Katie Ledecky gets gold, bronze to open Pan Pacific Championships

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Katie Ledecky was beaten in a major international meet individual final for just the second time, taking her first career bronze medal on Thursday.

Ledecky finished third in the 200m freestyle at the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo behind a pair of 18-year-olds. Canadian Taylor Ruck won in 1:54.44, while Japanese Rikako Ikee took silver in 1:54.85.

Ledecky touched in 1:55.15, about 85 minutes after winning the 800m freestyle by 7.94 seconds. She said she didn’t feel fatigued going into the 200m.

“I have been a lot faster than that a number of times this year, so I’m a little disappointed,” said Ledecky, who was faster at June and July meets but not as fast as Ruck. “I think I have a lot more in me in that race. I’m going to continue to work towards that for the next two years.”

Ledecky came into the race with 27 medals among the Olympics, worlds and Pan Pacs — 25 golds and two silvers. Those two defeats came in the Rio Olympic 4x100m free relay and the 2017 Worlds 200m free, where Italian Federica Pellegrini passed the American by covering the last 50 meters nearly a second faster.

On Thursday, Ruck, set to join Ledecky at Stanford after this meet, led at every 50-meter split. Ikee passed Ledecky in the last 50 meters. Ledecky’s best time — 1:53.73 from the Rio Olympics — would have easily won, but Ruck’s time is the fastest in the world since Ledecky’s Olympic title.

Ruck, known for drinking an espresso before races, felt the nerves.

“Because [Ledecky] is the fastest woman on the planet,” Ruck, who was born in British Columbia and moved to Arizona at 10 months old, said, according to Agence France-Presse. “It was starting to get into my head a bit — just her name, I guess.”

Earlier Thursday, Ledecky opened the four-day meet by clocking the fifth fastest 800m free in history — 8:09.13 — to win by 7.94 seconds over Australian 17-year-old Ariarne Titmus.

Ledecky now owns the 20 fastest 800m frees in history, led by the world record of 8:04.79 from the Rio Olympics.

World bronze medalist Leah Smith was third, clinching the other U.S. spot in the 800m free for the 2019 Worlds. In the 200m free, eight-time Olympic medalist Allison Schmitt joins Ledecky on the world team. Schmitt’s last individual swim at an Olympics or worlds came in the 2012 Olympic 200m free.

Pan Pacs is the year’s major international meet and, along with times from nationals last month, determines the U.S. roster for the 2019 World Championships. Non-European nations take part, with the U.S., Australia and Japan fielding the best teams.

PAN PACS: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Olympic and world champion Lilly King easily took the 100m breaststroke in 1:05.44, which was .08 slower than her time at nationals two weeks ago and 1.31 seconds off her world record from 2017. Russian rival Yuliya Efimova, not at Pan Pacs, remains fastest in the world this year (1:04.98).

King is joined on the 2019 Worlds team by Olympic and world medalist Katie Meili, whose time from nationals held up for No. 2 on the U.S. list, though she was the fourth fastest American on Thursday.

Chase Kalisz, who swept the individual medleys at the 2017 Worlds, crushed Japanese rivals Kosuke Hagino and Daiya Seto in the 400m IM. Kalisz clocked 4:07.95, the fastest time in the world this year, and won by 3.18 seconds in a matchup of the world’s best all-around swimmers.

World silver medalist Townley Haas took the men’s 200m free in 1:45.56, edging U.S. champion Andrew Seliskar by .18. Haas ranks third in the world this year. They’ll make up the world team in the event.

Jordan Wilimovsky and Zane Grothe had the fastest 1500m freestyle times between two heats, with the Rio fourth-place finisher Wilimovsky topping the field at 14:46.93. Grothe, the U.S. champ at 400m and 800m, edged Robert Finke for second — and the final 2019 Worlds spot in the event — by three tenths of a second.

Melanie Margalis took silver in the women’s 400m IM behind Japanese Yui Ohashi, but the Olympian’s time was slower than Ally McHugh and Brooke Forde from nationals, so Margalis did not make the 2019 Worlds team.

Japan’s Yasuhiro Koseki won the men’s 100m breast in 59.08, well off Brit Adam Peaty‘s world record from the European Championships set Saturday (57.10). Americans Andrew Wilson and Michael Andrew were fourth and seventh and made the 2017 Worlds team.

The U.S. mixed medley relay team of Kathleen Baker, Andrew, Caeleb Dressel and Simone Manuel took bronze behind Australia and Japan.

Pan Pacs continue Friday, highlighted by the 100m freestyles (full broadcast schedule here).

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Hirscher leads by 0.56 seconds after first run in World Champs slalom

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Marcel Hirscher swept into the finish area and wagged his finger triumphantly in front of the camera.

The message was clear: The ski king is back.

The Austrian produced an emphatic response to relinquishing his giant slalom title two days earlier at the world championships by taking a 0.56-second lead after the first run of the slalom on Sunday.

Only Alexis Pinturault of France was within a second of Hirscher, who was on course to win a record-tying seventh career gold medal at the worlds.

Marco Schwarz of Austria was in third place, 1.22 seconds off the lead.

Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup champion, showed no ill-effects from the cold that has been affecting him this week. After the giant slalom on Friday, he said he would be going straight back to bed to rest up for the slalom.

He looked in good working order on Sunday.

As the third skier on the course, Hirscher took 1.70 seconds off No. 2 starter Henrik Kristoffersen, who beat Hirscher to GS gold on Friday, and more than two seconds off Clement Noel, who came to the worlds in form after wins in Wengen and Kitzbuehel.

Save for Hirscher crashing, only Pinturault looks capable to denying the Austrian a third slalom gold at the worlds — something only the great Ingemar Stenmark has achieved. Pinturault was only 0.06 seconds behind Hirscher at the third checkpoint but he went wide at the first turn on the final descent and lost half a second.

“I’m still in the fight,” Pinturault said, “and still have a chance in the second leg. That’s the essential (thing).”

Daniel Yule of Switzerland was 0.28 behind Hirscher at the last split before falling at the start to the final descent.

Hirscher also won the slalom at the 2013 and 2017 worlds. A seventh career gold at the worlds would tie the men’s record held by compatriot Toni Sailer from the late 1950s.

Austria, a storied Alpine skiing nation, needs Hirscher to deliver in the final event to avoid finishing the world championships without a gold medal for the first time since Crans Montana, Switzerland, in 1987. The women’s team has already finished with no medals and that hasn’t happened since Schladming, Austria, in 1982.

Watch an encore presentation of the first run on NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET. The second and deciding run can be seen live starting at 8:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

Mikaela Shiffrin proving she’s in league of her own

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There are ski racers, and then there is Mikaela Shiffrin.

NBC Sports essayist Tim Layden calls Shiffrin the “rarest creature,” a prodigy who continues to get better with age.

Shiffrin’s stardom took off with her heart-stopping slalom gold medal in the 2014 Olympics. It looked like she would ascend to an even higher level four years later in PyeongChang when she claimed a gold medal in the giant slalom, but then she lost a battle with her nerves and failed to win a medal in the slalom. She did capture a silver in the combined event.

That Olympic disappointment has fueled her historic World Cup season. She became the youngest skier to pass the 50 win mark. She broke the women’s career record for slalom victories, and she became the first skier ever to win four-straight world championship titles in a single event.

A true prodigy indeed.