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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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.