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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Noah Lyles’ unbelievable time comes with an oops at Inspiration Games

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Noah Lyles may one day break Usain Bolt‘s world record, but Thursday wasn’t going to be that day. Even if, for about five minutes, Lyles was the first man to break 19 seconds over 200m.

Lyles registered 18.90 seconds, racing alone against competitors simultaneously sprinting on tracks in Europe. The time was unbelievable, given Bolt’s world record was 19.19 seconds. Turns out, it was too good to be true.

Minutes later on the broadcast, commentator Steve Cram said that Lyles only ran 185 meters, starting from an incorrect place on his Florida track.

“You can’t be playing with my emotions like this,” tweeted Lyles, who raced in Sonic the Hedgehog socks. “Got me in the wrong lane smh.”

Lyles, 22, has run 66 official 200m races dating to 2013, according to Tilastopaja.org. He is the reigning world champion and the fourth-fastest man in history with a personal best of 19.50 seconds.

But he had never experienced what came Thursday, with few spectators and nobody else in adjacent lanes for the Inspiration Games, a socially distanced meet with Olympians competing against each other on different continents.

Perhaps the setting played a role in the mistake.

“It actually felt pretty good besides getting that full gust of wind,” Lyles, who ran into a registered 3.7 meter/second headwind, said before he knew his time or that he was 15 meters short.

Christophe Lemaitre, the Olympic bronze medalist from France, got the win in 20.65 seconds.

Earlier Thursday, Allyson Felix had a succinct reaction to the strangest victory of her sterling career.

“That’s weird,” she said after running 150 meters alone, in front of few spectators on a track in Walnut, California.

Officially, Felix ran 16.81 seconds — impressive, especially if the reported 2.6 meter/second headwind reading was accurate — to defeat Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and world 200m bronze medalist Mujinga Kambundji.

Miller-Uibo raced alone in Florida. Kambundji was on her own in Zurich, the base of the Inspiration Games, a repurposed version of an annual Diamond League stop. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing meet organizers to get creative this summer.

Full meet results are here.

Felix, a 34-year-old mom with nine Olympic medals, called her event “very strange.”

“It feels sort of like practice, but not even because there’s really no teammates or anything,” she told 1996 Olympic decathlon champion Dan O’Brien at Mt. San Antonio College. “It’s hard to challenge yourself. I think that’s the big thing with running solo.”

Canadian Olympic medalist Andre De Grasse won a 100-yard race in 9.68 seconds, defeating French veteran Jimmy Vicaut (9.72) and Olympic 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica (9.87). De Grasse, Vicaut and McLeod raced together, in every other lane at a Florida track.

The 100 yards is scantly contested in top-level meets. Nobody has broken nine seconds in a 100-yard (91.44-meter) race, according to World Athletics. But Usain Bolt‘s estimated 100-yard time en route to his 2009 world record in the 100m was 8.87 seconds.

The regular Diamond League calendar is scheduled to resume in August.

“This was fun,” Felix said. “I can’t wait until we can do it in person.”

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Jeff Gadley, Willie Davenport changed bobsled as Winter Olympic pioneers

Jeff Gadley
Photos courtesy Jeff Jordan
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Jeff Gadley‘s life changed when a stranger in a car tailed him on a decathlon training run in Plattsburgh, N.Y., in 1978.

The driver was Al Hachigian, a veteran U.S. bobsledder on the lookout for new talent.

Hachigian found the right man. Gadley had just won the first Empire State Games decathlon and set sights on the 1980 U.S. Summer Olympic Trials. Once Hachigian got his attention, he asked the 23-year-old Gadley if he ever considered pushing a bobsled.

“Of course,” Gadley said. “I grew up in Buffalo.”

Hachigian looked at Gadley — undersized for a bobsledder at 5 feet, 8 inches, and no more than 180 pounds — and decided he was worth extending an invitation to a trials event for the 1978-79 season.

“I think you could do well,” Hachigian told Gadley. “But there are no Black bobsledders, so you kind of have to be a little bit prepared for some things.”

No problem, Gadley said.

A year and a half later, Gadley and a later bobsled convert — Willie Davenport, the 1968 Olympic 110m hurdles champion — became the first Black men to compete on a U.S. Winter Olympic team in any sport.

