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Five thoughts off Pan Pacific Swimming Championships

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Five thoughts off the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, which wrap up with the open-water events Tuesday …

1. Katie Ledecky among swimmers affected by travel
Ledecky extended her distance dominance to six years — earning three golds, a silver and a bronze — but after each of her individual finals sessions expressed either dissatisfaction with her race times or difficulty adjusting to the 16-hour time difference from their California training camp.

Ledecky said the team arrived in Japan on Sunday, four days before the meet began, and the acclimation was tougher than anticipated.

She was notably beaten by younger swimmers for the first time in the 200m free, challenged for the first time in five years in the 400m free and 18 seconds slower than her world record in the 1500m free.

Her best times this year all came before the year’s major international meet (a first).

Still, Ledecky’s wins in the 400m, 800m and 1500m frees came in times faster than any swimmer in history, aside from Ledecky. Judged by anybody else’s standard, Ledecky is still recording unheard-of performances.

A storyline to follow the next two years: Canadian Taylor Ruck, the 200m free winner, is set to enroll at Stanford, where Ledecky trains.

2. Caeleb Dressel’s off-summer not a major concern
A reminder of just how great Dressel was in 2017:

50m Freestyle: lowers PB by .38, fastest in the world by .12
100m Freestyle: lowers PB by .84, fastest in the world by .48
100m Butterfly: lowers PB by 2.36, fastest in the world by .76

If Dressel went on to drop his times by about half as much in 2018 and beyond, he would break all three world records (each set in the high-tech suit era).

The phrase “tied Michael Phelps‘ record” was attached to Dressel after his seven golds at 2017 Worlds. He had another record-breaking NCAA season at the University of Florida and turned professional in the spring.

Nationals and Pan Pacs did not go as planned. After his last swim in Tokyo, Dressel spoke openly for the first time about a late June motorcycle accident he said was caused by a driver pulling out in front of him that “maybe, maybe didn’t interfere with” his training.

Dressel did not improve any of his personal bests this summer (didn’t come within a half-second of them) and ranks Nos. 8 and 11 in the world this year in the 50m and 100m frees.

Still, Dressel is No. 1 in the world in the 100m fly and qualified for all three events for 2019 Worlds. He’s just 21 years old, younger than Phelps was at his peak. Plus not knowing how much the accident affected him, it’s no time for major panic.

3. Chase Kalisz is the world’s best swimmer
Kalisz was asked before nationals what was the more impressive feat — sweeping the individual medleys at a world championships or winning seven total gold medals at worlds.

“I just won two races,” Kalisz said then. “Caeleb won seven. So I’m going to give it to him.”

Fair enough. But Kalisz finished Pan Pacs as the only man in the world to be ranked No. 1 in multiple Olympic races. Give him his due.

Kalisz swept the 200m and 400m IMs, as he did at 2017 Worlds, soundly beating his biggest rivals, Kosuke Hagino and Daiya Seto, in their home country.

Hagino and Seto may have been training to peak at the Asian Games later this month, but for now Kalisz is the unquestioned king. While many swimmers struggled adapting to Tokyo, Kalisz went faster in both events than he did at nationals and set a personal best in the 200m IM.

Kalisz dominates the races that determine the world’s best all-around swimmer. That focus means he doesn’t get the relay opportunities like Dressel. Of Dressel’s seven golds in 2017, four came in relays.

4. Japan is emerging for Tokyo 2020
Rikako Ikee, 18, is the fastest female 100m butterflier this year, ahead of Olympic and world champion and world-record holder Sarah Sjöström.

Yui Ohashi, 22, leads both IMs in an off-year for Olympic and world champion and world-record holder Katinka Hosszu.

Japan would earn another nine individual silver and bronze medals right now if they were handed out based on fastest times in the world in Olympic events this year, according to FINA. And that’s with the Asian Games yet to take place.

That’s double the amount of individual swimming medals Japan earned at the Rio Olympics or the 2017 World Championships. It would be the most individual swimming medals earned by any nation other than the U.S. and Australia since East Germany at the 1988 Seoul Games.

5. Notable U.S. absences for 2019 World Championships
The following U.S. swimmers won’t be at 2019 Worlds in South Korea: 12-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte (suspended), four-time 2012 Olympic champion Missy Franklin, seven-time Olympic medalist Dana Vollmer, 2000 and 2016 Olympic 50m free champ Anthony Ervin, Olympic 100m breast bronze medalist Cody Miller, world 200m breast silver medalist Bethany Galat, world 100m breast silver medalist Kevin Cordes and world 200m IM bronze medalist Madisyn Cox (suspended).

Most of those were decided before or during nationals two weeks ago.

Moreover, five-time Olympic champ Nathan Adrian and Olympic 200m free bronze medalist Conor Dwyer qualified strictly in relays. No individual events for them.

These swimmers can take note of the past.

In 2010, Matt Grevers failed to qualify for 2011 Worlds. He still made the 2012 Olympic team and earned 100m back gold in London.

Michael Phelps didn’t compete at 2015 Worlds due to suspension (though he did qualify for that team). He came back to close his career with five golds in Rio.

The full list of U.S. qualifiers for worlds is here.

