Katie Ledecky
Tyr

Katie Ledecky preps to conquer fresh Olympic challenges in new suit

Leave a comment

The swimsuit Katie Ledecky plans to wear in races through the 2020 Olympics is called the Venzo.

“It means ‘I conquer’ in Spanish,” Ledecky said.

Fitting. Ledecky, one of the world’s most dominant athletes, discussed the new suit from her sponsor, Tyr, in a recent phone interview and reflected on her performance at August’s Pan Pacific Championships, her first major international meet as a pro.

Ledecky earned three golds, a silver and a bronze at Pan Pacs in Tokyo. But at the meet she expressed dissatisfaction with her times and acclimation to the 16-hour time difference after arriving in Japan four days beforehand.

Ledecky said last week that it marked the most difficult circumstances under which she has raced at a major international meet.

She was beaten by younger swimmers for the first time (Canadian Taylor Ruck and Japanese Rikako Ikee in the 200m freestyle) and, also for the first time, failed to clock her fastest time for the year in any individual event at a major international meet (Olympics, worlds, Pan Pacs).

“I was really happy with how I swam under those circumstances,” Ledecky said, noting her 4x200m free relay split of 1:53.84, faster than Ruck and Ikee and her second-fastest ever after a 1:53.74 in Rio, and her fifth-fastest 800m free. “A lot of good takeaways. The biggest one is the challenge we had in front of us and what we experienced. In some ways I’m happy we experienced that. Hopefully, I’ll learn from it.”

Ledecky continues to live at Stanford after turning pro following her sophomore season for the Cardinal. She still trains with Stanford team swimmers, though she is no longer eligible to compete collegiately. That means she’s sharing the pool with one of her new rivals, Ruck, a freshman on the team.

“We don’t overlap too much, thus far at least,” Ledecky said. Ruck swims the 100m and 200m frees and the 100m and 200m backstrokes. “She kind of comes up to the 200m [in training], and I kind of come down to it from the mile. It provides me some extra motivation having her next to me, and I would hope it does the same for her.”

The 200m free has been the most competitive of Ledecky’s four primary events (400m, 800m, 1500m frees, too). It should only get more interesting as the Olympics near with Ruck in the same training pool and Ikee looking like one of the host nation’s biggest stars. Both are 18 years old, three years younger than Ledecky.

“They’re only going to get faster,” said Ledecky, whose personal best of 1:53.73 from Rio is .71 faster than Ruck’s and 1.12 seconds clear of Ikee. “I really feel like I have a good future in that event. I know that because I have a 1:53 under my belt in an individual race, and I’ve been 1:53 on a relay at Pan Pacs [one day after the individual 200m free].”

When Ledecky took that 200m free bronze at Pan Pacs (just her second defeat in a major international individual final), it came 85 minutes after she won the 800m free. And what she called “a challenging” first day of the meet, when she was still adjusting to the time difference.

“I was feeling a lot of fatigue by the time 8 p.m. rolled around, but that’s not an excuse,” she said. “I don’t think I need an excuse for that race. Taylor and Rikako Ikee had great races, and I need to be ready to compete against them.”

The Olympic swimming schedule released last month has the women’s 200m and 1500m freestyle finals in the same session. It creates for Ledecky one of the toughest potential doubles in Olympic swimming history in the first Games with a women’s 1500m free.

Ledecky conquered a similar double before, winning the 1500m free and then advancing out of the 200m free semis less than an hour later at the 2015 and 2017 Worlds.

But Ledecky first pointed out an earlier day on the Olympic program, where the 400m free final is in the morning followed by the 200m and 1500m free heats that night.

“That one day will be a lot of racing, but I feel very confident that I can prepare for that,” she said. “I’m happy the 200m final is before the 1500m final. I kind of like that pairing a little better than the other way around.”

As for the Venzo, expect to see Ledecky wear it in competition for the first time in January. She expects her next meet to be Winter Nationals in late November. Everything is about preparing for the world championships in South Korea in July.

Ledecky, who signed with Tyr in June, said the company has been working on this suit since the Rio Olympics, gathering input from its pro swimmer roster.

“When I was figuring out who to sign with, I had the opportunity to meet with Tyr and try the suit on day one,” she said. “That was a big factor in signing with Tyr. It’s all about feel. There’s no magical formula that I can tell you this is what I would want to feel, but I got in the water with it on and got comfortable and felt like it was fast and advanced the technology of the suit.”

MORE: Ledecky ties Michael Phelps record for USA Swimming award

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

With four former champions in the mix, who can claim U.S. Championships pairs’ title?

Getty
Leave a comment

There have been four different U.S. pairs’ champions in the past four years. All four of those teams are in the field at this week’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. With that in mind, who could get the nod to compete at the world championships in March?

The U.S. has two spots to fill, thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth at last year’s worlds.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had the best fall of any U.S. pair, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series. Denney and Frazier finished with silver medals at last year’s national championships, too. The team has previous experience at the world championships (2015: 12th; 2017: 20th).

