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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Mark Spitz takes on Katie Ledecky’s challenge

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Swimmers around the world took on Katie Ledecky‘s milk-glass challenge since it became a social media sensation, including one of the few Americans with more Olympic gold medals.

Mark Spitz, who won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games, took 10 strokes in an at-home pool while perfectly balancing a glass of what appeared to be water on his head.

“Would’ve been faster with the ‘stache, @markspitzusa, but I still give this 7 out of 7 gold medals,” Ledecky tweeted.

Spitz joined fellow Olympic champions Susie O’Neill of Australia and American Matt Grevers in posting similar videos to what Ledecky first shared Monday.

In Tokyo next year, Ledecky can pass Spitz’s career gold-medal count of nine if she wins all of her expected events — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and the 4x200m free relay.

Then she would trail one athlete from any country in any sport — Michael Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist who has yet to post video of swimming while balancing a glass on his head.

MORE: Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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