Ryan Murphy leads as U.S. cleans up at swimming short course worlds

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U.S. Olympic swimmers Ryan MurphyBlake Pieroni and Olivia Smoliga won individual short-course world titles in Hangzhou, China, on Wednesday.

The U.S. also broke world records in winning two relays — the women’s 4x50m medley and mixed-gender 4x50m freestyle.

Murphy, who swept the Rio backstrokes, led off by edging Chinese rival Xu Jiayu by .03 in the 100m back. Xu had relegated Murphy to bronze at the 2017 World Championships in the standard Olympic-size pool.

Smoliga upset Olympic champion Katinka Hosszu and world-record holder Kathleen Baker in the women’s 100m back, touching .07 ahead of the Hungarian superstar. Baker was fifth.

Pieroni, a veteran U.S. freestyler on relays, earned his first individual global gold medal. Pieroni won the 200m free despite being the slowest qualifier into the final. He beat Lithuanian Danas Rapsys by .29. Olympic and 2017 World champion Sun Yang of China is not racing short-course worlds.

Short-course worlds are held in even-numbered years in a 25-meter pool rather than the 50-meter pool used at the Olympics. U.S. Olympic champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Lilly King are among those not competing this week.

WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

In other events Wednesday, triple Rio Olympic champion Hosszu overtook American Kelsi Dahlia in the final strokes of the 200m butterfly, winning by .13. Dahlia lowered her American record by 1.16 seconds.

South African Cameron van der Burgh turned back the clock to win the 100m breaststroke from lane seven by .07. Van der Burgh, 30, won the 2012 Olympic 100m breast but ceded to Brit Adam Peaty in the last Olympic cycle. Peaty is not at short-course worlds.

Worlds continue Thursday, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

MORE: The U.S. breaststroke hope to end Olympic drought

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Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

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