Katie Ledecky beaten in 400m freestyle to open swim worlds

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Katie Ledecky suffered her first loss in a major international 400m freestyle, getting run down by Australian 18-year-old Ariarne Titmus in the last 50 meters to open the world championships in Gwangju, South Korea on Sunday.

Titmus overcame a .62 of a second deficit going into the last 50 and won by 1.21 seconds over Ledecky in 3:58.76. Ledecky held off countrywoman Leah Smith by 1.32 seconds for the silver.

“I just got to the last turn and felt like I just tightened up,” said Ledecky, who lost a major international final for the third time (the other two were in the 200m free). “My legs were just dead. Obviously, Ariarne took advantage of that.

“This stings a little, unfamiliar and different.”

Ledecky, known for her endurance, had the second-slowest last 50 meters of the eight-woman field. Titmus went 1.83 seconds faster over the last length of the pool.

“I knew that I properly had that in me,” said Titmus, whose coach is known to utter Ledecky’s name as motivation in practices. “She’s the greatest ever.”

Ledecky had won the last six major international 400m frees among the world championships, Pan Pacific Championships and Olympics dating to 2013. But she swam her slowest time of her seven major finals on Sunday and her 18th-fastest 400m free overall.

“My physical preparation has been great for this meet, really expected to be a lot faster than that,” said Ledecky, who said last week she was feeling better in the pool than in a long time, perhaps since Rio. “I knew it was going to be a tough race going in. I was nervous for it.”

This makes Titmus, nicknamed “Terminator,” the favorite in Wednesday’s 200m freestyle, too, given she has been faster than Ledecky in that event this year. Titmus emerged as a rival in 2018, outsplitting Ledecky in the last half of the Pan Pacific Championships 400m free and giving the American her closest-ever major win in the event (still by a comfortable 1.16 seconds).

Ledecky is just getting started. She’s slated for five events in Gwangju, South Korea, continuing with the 1500m freestyle heats on Monday. She is also expected to swim the 200m and 800m frees and the 4x200m free.

“I need to rebound from this, and I need to get my fight back,” she said.

SWIM WORLDS: TV Schedule | Results

Also Sunday, Caeleb Dressel led off a U.S. 4x100m freestyle that earned gold in 3:09.06, a world championships record. Dressel, who earned a Michael Phelps record-tying seven golds in 2017, was joined on the relay by Blake PieroniZach Apple and eight-time Olympic medalist Nathan Adrian, who announced in January that he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

“I’m very grateful to be here racing,” Adrian said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “It beats the heck out of being home, waiting for test results, waiting for another surgery.”

Australia won the women’s 4x100m free, anchored by Cate Campbell, who had the fastest split, in 3:30.21. The U.S., anchored by Simone Manuel, broke the American record for silver in 3:31.02.

China’s Sun Yang earned his fourth straight 400m free world title amid a doping controversy that has American Lilly King criticizing.

Sun grabbed his 10th world title overall in 3:42.44, relegating Rio Olympic champ Mack Horton of Australia to silver by .73. Horton called Sun a “drug cheat” in Rio for Sun was banned three months in 2014.

Horton stood behind the medal podium rather than on it for the Chinese anthem. Horton and Sun did not shake hands at their medal ceremony, and Horton stood a step away from Sun and bronze medalist Gabriele Detti for post-ceremony photos.

“[Sun’s] actions — and how it’s been handled — speak louder than anything I’ll ever say,” Horton said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Adam Peaty became the first man to break 57 seconds in the 100m breaststroke semifinals, lowering his world record for the fifth time to 56.88. The next-fastest man in history’s best time is 58.29.

Swimming worlds continue Monday morning ET with finals in the men’s 50m butterfly (Dressel) and 100m breaststroke (Peaty) and women’s 100m butterfly (Sarah Sjöström) and 200m individual medley (Katinka Hosszu).

NBC Olympics researcher Megan Soisson contributed to this report from Gwangju.

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MORE: Katie Ledecky faces toughest tests yet at swim worlds

Dan Hicks, Rowdy Gaines call backyard pool swim race

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Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines covered swimming together at the last six Olympics, including every one of Michael Phelps‘ finals, but they’ve never called a “race” quite like this.

“We heard you were looking for something to commentate during the down time….might this short short short course 100 IM help?” tweeted Cathleen Pruden, posting a video of younger sister Mary Pruden, a sophomore swimmer at Columbia University, taking individual medley strokes in what appeared to be an inflatable backyard pool.

“Hang on,” Gaines replied. “This race of the century deserves the right call. @DanHicksNBC and I are working some magic!”

Later, Hicks posted a revised video dubbed with commentary from he and Gaines.

They became the latest commentators to go beyond the booth to post calls on social media while sports are halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBC Sports hockey voice Doc Emrick (who has also called Olympic hockey and water polo) did play-by-play of a windshield wiper installation.

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MORE: Ledecky, Manuel welcome Olympic decision after training in backyard pool

Which athletes are qualified for the U.S. Olympic team?

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Soon after Tokyo Olympic qualifying events began getting postponed, the International Olympic Committee announced that all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes.

The IOC repeated that position over the last week, after the Tokyo Games were postponed (now to open July 23, 2021). What does that mean for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee?

Well, 76 athletes qualified for the U.S. Olympic team before the Olympic postponement was announced. That full list is here.

Those 76 athletes can be separated into two categories.

  • Athletes who earned Olympic spots BY NAME via International Federation (i.e. International Surfing Association or International Aquatics Federation) selection procedures.
  • Athletes named to the U.S. Olympic team by their national governing body (i.e. USA Swimming or USA Track and Field) and confirmed by the USOPC using NGB selection procedures after the NGB earned a quota spot.

When the IOC says “all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes,” it means just that. USA Softball still has 15 athlete quota spots from qualifying a full team via international results. Surfer Kolohe Andino still has his Olympic spot from qualifying BY NAME via the International Surfing Association selection procedures route.

USA Softball named its 15-player Olympic roster last fall. Those 15 athletes did not earn Olympic quota spots for themselves. Unlike Andino (and 13 other American qualifiers across all sports), the 15 softball players had to be nominated by USA Softball and confirmed by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Unless and until the USOPC confirms that any of those other 62 athletes remain qualified, for now the list of U.S. Olympic qualifiers is these 14 who qualified BY NAME:

Karate (1)
Sakura Kokumai

Modern Pentathlon (2)
Samantha Achterberg
Amro Elgeziry

Swimming (3)
Haley Anderson
Ashley Twichell
Jordan Wilimovsky

Sport Climbing (4)
Kyra Condie
Brooke Raboutou
Nathaniel Coleman
Colin Duffy

Surfing (4)
Caroline Marks
Carissa Moore
Kolohe Andino
John John Florence

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MORE: Qualified athletes go into limbo with Tokyo postponement