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.”

ALSO FRIDAY: U.S. women win third straight water polo gold

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SWIM WORLDS: TV Schedule | Results

Figure skating’s Grand Prix fields look very different this season

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Before Nathan Chen is expected to go for a historic fifth straight U.S. figure skating title in January, he will, in a first, compete against most of his top countrymen later this month.

Fields for the Grand Prix Series, figure skating’s autumn international circuit, were published Thursday. As expected, every top skater entered will compete in his or her home country, or nearest to where he or she trains, and in one of the six events.

Traditionally, skaters compete in two of the six events and are scattered among competitions in the U.S., Canada, France, Russia, China and Japan based on world rankings.

But the International Skating Union restricted travel this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Skaters are limited to compete locally. And the Grand Prix Final at the conclusion of the Grand Prix Series has been postponed from its scheduled December setting in Beijing.

That means that Chen vies for a record-tying fourth straight Skate America crown in Las Vegas in three weeks against a field mostly made up of countrymen, including Olympic teammate Vincent Zhou and U.S. bronze medalist Tomoki Hiwatashi.

In all, there are eight U.S. men entered in Skate America, 11 women (including past national champions Bradie Tennell and Gracie Gold), six pairs and nine ice dance couples (including U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue), plus some skaters from other nations who train in the U.S.

Traditionally, a country has no more than three entries per discipline at a Grand Prix event.

GRAND PRIX FIELDS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Sochi Olympian Jason Brown, who trains in Toronto, is entered in Skate Canada the week after Skate America.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix Series until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

All of the reigning Olympic champions are absent from the series.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan previously announced he wouldn’t compete due to virus-related travel risks. Russian Alina Zagitova extended her indefinite break from competition dating to last autumn, rather choosing to participate in a skating-themed TV series.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada retired. The German pairs’ team of Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot last competed in the 2018 Olympic season.

Instead, the headliners include Chen, the two-time world champion undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang. And a deep crop of Russian teenage women, all of course entered in the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in November.

MORE: Brian Orser reacts to Yevgenia Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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French Open: Karolina Pliskova, top player sans Slam, again exits early

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No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova exited yet another Grand Slam in the early stages, falling to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Ostapenko, whose only match wins at the French Open before this week came in her title run three years ago, bounced the big-serving Czech 6-4, 6-2.

Pliskova put fewer than half of her first serves in play, while Ostapenko fired 27 winners to 19 unforced errors. Pliskova was on the ropes in her first round, too, needing three sets to get past an Egyptian qualifier.

“Maybe same level as the match before, but of course [Ostapenko] is much better player,” Pliskova said. “Not much to say about this match.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Pliskova is the highest-ranked player of either gender (No. 4) without a Grand Slam title, yet hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a major since the 2019 Australian Open.

She’s played six Slams as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, one shy of Caroline Wozniacki‘s total before she broke through at the 2018 Australian Open and two shy of Simona Halep‘s total before she won the 2018 French Open.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, is having a very different career.

She won the 2017 Roland Garros title, two days after turning 20, while ranked 47th. She hasn’t gotten past the third round of a major since 2018 Wimbledon, including first-round French Open exits the last two years, and is back down to No. 43 in the WTA rankings.

“It’s hard to compare with 2017. As I said, it was like three years ago, and I was much younger, and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me,” Ostapenko said. “The world doesn’t stop with winning only one Grand Slam. Of course I want to achieve more, and I want to be back in top five, top 10.”

She dropped just nine games in four sets this week.

Ostapenko gets 87th-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa in third round. Badosa dispatched 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

MORE: Serena Williams ‘struggling to walk’

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