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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U.S. to play in snow volleyball tour, led by 4-time Olympian

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When USA Volleyball asked four-time Olympian Lloy Ball to put together a team for a snow volleyball tournament in Moscow this week, the 2008 gold medalist was eager to accept.

Never mind that he’s never played on the snow before.

Or that, at 46, he’s not a likely candidate for the U.S. Olympic team if the discipline is eventually added to the Winter Games.

“I’ve been playing volleyball my entire life. It would just be an amazing feeling to know that me and my friends would be able to help volleyball grow,” Ball said. “To help be one of the forefathers, to get another discipline of volleyball into the Olympics, it would be awesome.”

The son of a volleyball coach and a member of the U.S. indoor team that won gold in Beijing, Ball played professionally in Russia for six years and was a natural choice to be a part of first American team to play on the European snow volleyball tour. After what he is calling an exploratory mission, he hopes to report back to the national governing body on how it can help the sport grow.

The ultimate goal: helping snow volleyball earn a spot in the Olympics — perhaps by 2026.

“We want to climb this mountain step by step. We do not want to rush,” said Fabio Azevedo, the general director of the sport’s international governing body, adding that snow volleyball will join the Olympics “as soon as the discipline has an amazing relevance in the world.”

“We have our road map, we have our timeline,” he said. “We really believe it is premature now to mention anything about Winter Olympic Games. I cannot say to you 2026 is realistic or not.”

Still, they are plowing ahead.

After a demonstration at the PyeongChang Olympics, the European governing body held its first snow championships in March. With its 2018-19 tour starting this weekend in Moscow it has invited teams from the United States to compete. (Teams from Kazakhstan and Brazil were also offered wild-card entries.)

Knowing that he spent time in Russia and would make a good ambassador, USA Volleyball chief Jamie Davis called Ball, who remains active as a coach and a semi-pro grass and beach volleyball player. He pulled together a team with Will Robbins, Kevin Owens and Tomas Goldsmith.

Although they have been training outside in Indiana to get used to the cold, the first time they will play on a snow court will be in Moscow.

“I’m going to rely on my massive amount of repetition and skill training and experience,” Ball said with a laugh. “Hopefully we won’t embarrass ourselves too badly and hopefully we’ll know what to do better next time. I’m going to come back and sit down with Jamie, and maybe say ‘Hey, this is something that can take off.’”

The women’s team for the Moscow tournament, which USA Volleyball put together, consists of Allie Wheeler, Emily Hartong, Katie Spieler and Karissa Cook.

“It’s a milestone for us,” Davis said. “We’re starting at level zero and building this up from scratch.”

“My hope is that we’ll get more and more athletes that are concentrating on snow, in addition to beach and indoor,” he said. “What I would hope for snow volleyball is that we’re going to be able to have players — north, south, east or west — be able to go outdoors to play the sport they love to play.”

Although snow volleyball has kicked around Europe for a decade, its growth accelerated the last five years. The European volleyball federation officially recognized the sport in 2015, and a seven-stop European tour is planned for 2018-19, starting with this week’s event in Moscow.

Azevedo said the FIVB is hoping to add three more events of its own, including one in Argentina that will be the first outside of Europe. Davis said he hopes to host one in the United States next winter.

From there, the FIVB is planning for a snow volleyball competition at the Youth Olympics and World University Games in 2020 and the winter Military World Games in 2021, along with a possible world championship.

“We are really shaping this new discipline around the world,” Azevedo said, adding that it would have much lower barriers to entry than many winter sports, which require ice rinks or luge runs or mountains.

That could help open the Winter Olympics to countries with successful volleyball programs but no ice or snow.

“Possibly snow volleyball is the only winter sport you can just pass by and play,” Azevedo said. “You just need proper clothes, football cleats, and you can play.”

An earlier incarnation of the sport had two-person teams, like beach volleyball, but organizers tinkered with the rules and settled on three-on-three, with a fourth teammate as a substitute. While indoor sets go to 25 and the beach goes to 21, snow volleyball games are up to 15

“Thank God, because it is minus 20 in Russia — Celsius,” Ball said.

Although the court layout is similar to beach, the ball is heavier when it gets wet and players wear thermal clothing and soccer cleats for traction. Ball said the sport puts a premium on ball control and serving, because it’s harder to move quickly in the snow.

“As long as you control the serve receive and serve well, I think on any surface you can be successful,” he said.

Martin Kaswurm, who is credited with inventing the sport when he set up a court outside his restaurant in Austria, said having different rules helps distinguish the sport from “its older brother beach volleyball” and could make it more appealing to Olympic officials.

“This should help to position snow volleyball as a unique version of the game,” he said.

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Ester Ledecka must decide between ski, snowboard worlds

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SELVA DI VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) — Skier-snowboarder Ester Ledecka will not be able to follow up her dual sport gold-medal performances at the PyeongChang Olympics with a similar haul of world titles this season.

That’s because the schedule won’t allow it, and she’s not happy about it.

The parallel giant slalom at the world freestyle skiing and snowboard championships in Utah is Feb. 4 — the same day downhill training opens at Alpine skiing worlds in Are, Sweden, and a day before the super-G.

“I was a little bit hoping they would reschedule the snowboard race — put it a week earlier so I could do it both — but they didn’t want to so I have to choose,” Ledecka said Tuesday after placing 29th in a World Cup downhill.

In PyeongChang, Ledecka followed her super-G title by winning the parallel GS in snowboarding — becoming the first athlete to win two golds at one Winter Games using two different types of equipment.

The 23-year-old Czech is the reigning world champion in parallel GS.

Ledecka said she brought up the issue with the International Ski Federation, which governs both sports.

“On one side I see their point. For one athlete why should they do that, right? But from the other side I think I made snowboarding a little more popular, and I think a lot of fans would be happy to see me compete in both,” Ledecka said. “It’s their decision, and I have to respect it.”

Ledecka has not decided which worlds she’ll compete in. She’s currently going back and forth between the snowboard and ski circuits.

Last week, she finished first and second in two parallel GS events in Italy and then switched to downhill skis this week. She was fastest in a downhill training run Monday before finishing 29th in Tuesday’s race.

“I think I can decide right before,” Ledecka said. “But it will probably be early, so I’m well prepared.”

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