia and Europe are admitted on the first try.

From April to July, until skaters could get back on the ice in their various homelands, Brown led Thursday off-ice fitness classes via Zoom, with Medvedeva, Cha and Kurakova taking part.

“It was such a fun way to stay connected and still ‘train’ together while we were oceans apart,” Brown said in a Wednesday text message.

Orser and Wilson will recommend that all the foreign skaters training at the Cricket Club try to compete at Skate Canada, scheduled the last weekend of October at a 9,500-seat arena in Ottawa. Wilson thought if the event cannot have spectators, it might be moved to a smaller facility, possibly in a different city.

“All plans are in the early stages,” Skate Canada spokesperson Emma Bowie said in an email.

Grand Prix assignments have not yet been made.

Whether Brown picks Skate Canada over Skate America – if he gets a choice – could depend on when (and if) the Canadian government shortens quarantine periods for travelers from the United States.

“I know that we are in such unprecedented and uncertain times, so I love seeing the ISU being creative and trying to find a way to hold skating events this year,” Brown wrote. “While a lot can happen before October, if it’s safe to do so, I’ll be ready and eager to take part in any events that I can.”

The ISU said it wants to have the Grand Prix Final in Beijing, whether it takes place on its original dates (Dec. 10-13) or early in 2021. The competition is to be used as a test event of the skating venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

There are no details yet on qualification for the final, which usually is determined by points for placements at the six “regular season” events of the series, held in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan. The top six in each of the sport’s four disciplines make the Final.

In the past, the highest-ranked skaters could compete in up to two Grand Prix events, but ISU Vice-President Alexander Lakernik of Russia said in a Tuesday email that everyone would be limited to one event this year.

Because the Final presumably would have much more of an international field than the six other events, staging it is infinitely more problematic because of travel involved.

“We want what’s best for the sport,” Wilson said. “We have to get these kids out there doing programs, to get them on TV. [Note: An NBC spokesman said the network would, as planned, provide coverage of the Grand Prix, with details forthcoming.] In terms of competition, we’re up for anything.

“For me, though, with all the restrictions, there is no way they will be able to run a fair qualification for the Grand Prix Final. You’ve got to reinvent yourself and make it something else – if you are able to have it at all.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: Nathan Chen is surprised, grateful and posing questions about figure skating’s restart

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Steven Nyman, top U.S. downhiller, faces another obstacle

Steven Nyman
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Steven Nyman, the active U.S. leader in World Cup downhill wins, tore his right Achilles in a training crash and had surgery earlier this week in Mt. Hood, Ore.

“I am moving forward,” was posted on Nyman’s social media. “I’ve been through this before and have full intention to comeback [sic] and compete through the next Olympics.”

Nyman raced in three Olympics and owns three World Cup downhill victories.

He turns 40 during the next Winter Games in Beijing in 2022, when he will be three and a half years older than any previous U.S. Olympic Alpine skier.

Nyman missed the PyeongChang Olympics after a pair of major injuries: blowing out his left knee in a January 2017 downhill race crash and tearing his right ACL in downhill training in January 2018. He also tore his left Achilles in 2011.

He raced the last two seasons with a best World Cup finish of fifth in Val Gardena, Italy, site of all of his World Cup wins in 2006, 2012 and 2014.

The U.S. men’s program is in the midst of its longest World Cup downhill victory and podium droughts this millennium — none since Travis Ganong‘s win in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Jan. 27, 2017.

MORE: Alpine skiing World Cup plans earlier season start with fewer fans

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