Australians defeat U.S. freestyle sprinters, relay at Pan Pacs

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The U.S. has dominated swimming since the heyday of its rivalry with Australia more than a decade ago, but the Aussies had one of their biggest recent gold-medal sweeps at the expense of the Americans on Friday.

Cate Campbell and Kyle Chalmers won the 100m freestyles at the Pan Pacific Championships, the biggest international meet for U.S. swimmers this year, in Tokyo.

The Aussies also beat the U.S. in the 4x200m free relay, with Madeline Groves holding off Katie Ledecky on anchor.

Groves was given a 2.88-second lead and edged Ledecky by .25, marking the American women’s first loss in a major international meet since 2009 Worlds.

Ledecky had the fastest split of the relay — 1:53.84 — which was .28 faster than Canadian Taylor Ruck, who won the individual 200m free over Ledecky on Thursday.

U.S. leadoff Allison Schmitt had the slowest leg of the 16 total swimmers — 1:58.62 — the slowest by an American woman in a 4x200m free final at a major meet since 2010, though leadoff legs are slowed by reaction time.

The U.S. men held off Australia in the 4x200m free, with Townley Haas touching .24 ahead of Jack Cartwright.

PAN PACS: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Campbell clocked the second-fastest time ever — 52.03 seconds — to hand Simone Manuel her first loss in a major international 100m free in three years. Manuel, a distant runner-up in 52.66, shared the 2016 Olympic title with Canadian Penny Oleksiak and took the 2017 World title outright.

“I definitely was disappointed with losing, but I think I’m more disappointed with my time,” said Manuel, who was .12 faster at nationals two weeks ago.

Campbell entered the Rio Games as the world-record holder but was a disappointing sixth in Brazil, later saying she swam with a hernia. The 26-year-old skipped the 2017 Worlds but stormed back this year, clocking 52.37 in March, good for No. 2 in the world going into Pan Pacs.

“I can put to bed all the nightmares and thoughts that come creeping in when you’re lying awake, stewing over past performances,” Campbell said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “I swam a personal best. These don’t come around very often at my age. I couldn’t be happier.”

Chalmers, the surprise Rio Olympic 100m free champion, pulled off another upset to take the Pan Pacs title. He touched in 48.00, beating world champion Caeleb Dressel and fellow Aussie Cartwright by .22.

Chalmers, 20, entered the final with the fifth-fastest time this year among the eight racers. He missed the 2017 Worlds after undergoing heart surgery and was third at the Commonwealth Games on April 8.

“I was beginning to doubt myself that little bit in the 100m,” Chalmers said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “I haven’t done a whole lot of 100m work, but I’m a competitor.”

Australia bagged as many gold medals Friday at Pan Pacs — a meet without European nations and top stars from China and South Africa — as it did in all swim events at the Rio Olympics. The Aussies won a single gold at the 2017 Worlds.

Dressel dominated the 100m free at 2017 Worlds, winning in an American record 47.17 seconds as one of his Michael Phelps-record-tying seven gold medals at the meet.

He was sixth at the U.S. Championships two weeks ago in what coach Gregg Troy said was the worst thing that’s happened to him in the pool in four years since matriculating at the University of Florida.

“Pretty far off my best,” Dressel said Friday. “It’s been a little bit of a hectic year [Dressel finished his college career and turned pro in the last six months]. It was a learning year. Pan Pacs is a little more low key than worlds and Olympics. It’s just been a little crazy. That’s all right for right now.”

Dressel managed a different kind of victory Friday, grabbing one of two spots on the U.S. team in the 100m free for the 2019 World Championships, along with U.S. champion Blake Pieroni.

That means Nathan Adrian will not contest a 100m free at a major international meet for the first time since he was a prelim relay swimmer at the 2008 Olympics.

Also Friday, Rio gold medalist Ryan Murphy won the 100m backstroke in 51.94, just .09 off his world record. The race lacked world champion Xu Jiayu as China is saving its best swimmers for the Asian Games later this month.

World champion Kylie Masse of Canada captured the women’s 100m back in 58.61, .11 ahead of 2015 World champion Emily Seebohm of Australia. American Kathleen Baker, who at nationals broke Masse’s world record, earned bronze.

U.S. Olympian Hali Flickinger won the 200m butterfly in 2:07.35. Flickinger ranks second in the world this year with her 2:05.87 from nationals.

Japan’s Daiya Seto took the men’s 200m fly in 1:54.34, ranking him fifth in the world this year. The top American was Zach Harting in third in 1:55.05.

Pan Pacs continue Saturday, highlighted by Ledecky in the 400m freestyle (full broadcast schedule here).

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Lizzy Yarnold, double Olympic skeleton champion, retires

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Lizzy Yarnold, the 2014 and 2018 Olympic skeleton champion for Great Britain, has retired from the sport.

“I have lived out my dream and achieved far more than I ever thought possible in my 10 years in the sport,” Yarnold said, according to the Guardian. “but it’s time to move on. I am ready for a fresh challenge.”

