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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Beach volleyball player’s dog becomes social media sensation

Mathias Berntsen
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Norwegian beach volleyball player Mathias Berntsen‘s dog, Kiara, captivated social media this weekend.

A video of Kiara peppering with Berntsen and a pair across the net on a grass field spread from Berntsen’s Instagram across platforms. Kiara now has 12,000 Instagram followers, more than twice the total of Berntsen.

Berntsen, 24, is one half of Norway’s second-best beach volleyball team.

He and partner Hendrik Mol are ranked 45th in the world and well outside the Tokyo Olympic picture (24 teams go to the Games), but could get in the mix depending on how qualification is amended once sports resume.

Berntsen and his cousin Mol are part of a group called the Beach Volley Vikings. Mol’s younger brother, Anders, and family friend Christian Sorum are the world’s top-ranked team (profiled here).

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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