Caeleb Dressel, Regan Smith take down world records in semifinals

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The U.S. swim team, struggling in the first few days of the world championships in Gwangju, South Korea, tore through the pool in the first few races Friday, following Simone Manuel‘s 100m freestyle win with two world records in semifinal races.

Caeleb Dressel, swimming a schedule akin to Michael Phelps‘ glory days, found enough speed Friday in the world championship 100m butterfly semifinals to beat a Phelps record that had stood for nearly a decade. Then 17-year-old Regan Smith shocked the field in the women’s 200m backstroke semifinals, beating Missy Franklin‘s world record.

Dressel was well ahead of the field and a couple of feet ahead of the record-marking red line throughout the semifinal, finishing in 49.50 seconds. Phelps set the previous record of 49.82 seconds on Aug. 1, 2009, also at the world championships.

Phelps’ 200m butterfly record fell earlier in the championships to Hungary’s Kristof Milak.

Dressel won seven gold medals in the 2017 world championships — four relays, 100m butterfly, 100m freestyle and 50m freestyle. This year in Gwangju, he has already defended his 100m freestyle world title and added two more golds in the 50m butterfly and the 4×100 mixed medley relay. He was back in the pool about 30 minutes after his world-record swim Friday, winning his 50m freestyle semifinal in 21.18.

“Both races hurt pretty bad,” Dressel said. “There’s a lot that I need to clean up going into tomorrow. These times mean nothing.”

READ: Dressel starts eight-gold quest after tough 2018

While Dressel’s assault on the record book was no surprise, no such performance was expected from Smith, a 17-year-old swimmer from Lakeville North (Minn.) High School who recently committed to Stanford.

Smith set a world junior record in the 200m backstroke in 2017 and did it again in the heats earlier Friday in Gwangju, finishing in 2:06.01. In the semifinal, she blasted her way to a time of 2:03.35, well under Franklin’s record of 2:04.06 from the 2012 Olympics.

“I’m in shock,” Smith said. “I really don’t believe it. I didn’t think I’d ever do that.”

Smith now has an unusual distinction of setting a world record before winning her first world title. She’ll aim for the 200m backstroke gold in the middle of Saturday evening’s session. She’s entered in no other individual events.

The U.S. team now has a selection dilemma for the 4x100m medley relay, the final event of the championships on Sunday. Aside from Smith, the other options would be world record-holder Kathleen Baker and Olivia Smoliga, who took bronze in the 100m backstroke and gold in the 50m backstroke earlier in the championships.

“We had a really good night tonight, especially with Regan,” Dressel said. “That was phenomenal. I thought that was one of the top three toughest world records on the women’s side, and she just crushed it.”

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Olympic, world champion lugers pull out of World Cup event over safety

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U.S. Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer and other top lugers are skipping this weekend’s World Cup stop in Winterberg, Germany, citing unsafe track conditions.

“This was brought to the attention of the FIL [International Luge Federation] and yet again we were told that everything is ok,” was posted on Mazdzer’s Instagram. “I realize that a boycott is a lose-lose situation and there are no winners. But I have no other option at this point. I feel personally that this track is not safe for doubles sleds or for athletes who do not have adequate numbers of runs.”

An FIL spokesperson said Friday that Mazdzer’s choice was “his individual decision” and declined further comment ahead of races scheduled Saturday and Sunday.

USA Luge said in a Friday statement that it will not participate in the World Cup and would communicate its concern for athlete safety to the FIL.

Two-time U.S. Olympian Summer Britcher said she was boycotting via Instagram, calling it “a farce of a World Cup.” Top lugers said athletes suffered serious injuries in training runs.

“I love this sport, but after too many decisions too many times that disregard 1-the safety of the athletes, and 2- the integrity and fairness of our sport, I have grown a great disdain for the International Luge Federation, and those who make these decisions,” was posted on Britcher’s account. “I will not race this weekend. I do not believe the track is safe, I do not believe it has been prepared to a World Cup standard, and I do not believe that the International Federation and Winterberg World Cup organisers should get away from this with no consequences.”

Britcher’s post noted that her team notified coaches and the technical director that the track was unsafe after her first training run Wednesday.

“Our concerns, and the concerns of the rest of the athletes from other nations throughout the day were not taken seriously,” Britcher posted.

Britcher said that several coaches attempted to fix the track for several hours on Thursday after athletes refused to train.

Olympic champion David Gleirscher of Austria and World Cup standings leader Roman Repilov of Russia and the top doubles teams of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken and Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt of Germany also posted on Instagram that they’re skipping the Winterberg World Cup, the penultimate stop of the season, for safety reasons.

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Lara Gut-Behrami gets first win in 2 years; Mikaela Shiffrin’s lead shrinks

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Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami, the last woman other than Mikaela Shiffrin to win a World Cup overall title, notched her first World Cup race victory in two years on Friday. Meanwhile, chasers gained on the absent Shiffrin in this season’s overall standings.

Gut-Behrami led a host-nation one-two in a downhill in Crans-Montana. She was followed by downhill standings leader Corinne Suter (eight tenths behind) and Austrian Stephanie Venier (.92 back). Full results are here.

Shiffrin has not raced since the unexpected death of her father on Feb. 2. She has not announced if or when she will return this season.

Slovakian Petra Vlhova was fourth on Friday for her best career World Cup speed race finish. Vlhova, Shiffrin’s top rival in slalom the last few seasons, moved to 104 points behind Shiffrin in the World Cup overall standings through 27 of 40 scheduled races.

Race winners receive 100 points on a descending scale through the 30th-place skier. The season runs through March 22.

American Breezy Johnson was fifth, tying her best World Cup finish in nearly two years. Italian Federica Brignone tied for seventh, moving 77 points shy of Shiffrin’s lead.

Vlhova or Brignone can pass Shiffrin with similar finishes in Saturday’s downhill (4:30 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold) and a podium in Sunday’s combined (7:30 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel and Gold).

Gut-Behrami, a 25-time World Cup race winner, was the world’s top skier in 2016. She was in second place to Shiffrin in the 2017 World Cup overall standings when she ruptured her left ACL and sustained meniscus damage. Shiffrin since won the last three overall titles.

Friday marked Gut-Behrami’s first win since Jan. 21, 2018. She recently went nearly one year between podium finishes.

“Sometimes, I’ve been struggling with myself and putting myself under pressure because I wanted to do it again,” Gut-Behrami said. “Then I started thinking, and then I made mistakes.”

Suter, who came into the season without a World Cup win, leads the downhill season standings by 120 points. She can clinch her first World Cup discipline title in Saturday’s penultimate downhill.

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