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title last year after a season that was nearly sidelined by Cain-Gribble’s concussion in December 2018. As the solo U.S. representatives at the world championships, they succeeded in earning back two world berths for 2020.

This season, they won two B-level competitions and finished fourth and fifth at their Grand Prix assignments. LeDuc said last week that despite their win at Golden Spin in December, “there was a little bit of room for improvement, which is exactly what we want from a competition going into nationals.”

“We feel like we’ve improved a lot as far as what we’re able to take on mentally because we know that this is going to be an intense week,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re prepared for that. We’ve never had to do this before, where we’re coming in and we’re already the reigning champions. We’ve never come in with that title before. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about it and what that feeling is, but overall their main thing was, ‘Be prepared. Prepare yourself beyond what you can even imagine. When you get there, just go on autopilot and do your thing.’”

PyeongChang Olympic team event bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t been in top form since the Games. Later in 2018, they split from short-lived coach Aljona Savchenko in Germany and moved to California.

They finished an all-time low of seventh at last year’s nationals and were not assigned to any events later in the season. In their off-season, Chris underwent wrist surgery. The couple also added Rafael Arutunian to their coaching team to address their jumping abilities. Their season consisted of a silver medal at a B-level competition, followed by two Grand Prix assignments where they finished fourth and seventh.

“We feel that many people probably have kind of written us off, because we’re an old married couple and we’re kind of labeled ‘can’t get it together,’” Scimeca Knierim said after finishing fourth at Skate Canada this fall. “That’s almost an advantage, because I feel like for so long, we were considered the front-runners. I still believe we are. We’re trying to show we can get it together.”

The last time the Knierims competed at a nationals in Greensboro, in 2015, they won the first of their two titles. That year, they notched their highest placement (seventh) across five total trips to the world championships.

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won their national title in 2016 and were also sent on their only trip to the world championships where they finished 13th. In 2017, Kayne underwent knee surgery, but they returned to the national podium in 2018 and won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after a disastrous free skate.

This season, they collected a silver medals and a fourth place finish at two B-level competitions as well as a pair of sixth-place finishes on the Grand Prix.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Maddie Bowman, first Olympic ski halfpipe champion, ends competitive career

Leave a comment

Maddie Bowman knows she has been very fortunate. She just turned 26 years old and has already accomplished everything she wanted in her sport, halfpipe skiing.

Bowman, who won the event’s Olympic debut in Sochi in 2014, recently decided to retire from competition.

“I’ve really given the sport everything I could that was positive, and I knew the sport would be in great hands when I walked away,” she said. “So I decided it was my time to be done.

“I just felt like I couldn’t give anything else to the sport because I was a little bit afraid [of injury], but also it’s mentally exhausting. It drained my mental health for sure, but I loved doing it, and I still love skiing. Competition just isn’t for me anymore.”

The decision weighed on the South Lake Tahoe native last season. She competed at the Winter X Games for the last time, taking fifth place. She earned medals each of the previous seven years, including five golds, despite undergoing two major knee surgeries in that span.

“I was thinking [last year] that this is really hard, and I don’t know if I want to keep doing this,” she said. “It was really hard for me to get into the right mental state again. It’s painful. My knees hurt, but I was torn. I was torn between wanting to walk away and the love I had for the people I was around, people I competed against and just the lifestyle. I worked really hard on opening up other doors for myself besides skiing, which is making my transition a lot smoother.”

Those opportunities include activism, spreading awareness around climate change for Protect Our Winters. Bowman wants to finish her college degree and teach high school biology and health. She aims to continue public speaking regarding motivational talks and mental health.

Bowman struggled with depression between the Sochi and PyeongChang Olympics. She is equally proud of her second Olympic performance — finishing 11th in South Korea — as her landmark gold medal in Russia. While in PyeongChang, she believed it would likely be her last Olympics.

“I had doubts if I would even make it to PyeongChang, and making it there was one of my huge accomplishments,” Bowman said. “It was such a special event. Even though I only got 11th, I skied my freakin’ heart out. I gave it everything I had.”

Bowman, the daughter of two former professional skiers, took gold in Sochi as the youngest finalist. She landed back-to-back 900s for the first time in her career (by accident after having to improvise her opening run). She did so in front of family that included 78-year-old Lorna Perpall, who wore a T-shirt that read “badass grandma.”

Afterward, Bowman spoke about friend Sarah Burke, the Canadian ski halfpipe pioneer who died after a training accident in 2012.

“It means so much for us to be able to show the world what our sport is,” Bowman said that night in Russia. “She’s here with us.

“I sure hope I, and everyone else, made her proud because we would not be here without her.”

Bowman has her own place in history. No matter how long ski halfpipe is in the Olympics, she will always be the first woman to earn gold.

“I know as our sport gets more solidified into the Olympic Games, it can become pretty national, cutthroat and competitive,” she said. “I would love to see it stay this free-spirited work of art, something beautiful like that.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Torah Bright, Olympic champion, no longer competing in halfpipe