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MORE: Caeleb Dressel ‘lucky’ after motorcycle incident

Three questions with Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea before the U.S. Championships

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2016 U.S. national champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea changed coaches to kick off the new season. Now under Dalilah Sappenfield in Colorado Springs, the oft-injured team said they’re healthier than ever heading into the U.S. Championships this weekend in Detroit.

The 2018 Four Continents Champions got off to a “slow start” this year, with a seventh place finish a silver medal on the Challenger Series. On the Grand Prix series, though, they had a fifth place finish in Japan and a silver medal-performance in France. It was their first-ever Grand Prix medal. They told reporters on a media teleconference ahead of nationals that both of their Grand Prix performances “showed growth.” Since then, they’ve spent time drilling on their programs.

Here’s what we learned from their teleconference:

1. They’ve made huge strides from where they are today compared to where they were this time before nationals a year ago.

Tarah Kayne: “There’s a huge difference for me specifically mentally and physically. Last year I was coming off of a right knee surgery where I had my patella tendon reconstructed. For nationals, we were just getting started back into competitive shape. We had maybe a handful of free skate run-throughs under our belts going into nationals. I was just starting to get comfortable doing throws again. We were purposefully trying to make our throws smaller to cut back the impact on my right knee, and to make it as safe as possible.”

“Now this season, I am feeling so much healthier and stronger. We’re making our throws bigger again! Which is a great feeling for me to feel comfortable and to be in that place physically. And also mentally to feel safe doing that. A huge part of that has been being at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and training under Dalilah who I find to be very empowering.”

Danny O’Shea: “We’re healthy. That’s been the goal for a very long time. We have been elusive for a lot of our career so far. Feeling healthy going into nationals is a very comforting place to be in. Not having to scramble, rely purely on mental toughness to overcome what may be a lack of physical training is a very nice place to be in.

2. They feel like they got a fresh start under their new coach.

TK: “With Dalilah, we started from scratch. We just came to her and let her mold us. Whatever she wanted us to do, we did. We didn’t question things. We didn’t say, ‘that’s not how we do things, how we’re used to.’ We just let her change whatever she wanted to change because we didn’t want to get the same results we have always gotten. We wanted to improve. We wanted to be bigger; we wanted to be better; we wanted to be faster.”

DO: “When you’re with a coach for seven years as a team, things are second-nature. There’s been definite differences in what we’ve been doing throughout the year. Some took some getting used to. Some were very comfortable right off the bat. Overall, it’s been a positive for us and that we’re in a very good place physically right now, which is helping us be able to train hard and keep pushing throughout the year.”

3. Kayne and O’Shea don’t want anyone else to miss out on the Olympics (like they did, as 2018 Olympic alternates) or the world championships. And with only one U.S. pair spot at Worlds this year, they know what’s at stake.

DO: “It’s on our minds.”

TK: “It’s a hard job. It’s a hard position to be in. I wish I wasn’t in this position. I would love to be walking into this with three spots and have a little bit of wiggle room… it’s a job. I have to go and do my job at nationals to get to Worlds. And then I have to do my job at Worlds to make sure no one else is in this position again… We’re capable at this place and time to accomplish that goal for ourselves and for the United States.”

DO: “We have always gone into nationals trying to skate our best, but this year we know we have to go and do that and we have to win. You wanna go into every competition to try and be your best, but with the way things are, we’re going in to win nationals and make that world team again, and go to Worlds and start turning this around. We don’t want to have one spot for Worlds or one spot for the Olympics any longer.”

MORE: Three questions with Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships 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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U.S. junior champions crowned in ladies’ and men’s events

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Gabriella Izzo is the newest junior ladies’ national champion, crowned this week at the U.S. Championships in Detroit. Junior ladies’ national champions of the past include eventual Olympians Mirai Nagasu, Gracie Gold, Polina Edmunds and Bradie Tennell.

Izzo had a commanding lead after the short program, with 60.97 points, where she pulled off her first-ever triple Lutz, triple loop combination in competition. (However, it was deemed under-rotated.) Regardless, her 111.45 points in the free skate combined for 172.42 points and the gold medal.

Audrey Shin, who actually won the free skate by just over a point, earned the silver medal with 165.61 points. Emilia Murdock took home the bronze with 154.48 points.

On the junior men’s side, Ryan Dunk rebounded from second after the short program to win the event. His 132.85-point free skate was enough to crack the 200-point overall score, the only man in the field to do so, and win the gold.

Men’s junior champions include eventual world champion Nathan Chen (twice) as well as Olympians Vincent Zhou and Jason Brown.

Dinh Tran finished second with 196.03 points after a fourth-place short program. Joonsoo Kim, who lead after the short program on Tuesday, ended up with the bronze medal with 187.95 points.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream each junior competition and replays will also be available on-demand. Check out the full schedule and live streaming information here.

The junior rhythm dance took place earlier Wednesday. Siblings Caroline and Gordon Green lead the field with 70.82 points, while Avonley Nguyen and Vadym Kolesnik are second with 65.92 points. The brother-sister team of Oona and Gage Brown are in third with 63.34 heading into Friday’s junior free dance.

Also Wednesday, Laiken Lockley and Keenan Prochnow took the lead in the junior pairs’ short program. The junior pairs’ free skate is Thursday. Kate Finster and Balazs Nagy are second, followed by Isabelle Martins and Ryan Bedard in third.

MORE: Full streaming schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the junior and senior U.S. Championships 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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