Yarnold, 29, became the first Brit to earn multiple Olympic titles with her repeat gold in PyeongChang in February — and the first skeleton slider with two golds.

“At PyeongChang I didn’t want to go into the race thinking about retiring, and then afterwards I didn’t want to make the decision for the wrong reason, in rash emotion,” Yarnold said, according to the Telegraph. “So now when I’ve gone through all this rehab for the past six months [plus July back surgery], I’m retiring for the right reasons — not through injury, not for a bad competition, or any other reason but because I love the sport, and I’ve loved 10 years of it, but I think I’m ready.”

Yarnold bowing out further boosts 23-year-old German Jacqueline Lölling‘s hopes for a third straight World Cup season title and repeat world title this winter. Lölling and 30-year-old Brit Laura Deas took silver and bronze in South Korea behind Yarnold, who erased a .02 deficit to Austrian Janine Flock with a track record on her fourth and final run.

Yarnold’s chief rival leading into her first Olympics in Sochi in 2014 was the now-retired Noelle Pikus-Pace, one of the great American stories of those Games.

Yarnold dominated in Russia with the fastest run all four times down the track. Pikus-Pace, a mother of two, came out of a two-year retirement in 2012 and grabbed silver, four years after missing bronze in Vancouver by one tenth of a second.

Yarnold also earned a World Cup season title in 2014 and a world championship in 2015.

Great Britain, not a winter sports power, earned at least one medal in evrey Olympic women’s skeleton competition — Alex Coomber took bronze in 2002, Shelley Rudman silver in 2006 and Amy Williams gold in 2010.

“That feeling when you leave the changing room, walk out to the start block, with your jacket done up and your salopettes on and crash helmet in hand — a feeling of almost growing two inches taller because of being empowered, feeling in control,” Yarnold said, according to the Telegraph, “there’s something so magical about that, so I will miss that. But it’s also really tiring.”

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Loena Hendrickx on the rise, making Grand Prix debut at Skate America

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Belgian teenager Loena Hendrickx made her Winter Olympic debut in PyeongChang, and began her short program with the aim of becoming the first from her country to qualify for a ladies’ singles free skate since Katrien Pauwels in 1988.

Fresh off a 14th place finish in the men’s event, brother Jorik sat in the stands. He looked away as the music – a cool arrangement of Madonna’s “Frozen” – began, and covered his eyes as the 18-year-old set up for a planned triple lutz, triple toe combination.

Eight years younger than her two-time Olympian elder brother, Hendrickx knew the feeling.

“I get nervous when he competes, too,” she explained after winning a bronze medal at the Nebelhorn Trophy, an ISU Challenger Series event. “I might be even more nervous watching him than when I have to skate myself, because I don’t know how he’s feeling on the ice, and I can’t control his skate.”

She ultimately landed the combination – albeit under-rotated – and bested Pauwels’ result from Calgary by one place, finishing 16th overall. Even stronger skates were to come at the world championships in Milan, where she beat reigning Olympic champion Alina Zagitova in the free skate to earn a Top 10 total score and qualify for her first-ever Grand Prix events in the upcoming season.

“I’m very excited because that’s something you wish for. The first one is immediately in Skate America, so it’s very exciting. I’ve never been to the States before!”

Jorik was initially scheduled to skate alongside his sister at the Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, Wash., but opted to withdraw and spend the start of the season working with other athletes, including Loena.

“He is working with me sometimes. I really can learn a lot from him because he has the knowledge and experience. I think he can teach me a lot.”

While the siblings work primarily with coach Carine Herrygers, Jorik assisted Loena in selecting her “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” short program music, another ’90s hit by Céline Dion.

“I really liked my program [“The Prayer” by Dion and Josh Groban] from two years ago, and so I think I chose the same style. I researched more of her music, and it was my brother who found this song. I didn’t like it at the beginning because I had another song I liked more.

“In the end, Jorik convinced me to take this one because it’s more powerful and I can skate better to powerful music.”

Hendrickx debuted the program in Oberstdorf, earning personal best scores to make the podium alongside Zagitova and Mai Mihara. More importantly, she achieved her pre-season goal of landing the lutz-toe combination – with positive Grades of Execution – in both phases of the competition.

While most of her competitors made waves as juniors, the Belgian struggled with multiple injuries – a 2016 stress fracture in her back, later a bone bruise on her landing knee – that kept her from eliciting the buzz many top skaters get on the Junior Grand Prix.

“After I healed, I was very happy to begin building back up again. For a long time, I worked on my fitness to make my back and body stronger. That made my jumps stronger and helped me perform better, more consistently.”

In a field that includes two-time world medalist Satoko Miyahara and U.S. national champion Bradie Tennell, Hendrickx heads to Skate America armed with a competitive technical arsenal, and a dose of inspiration imparted by her brother on the ice.

“In Belgium, there are fewer opportunities to be successful when you’re younger because it’s very difficult to combine skating with school. Jorik taught me that you never have to give up on your dreams. If you work hard, you’ll see where you can go.”

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series 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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