“It was a huge story,” leading up to the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games, Gadley said in a recent interview. “Since we were the first, people wanted to know how we felt. What you thought about the sport being traditionally white. My answer was always, look, I can’t attribute a particular color to playing out in the cold. To be the first African American ever to compete in the Winter Olympics, I think it’s nice. I think it broadens the thought process of people and maybe will bring, one day, stronger and faster athletes to the sport.”

Gadley and Davenport, push athletes in driver Bob Hickey‘s 12th-place sled at those Olympics, accelerated a line of accomplished athletes converting from track to bobsled. They were followed by, most famously, Edwin Moses, Renaldo NehemiahLauryn Williams and Lolo Jones. NFL players Willie Gault and Herschel Walker also pushed sleds.

“There is a myth in this country that says Blacks can’t make the American Winter Olympic team,” Davenport said, according to Jet magazine in 1980. “Jeff and I proved this to be wrong that you don’t have to be rich and white to make it.”

Back when Gadley joined the national team, it was all white and mostly men from around Lake Placid, home of the only Olympic-level bobsled track in the country.

“I’m sure a lot of these people had not been around African Americans before,” said Jeff Jordan, Gadley’s best friend from SUNY Plattsburgh who rounded out the four-man Olympic sled with Hickey, Gadley and Davenport.

Gadley excelled from the start, earning a spot at the 1979 World Championships. Not everyone on the team was excited about his quick rise. Gadley estimated that out of about 20 national team members, seven or eight didn’t like him because of his skin color. He knew about two definitively, witnessing a conversation at the worlds in Germany.

“The worst thing I heard is that someone didn’t want a Black guy on the back of their sled,” Gadley said. “The saddest part is knowing that, at the world championships, your own teammates don’t like you because of your color.

“I said, I’m not going to say anything. I’m not going to ride on the back of his sled anyway, even if I’m told to. I said, I don’t want to be on the back of your sled, either, and I just left it at that.”

Gadley competed in another sled at worlds, finishing 10th.

“It wasn’t all about skin color,” Gadley said. “Part of it was about you’re breaking up a culture.”

The next season, Hickey, a veteran driver from Upstate New York, was looking to fill his sled with push athletes. He chose the new group of Gadley, Jordan and Davenport. They won the Olympic Trials, despite Jordan and Davenport being rookies (Davenport reportedly pushed a bobsled for the first time a month or two before trials).

“They were the first real world-class athletes to hit bobsledding,” Jordan said of Gadley and Davenport. “We pretty much crushed them [the local bobsledders at Trials], and they did not like it. I don’t know if they would have liked it, period. It didn’t matter what nationality or color.

“The only thing they knew was they were getting their butts kicked. I can’t say we were mistreated other than they would rather have their buddies on the Olympic team.”

Davenport, at 36, was 12 years removed from his Summer Olympic title and the oldest U.S. bobsledder in Lake Placid. While his speed was an asset, his lack of experience was evident, his teammates said.

“Willie was on the other side of his career,” Jordan said. “He brought a lot of notoriety. We were in People magazine, on Good Morning America. None of that would have happened without Willie’s presence. He wasn’t there for the same reason Jeff [Gadley] was there.

“If Willie had just been another Jeff Gadley, would we have gotten that attention? Maybe, eventually, but there was quite a bit of attention early on.”

Gadley, Hickey and Jordan, in recent interviews, remembered the buzz at the Lake Placid Games. Curt Gowdy, the Hall of Fame sportscaster, called bobsled for ABC. President Jimmy Carter‘s 12-year-old daughter, Amy, showed up one day.

The Americans finished more than six seconds behind the winning East German quartet, but were slowed to an unknown degree by inferior equipment. Hickey said that the East German driver, 39-year-old Meinhard Nehmer, told Gowdy that the Americans would have won if they had his sled.

“They came and went quick,” Hickey said of the Olympics. “We weren’t prepared.”

It marked the end of the Olympic careers for Davenport and Gadley. Davenport died in 2002.

Gadley gave up the decathlon after the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games was announced. He now lives in Texas with his wife.

Most of his Olympic mementos and photos were discarded or lost over the last 40 years. But Gadley was glad for the experience and feels fortunate for the opportunity, back when bobsled was a regional, if not local, sport.

“I would say pioneers would be a good word to use,” for Davenport and I, he said. “It was just a matter of exposure where I was and what I was doing [at the time]. It made an example to others that, hey, as a Black guy, if he’s doing it, I can do it, too.”

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Jeff Gadley