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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World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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