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U.S. female swimmers historically dominant in 2018 world rankings

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The U.S. has a female swimmer ranked in the top four of every Olympic event this year, which is the first time since 2007, according to FINA and USA Swimming databases.

The world’s fastest times came into focus following last week’s Asian Games, the biggest meet remaining on the 2018 senior international schedule. There are still opportunities remaining, particularly the Youth Olympics in October, but that has an age limit of 18 years old.

The biggest meet of the year for every swimming power has passed — the Commonwealth Games in April and the European Championships, Pan Pacific Championships and Asian Games this month.

This is the only year in the four-year cycle without an Olympics or a world championships. The best way to determine the world’s best swimmers is to compare best times from around the world throughout the year.

The U.S. women would earn medals in 12 of 14 individual Olympic events if awarded based on fastest times this year, matching their results from the 2016 Olympics and 2017 World Championships.

Katie Ledecky would take three golds (400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles) and a silver (200m freestyle). Kathleen Baker would earn 100m backstroke gold and silver in the 200m back and 200m individual medley, making her the most versatile swimmer in the country.

The notable improvement this year came in the U.S.’ traditionally weak events — the 200m breaststroke and 200m butterfly.

In 2016, the top-ranked U.S. women in the 200m breast was Katie Meili at No. 14, according to FINA. No Americans made the Olympic final. Now it’s arguably a deep event. Micah Sumrall (formerly Lawrence) is ranked No. 3 in 2018 despite taking all of 2017 off from competition. Bethany Galat and Lilly King finished second and fourth in the 200m breast at 2017 Worlds.

In 2017, Hali Flickinger was the top American in the 200m fly but No. 12 in the world. The U.S. hasn’t earned an Olympic women’s 200m fly medal since Misty Hyman‘s upset gold at Sydney 2000, its longest drought in any men’s or women’s Olympic pool event. In every other event, the U.S. has earned at least one medal between the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

But Flickinger, a 24-year-old veteran, took gold at Pan Pacs after lowering her personal best at nationals from 2:06.67 to 2:05.87. Flickinger was seventh in Rio and ninth at the 2017 Worlds. She’s No. 2 in the world this year.

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2018 Swimming World Rankings — Women
50m Freestyle
1. Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) — 23.74
2. Pernille Blume (DEN) — 23.75
3. Cate Campbell (AUS) — 23.78
4. Simone Manuel (USA) — 24.10
5. Maria Kameneva (RUS) — 24.21
5. Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED) — 24.21

100m Freestyle
1. Cate Campbell (AUS) — 52.03
2. Bronte Campbell (AUS) — 52.27
3. Simone Manuel (USA) — 52.54
4. Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) — 52.72
5. Taylor Ruck (CAN) — 52.72
5. Pernille Blume (DEN) — 52.72

200m Freestyle
1. Taylor Ruck (CAN) — 1:54.44
2. Katie Ledecky (USA) — 1:54.56
3. Ariarne Titmus (AUS) — 1:54.85
3. Rikako Ikee (JPN) — 1:54.85
5. Charlotte Bonnet (FRA) — 1:54.95

400m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky (USA) — 3:57.94
2. Ariarne Titmus (AUS) — 3:59.66
3. Leah Smith (USA) — 4:02.21
4. Wang Jianjiahe (CHN) — 4:03.14
5. Simona Quadrella (ITA) — 4:03.35

800m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky (USA) — 8:07.27
2. Simona Quadrella (ITA) — 8:16.45
3. Ariarne Titmus (AUS) — 8:17.07
4. Leah Smith (USA) — 8:17.27
5. Wang Jianjiahe (CHN) — 8:18.09

1500m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky (USA) — 15:20.48
2. Simona Quadrella (ITA) — 15:51.61
3. Wang Jianjiahe (CHN) — 15:53.01
4. Li Bingjie (CHN) — 15:53.80
5. Ashley Twichell (USA) — 15:55.68

100m Backstroke
1. Kathleen Baker (USA) — 58.00
2. Kylie Masse (CAN) — 58.54
3. Emily Seebohm (AUS) — 58.66
4. Olivia Smoliga (USA) — 58.75
5. Regan Smith (USA) — 58.83

200m Backstroke
1. Kylie Masse (CAN) — 2:05.98
2. Kathleen Baker (USA) — 2:06.14
3. Margherita Panziera (ITA) — 2:06.18
4. Taylor Ruck (CAN) — 2:06.36
5. Regan Smith (USA) — 2:06.43

100m Breaststroke
1. Yulia Efimova (RUS) — 1:04.98
2. Lilly King (USA) — 1:05.36
3. Molly Hannis (USA) — 1:05.78
4. Reona Aoki (JPN) — 1:05.90
5. Katie Meili (USA) — 1:06.19

200m Breaststroke
1. Yulia Efimova (RUS) — 2:20.72
2. Reona Aoki (JPN) — 2:21.85
3. Micah Sumrall (USA) — 2:21.88
4. Tatjana Schoenmaker (RSA) — 2:22.02
5. Lilly King (USA) — 2:22.12

100m Butterfly
1. Rikako Ikee (JPN) — 56.08
2. Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) — 56.23
3. Kelsi Dahlia (USA) — 56.44
4. Emma McKeon (AUS) — 56.54
5. Maddie Groves (AUS) — 57.19

200m Butterfly
1. Alys Thomas (GBR) — 2:05.45
2. Hali Flickinger (USA) — 2:05.87
3. Zhang Yufei (CHN) — 2:06.61
4. Laura Taylor (AUS) — 2:06.80
5. Mireia Belmonta (ESP) — 2:07.09

200m Individual Medley
1. Yui Ohashi (JPN) — 2:08.16
2. Kathleen Baker (USA) — 2:08.32
3. Kim Seoyeong (KOR) — 2:08.34
4. Sydney Pickrem (CAN) — 2:09.07
5. Melanie Margalis (USA) — 2:09.43

400m Individual Medley
1. Yui Ohashi (JPN) — 4:33.77
2. Fantine Lesaffre (FRA) — 4:34.17
3. Ilaria Cusinato (ITA) — 4:34.65
4. Ally McHugh (USA) — 4:34.80
5. Aimee Wilmott (GBR) — 4:34.90

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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