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

Coco Gauff eliminated from Australian Open by Sofia Kenin

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Coco Gauff‘s run at the Australian Open ended in the round of 16, foiled by fellow American Sofia Kenin on Sunday.

Kenin ousted the 15-year-old phenom 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Gauff, too, was bidding for her first major quarterfinal after a sterling seven months ignited by her march to the Wimbledon fourth round.

Gauff, ranked No. 684 this time last year, will near the top 50 after the Australian Open. She beat Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon and the Australian Open and took out defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka in the third round on Friday.

Gauff’s play catapulted her to fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying, but she has half the points as fourth-place Madison Keys, and a country can’t qualify more than four players in singles. The Olympic field will be determined by the WTA rankings after the French Open in June.

The 14th seed Kenin, who beat Serena Williams in the 2019 French Open third round, ranks second behind Williams in U.S. Olympic qualifying. She will face No. 27 Wang Qiang or Ons Jabeur in the quarterfinals.

Kenin and Alison Riske are the two remaining U.S. women in the draw.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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Jessica Calalang, Brian Johnson produce the pairs’ moment of figure skating nationals

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – This fall season, Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson ranked fifth among American pairs but finished with silver medals at the U.S. Championships on Saturday night.

After a fifth-place nationals finish last year, their goal was just to be on the podium in Greensboro.

In their second year together, Calalang and Johnson won the free skate with 146.01 points for a total score of 213.57. It was good enough for second place, as the eventual winners, Alexa Knierim and Chris Knierim, held a 10-point lead over their training partners from the short program.

“While Brian and Chris are working on cars, Jess and I are having lattes petting cats,” Alexa said in a press conference. “We have a great dynamic and I couldn’t be prouder of them for the way they skated. I watched them backstage just because I genuinely care for them.”

Calalang and Johnson vaulted to second from fourth place after short, when Johnson fell on the side-by-side triple Salchows.

In the free skate, however, they received positive grades of execution on every element. The crowd inside the Greensboro Coliseum was on their feet before the music (“You are the Reason” by Calum Scott and Leona Lewis) even finished.

“I don’t think either of us have had that kind of performance at a U.S. Championships,” Calalang said.

“I definitely haven’t,” Johnson added. “The amount of audience support that I felt at the very end of that program was overwhelming. It was the most amazing thing I’ve felt on the ice. I don’t have words to describe it.”

Now, they could join the Knierims at the world championships in March. The U.S. has two berths to worlds, up from one last year. U.S. Figure Skating chooses the teams, not necessarily (but usually) following nationals standings.

Calalang and Johnson have no world championships experience, either together or with former partners, although they have had plenty of experience this season.

They kicked it off with a sixth-place finish at a lower-level event, followed by their Grand Prix debut at Skate America. They finished just off the podium in fourth. The following week, they were sixth at Skate Canada. They handily won the Warsaw Cup, another lower-level event this fall.

“Repetition always helps,” Johnson said. “The more experience you can get, hopefully the better you’re gonna be doing. It was great doing the Grand Prixes because we had an amazing audience at Skate America and Skate Canada. The whole place was sold-out. I think that really resembles here as well with everybody loving what you’re doing and the whole support base.”

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NATIONALS: TV/Live Stream Schedule | Full Results

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.