Katie Ledecky wins by 21 seconds to close Pan Pacs

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Katie Ledecky routed the 1500m freestyle field by 21.11 seconds as the U.S. won seven of 10 events on the last day of the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo on Sunday.

Ledecky ended the meet with three gold medals, one silver and one bronze. In her last swim, she clocked 15:38.97, well off her world record from May 16 of 15:20.48, but still easily enough to win an event that she has never lost.

“The time wasn’t great,” Ledecky told media in Tokyo. “Swimming the range of events that I swim, it’s hard to put together all great races.”

She qualified for the 2019 World Championships in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees and also figures to anchor the 4x200m free relay in South Korea next year. Ledecky swam all of those events plus the 4x100m free at the 2017 Worlds.

Sweeping those five events at 2019 Worlds, as she did at the 2015 Worlds, looks like a difficult task. Ledecky was third in the 200m free in Tokyo, faced (and passed) her toughest test in the 400m free in six years and was part of a 4x200m free team at Pan Pacs that was beaten by Australia.

Overall, many U.S. swimmers posted slower times than they did at nationals two weeks ago, some citing jet lag from arriving in Japan four days before the meet started. The Americans won two of the seven relays, its worst percentage at a major international meet since it went winless at the 2001 Worlds.

Australia swept the women’s relays, capped by Cate Campbell passing Olympic and world 100m free champion Simone Manuel on the last leg of the medley relay Sunday. The U.S. barely held off Japan by .05 in the men’s medley relay, one day after swimming out of order in the 4x100m free.

The U.S. totaled 18 gold medals for the meet, which does not include European nations and lacks China’s best swimmers. Australia was second at eight golds with open-water events still to come.

PAN PACS: Full Results | U.S. qualifiers for 2019 Worlds

In other events Sunday, Michael Andrew upset seven-time 2017 World champion Caeleb Dressel in the 50m freestyle for a second straight meet. Andrew, who turned pro at 14 in 2013, clocked a personal-best 21.46 seconds, easily beating Dressel (21.93). Great Britain’s Ben Proud is fastest in the world this year at 21.11.

“The first two finals sessions [this week] were kind of rough,” said Andrew, who clocked personal bests in the 50m free, 100m backstroke and 100m butterfly in Tokyo. “I feel like that had to do with maybe time zone or something. But very quickly I took the effort, changing my mental frame of mind, being able to prepare for the meet I still had ahead of me. So I’m really happy with the swims.”

Campbell completed a sweep of the sprint freestyles, holding off Manuel in the 50m free. Campbell clocked 23.81 to Manuel’s 24.22 and finished the meet with five golds, including three on relays.

Olympic champion Ryan Murphy won the 200m backstroke in a personal-best 1:53.57, ranking him second in the world this year behind world champion Evgeny Rylov of Russia.

Zane Grothe missed the American record by .14, winning the 800m freestyle in 7:43.74. Grothe, who made the 2019 Worlds team in the 400m, 800m and 1500m frees, ranks second in the world this year behind European champion Mykhailo Romanchuk of Ukraine.

Kathleen Baker took the women’s 200m back in a personal-best 2:06.14, ranking her second in the world this year. World leader Kylie Masse of Canada was fourth in 2:07.00.

In the 200m breaststroke, Micah Sumrall edged Olympic 100m breast champion Lilly King by .24 in 2:21.88. King’s rival in the 100m breast, Russian Yulia Efimova, owns the fastest time in the world this year of 2:20.72.

World-record holder Ippei Watanabe of Japan won the men’s 200m breast in 2:07.75. World champion Anton Chupkov of Russia is fastest in the world this year with a 2:06.80.

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MORE: U.S. DQed from Pan Pacs relay for swimming out of order

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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Chris Mazdzer adds doubles luge after Olympic medal

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Olympic luge silver medalist Chris Mazdzer is doubling up this winter.

Mazdzer has decided to compete in both singles and doubles in World Cup events, in large part because USA Luge didn’t have another option to partner with Olympic doubles veteran Jayson Terdiman.

If the Americans didn’t have a senior doubles team ready for the World Cup, they wouldn’t have been able to compete in team relays this winter — and Terdiman effectively would have been forced into retirement.

“It’s a lot of motivation,” Mazdzer said Monday from Lake Placid, New York, where he and Terdiman took five training runs together at Mount Van Hoevenberg on the season’s opening day for sliding at USA Luge’s home track. “I like when people are like, ‘Chris, you won’t be able to do that.’ This hasn’t been done successfully in two-plus decades. But why not now?”

The move also brings Mazdzer back to his roots. He and Terdiman were successful as a junior team, medaling twice at world championships and winning USA Luge’s team-of-the-year honors for the 2007-08 season.

“It could be something,” Terdiman said. “We’re hoping we’re able to find that magic. It’s asking a lot, but we have a lot of confidence in our own abilities.”

Mazdzer became the first American men’s singles luge athlete to win an Olympic medal, grabbing the silver at the PyeongChang Games earlier this year. Terdiman is a two-time Olympian in doubles, going in 2014 with Christian Niccum and this year with Matt Mortensen. Niccum retired after the 2014 Olympics, and Mortensen retired after PyeongChang.

So Terdiman spent the summer without a partner, and a couple of hours before former USA Luge teammate Megan Sweeney’s wedding, he and Mazdzer got together for coffee.

“I thought about retirement a lot this summer,” Terdiman said. “It was going to be forced if I didn’t have anybody to slide with, and that was a very real thing until Chris and I sat down a couple hours before Megan’s wedding. We talked about him doing both. The confidence he has in himself is very large. He’s going to give it a shot and we’ll see what happens.”

Mazdzer understands that this means he will have a most unusual winter.

There are nine World Cup races this season, and six of those call for the men’s race and the doubles race to be contested on the same day — so Mazdzer will be logging very long hours at the track. There also were International Luge Federation rules to consider about training runs; sliders typically get five or six runs at a track before a World Cup, and Mazdzer will be permitted to get the full allotment of training in both disciplines.

“I’m really pumped about this,” Mazdzer said. “Having the team relay is a huge part of being on the U.S. team. I want to see the U.S. win team relays. I think we’re capable. We have a fantastic team and if doubles works out, we’ve got a shot.”

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