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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

Mondo Duplantis, Sandi Morris miss attempts at pole vault records

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Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis and U.S. athlete Sandi Morris took turns attempting world records in the pole vault Wednesday at the Meeting d’Athlétsime Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais meet at Arena Stade Regional in Liévin, France, but both were unable to clear the bar.

Duplantis, aiming to set the world record for third time in February, had no misses leading up to his record attempts. U.S. vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has won the last two world championships, cleared 5.90m but dropped out after one attempt at 5.95m. Duplantis passed on that height, then cleared 6.07m to warm up for his shot at 6.19m, just shy of 20 feet, 3 3/4 inches.

Morris’ attempt to tie Jennifer Suhr‘s world indoor record of 5.03m from 2016 was more of a surprise. Morris holds the U.S. outdoor record at 5.00m but had never done better than 4.95m indoors. She won Wednesday’s competition with a clearance of 4.83m and asked to go immediately to 5.03m, or 16 feet, 6 inches.

Yelena Isinbayeva still holds the outdoor record of 5.06m, set in 2009. Morris is second on the all-time list and is the only athlete other than Isinbayeva or Suhr to clear 5 meters either indoors or outdoors.

In the men’s pole vault, Duplantis’ clearance of 6.18m Feb. 15 in Glasgow is the best vault indoors or outdoors.  Sergey Bubka still has the highest clearance outdoors at 6.14m. Bubka also held the indoor record of 6.15m for more than 20 years, finally losing it to Renaud Lavillenie in 2014. Duplantis cleared 6.17m Feb. 9 in Poland, then added another centimeter last week in Glasgow.

READ: Duplantis raises record in Glasgow

Duplantis, Lavillenie and Bubka are the only vaulters to clear 20 feet. Kendricks cleared 6.06m, or 19-10 1/2, last summer, the highest outdoor clearance by anyone other than Bubka.

Duplantis grew up in Louisiana and attended LSU for one year, setting the NCAA indoor (5.92m) and outdoor (6.00m) before turning pro, though he was upset in the NCAA final by South Dakota junior Chris Nilsen.

Also at Wednesday’s meet:

Ronnie Baker ran 6.49 seconds in the 60m semifinals and lowered that to 6.44 in the final, second only to Christian Coleman this season. Demek Kemp finished second and tied his personal best of 6.50.

Nia Ali and Christina Clemons finished 1-2 in the women’s 60m hurdles with identical times of 7.92. Ali is the reigning world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the 100m hurdles. She also won world indoor titles in 2014 and 2016.

Two Ethiopian runners set the fastest times of the season Samuel Tefera in the 1,500m (3:35.54) and Getnet Wale in the 3,000m (7:32.80). Wale was fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase in the 2019 world championships.

Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, racing in his home country of France, won the 60m hurdles in 7.47, second this season to Grant Holloway‘s 7.38 last week.

The World Athletics Indoor Tour ends Friday in Madrid. The world indoor championships originally scheduled for March in Nanjing, China, have been postponed a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Susan Dunklee extends decade of surprises for U.S. biathletes

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When Susan Dunklee‘s time held up for second place in Friday’s 7.5km sprint, she became the first U.S. biathlete to win two world championship medals in her career and earned the sixth medal for the U.S. in world biathlon championship history.

Four of those medals have come in the past eight years.

First was Tim Burke, who had gained some fame among biathlon fans with his three World Cup podiums in the 2009-10 season and his relationship with German biathlete Andrea Henkel, who would win two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships before retiring and marrying Burke.

In that season, Burke led the World Cup briefly but faded and didn’t do well in the Olympics. But in 2012-13, he finished 10th in the World Cup overall and ended the American drought in the world championships, finishing second in the individual behind dominant French biathlete Martin Fourcade, who won his 11th non-relay world title Wednesday in the individual.

In 2017, Dunklee became the first U.S. woman to win a non-relay medal, taking the lead in the mass start after quickly knocking down all five targets in the last shooting and holding on for second. She didn’t come out of nowhere, having taken a few World Cup medals. That season, she ranked 10th overall in the World Cup.

Then came the stunner. Lowell Bailey, who had just one World Cup podium in a long career coming into the 2016-17 season, had bib 100 in the individual, a spot usually reserved for non-contenders. But he hit all 20 targets, always important in a race that penalizes athletes one minute per miss, and gutted it out through the last lap to keep a 3.3-second advantage and win the first world championship for a U.S. biathlete.

Like Dunklee, Bailey earned his medal in the midst of a strong season. The individual was won of his four top-10 finishes in the world championships, including a fourth-place finish in the sprint. He wound up eighth overall in the World Cup.

Bailey and Burke each stuck it out to compete in their fourth Olympics in 2018, then crossed the finish line together in their final race at the U.S. championships.

This season is their first in management. Bailey, also a bluegrass musician, is now U.S. Biathlon’s director of high performance. Burke is director of athlete development.

Dunklee, on the other hand, isn’t done. Her results slipped a bit after her 2017 breakthrough, but she has had some top 10s. When she shoots clean, as she did Friday, she’s a contender.

The first U.S. medal was in the first women’s world championship in 1984, when Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swenson bronze in 3x5km relay. Swenson also finished fifth in the individual that year and returned to compete in the next two world championships after a harrowing experience in which she was abducted and shot, a story that inspired a film starring Tracy Pollan.

The only other U.S. medal in the world championships before Burke, Bailey and Dunklee was Josh Thompson‘s individual silver in 1987. The only athletes other than Burke, Bailey, Dunklee and Thompson to have World Cup podiums (excluding relays) are Jeremy Teela in 2009 and Clare Egan, who was third in a mass start last spring and is competing in the world championships this year.

U.S. Paralympians broke through with two gold medals on the first day of competition in the 2018 Paralympics.

READ: Kendall Gretsch, Dan Cnossen take gold

Wednesday saw another surprise finish for a U.S. biathlete. Leif Nordgren, whose career-best finish outside the relays is 16th, was the only athlete to go 20-for-20 on the shooting range and placed eighth in the individual.

The championships continue through through Sunday with the single mixed relay on Thursday, the men’s and women’s relays on Saturday, and the men’s and women’s mass starts on Sunday.

WATCH: World biathlon championships TV schedule

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