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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

Iran banned from judo for instructing athlete to withdraw rather than face Israel opponent

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Iran has been banned from international judo for instructing one of its athletes to withdraw from August’s world championships rather than face an Israeli judoka.

The International Judo Federation said Iran authorities instructing Saeid Mollaei to withdraw rather than face Israeli judoka Sagi Muki was “a serious breach and gross violation” of its code of ethics and the Olympic Charter.

IJF spokesman Vlad Marinescu said any ban won’t apply to the Tokyo Olympics. That’s because it’s the Iranian Olympic Committee, not the Iranian Judo Federation, which formally enters the Olympic team.

“We have been informed by IJF that they will launch a proper procedure giving all concerned parties the right to be heard,” an International Olympic Committee spokesperson said. “Should the issue become an Olympic issue we will take the result of this procedure into consideration.”

An IJF disciplinary commission said it “has a strong reason to believe that the Iran Judo Federation will continue or repeatedly engage in misconduct” given its history of similar actions with its athletes potentially facing Israelis.

Mollaei, a 2018 World champion, said he was afraid to return to Iran after disobeying those orders at worlds. He competed anyway but lost one round before a potential final with Muki.

“I want to compete wherever I can,” Mollaei said in a statement from the IJF. “I live in a country whose law does not permit me to. We have no choice, all athletes must comply with it. All I did today was for my life, for a new life.

“I need help. Even if the authorities of my country told me that I can go back without any problems, I am afraid.”

The IJF said it would help Mollaei prepare for next year’s Olympics, also in Tokyo. If Iran refuses to enter him, one option could be the International Olympic Committee-backed team of refugee athletes.

Iranian sports teams have for several decades had a policy of not competing against Israelis, which the country does not recognize. The IJF has said Iranians have thrown matches and used “questionable injuries” to avoid competing against Israelis.

Mollaei’s case came four months after judo officials hailed a breakthrough in relations with Iran, publishing a letter signed by Salehi Amiri pledging to “fully respect the Olympic charter and its non-discrimination principle.”

Back in August, Iranian Sports Minister Masoud Soltanifar accused the IJF of trying to “create problems” with Mollaei, the IRNA news agency reported. He said Iran will send a protest letter to the IOC.

Iranian team manager Majid Zareian also criticized the IJF, saying “everything was set in advance to put Mollaei against a participant from (Israel).”

“They did not allow me to be present next to my athlete in exercise salon,” Zareian said. “After the competitions they changed hotel of Mollaei without my permission, against the regulations.”

He denied reports Iranian authorities had put pressure on Mollaei.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Jacarra Winchester, after foe bites her, wins first wrestling world title

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Jacarra Winchester missed the Rio Olympic wrestling trials after tearing her knee playing soccer. She missed a medal at the 2018 World Championships after a semifinal-winning takedown was reversed.

There was no denying her on Wednesday.

Winchester, who picked up wrestling a decade ago as a high school junior, became the first American to earn a medal at the worlds in Kazakhstan this week. And it was gold.

She came back to beat Japanese Nanami Irie 5-3 in the final of the 55kg division, a weight class that is not on the Olympic program. Winchester must move to 53kg or 57kg next year.

But for now she can celebrate quite a journey. At 26, she’s one of the older wrestlers to become a first-time world champion. She believed she had what it took last year, when a reversed call kept her from the final and she subsequently lost a bronze-medal match.

Winchester, who has problems sleeping, said she replayed the end of that semifinal in her head ever since.

“There’s no reason why I should have gotten beat,” she said Wednesday. “Clearly I have what I need on the mat. I just need to change my mindset. … Just knowing you’re the best, pushing yourself and not letting anything get to me.”

That helped in Tuesday’s semifinals, where Winchester said her Turkish opponent bit her, pulled her hair and twisted her fingers. Winchester, who grew up in the Oakland, Calif., area, said that when she started wrestling she had no Olympic goals.

“I had a mindset of I’m not a quitter,” she said.

Earlier Wednesday, Adeline Gray reached Thursday’s 76kg final, where she will try to become the first American to earn five world titles.

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