Katie Ledecky wins 400m free at Pan Pacs, but she has company

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Katie Ledecky is still queen of the 400m freestyle, but now a younger swimmer is closer to Ledecky than any previous rival.

Ledecky won the 400m free at the Pan Pacific Championships in 3:58.50, the sixth-fastest time ever. She was under world-record pace through 250 meters in Tokyo. None of that is a surprise.

Runner-up Ariarne Titmus has been the recent revelation, clocking an Australian record 3:59.66 on Saturday and finishing about a body length behind Ledecky, outsplitting her in the last half of the race. Nobody has been that close to the American in a major 400m final.

“It’s exciting for me to see how I kind of put the standard out there,” Ledecky said. “I know there a lot of girls that are chasing that. It’s good to see someone get under it [four minutes]. It’s going to push me to go even faster and set the benchmark a little higher.”

PAN PACS: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Ledecky winning margins in 400m frees
2013 Worlds — 2.65 seconds
2014 Pan Pacs — 6.18
2015 Worlds — 3.89
2016 Olympics — 4.77
2017 Worlds — 3.2
2018 Pan Pacs — 1.16

Ledecky was not on Saturday’s U.S. 4x100m free relay that took silver behind Australia, which means she has one event left at Pan Pacs, Sunday’s 1500m free.

Ledecky is an overwhelming favorite there, putting her in line to finish the meet with three golds, one silver and one bronze in five events. She captured five golds in six events at 2014 Pan Pacs, breaking two world records.

“It’s been a tough week competing in a different time zone, very far from the U.S., 16-hour time difference,” Ledecky said. “So it’s been a lot harder, I think, than all of us anticipated, knowing that we just got here [Sunday].”

Titmus, 17, became the third woman to break four minutes in the 400m free after Ledecky and former world-record holder Federica Pellegrini.

Titmus ranks third in the world in the 200m free this year but skipped the event at Pan Pacs, where Ledecky finished third behind Canadian Taylor Ruck and Japanese Rikako Ikee. The Tasmanian also ranks third in the 800m free, nearly 10 seconds behind Ledecky, so the 400m may be her sweet spot.

“That’s the goal, to be up there with her and hopefully she’ll enjoy having someone to race,” Titmus said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “She hasn’t had anyone to race for a long time, so I’m getting closer. On the sixth lap [from 250 meters to 300 meters] I pulled her back in a bit, but she has a bit more speed than me, and she got away a bit on the seventh 50 and not the last 50. I did the best I could.”

Also Saturday, seven-time 2017 World champion Caeleb Dressel won the 100m butterfly by .57 in 50.75, a quarter of a second off his time from nationals two weeks ago, which remains fastest in the world this year.

Dressel later led off the U.S. men’s 4x100m free relay anchored by Nathan Adrian, edging Brazil by .35. But the Americans were later disqualified for swimming out of order.

Chase Kalisz completed a sweep of the individual medleys, as he did at 2017 Worlds, by taking the 200m IM in 1:55.40, a personal best.

Olympic champion Mack Horton was upset by fellow Aussie Jack McLoughlin in the men’s 400m free — 3:44.20 to 3:44.31. Horton’s 3:43.76 from the Commonwealth Games on April 5 remains fastest in the world this year.

Ikee captured the women’s 100m fly in 56.08, becoming the fourth fastest woman all time. World bronze medalist Kelsi Dahlia of the U.S. was second in 56.44. Olympic and world champion Sarah Sjöström of Sweden, not competing at Pan Pacs, has the 11 fastest times ever.

World silver medalist Yui Ohashi of Japan clocked the fastest women’s 200m IM of the year — 2:08.16.

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Russia to finish Youth Olympics with most medals

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Russia clinched the top spot in the Youth Olympic medal standings, two days before the Closing Ceremony in Buenos Aires and eight months after it was excluded from the PyeongChang Winter Games for its doping problems.

The Russians have 52 medals with 25 golds so far, distancing the rest of the world.

1. Russia — 52 total, 25 gold
2. China — 36 total, 18 gold
3. Mixed NOCs — 36 total, 12 gold
4. Japan — 34 total, 14 gold
5. Italy — 31 total, 10 gold
10. U.S. — 15 total, 4 gold

China and Russia went one-two in total medals at the first two Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010 and Nanjing, China in 2014. The U.S. has never topped a Youth Olympic total medal table, be it Summer or Winter Games.

The U.S. has, however, earned the most total medals at the last six Summer Olympics, beginning with the 1996 Atlanta Games.

The Youth Olympics, for athletes ages 14 to 18, do not emphasize medal counts (plus have many medal events where athletes from different nations compete on the same team). The Games include many Olympic events and some that are not on the Olympic program, including break dancing, where a Russian who goes by Bumblebee earned gold last week.

The next Youth Olympics are the winter version in the IOC base of Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2020, followed by the summer version in 2022 in Dakar, Senegal, the first Olympic Games of any kind to be held in Africa.

The Youth Olympics conclude with the last full day of medal competition on Wednesday and the Closing Ceremony on Thursday.

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Aliya Mustafina returns to gymnastics worlds, year after giving birth

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Aliya Mustafina, an all-around medalist at the last two Olympics, made Russia’s team for next week’s world gymnastics championships, 16 months after giving birth to daughter Alisa.

Mustafina, 24, is joined by one Rio Olympic teammate, Angelina Melnikova, and three world championships rookies (plus Olympian Daria Spiridonova as an alternate), according to Russia’s gymnastics federation.

Mustafina is the last non-American woman to win an Olympic or world championships all-around, back in 2010 in her first year as a senior gymnast. A series of injuries followed, including surgeries on both knees and her left ankle.

She missed the 2015 Worlds with back pain but rebounded for a medal of every color in Rio (uneven bars gold, team silver and all-around bronze, just as she had done at London 2012).

Her seven total Olympic medals are tied for the most by a Russian woman since the fall of the Soviet Union with retired gymnast Svetlana Khorkina.

Viktoria Komova, the 2012 Olympic all-around silver medalist who has also struggled with injuries, is not on Russia’s team for worlds in Doha. She last competed at a global championship in 2015, sharing the uneven bars title with three other gymnasts.

Mustafina joins a list of distinguished moms to return to the top level of gymnastics, including Oksana Chusovitina, who began competing in the Soviet Union in the 1980s and, seven Olympics later, is still competing at age 43 (for Uzbekistan).

The most decorated Olympic gymnast, Soviet Larisa Latynina, earned 12 of her 18 medals after becoming a mom.

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