Caeleb Dressel runs gold tally to six; Regan Smith takes first

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After a slow start to the world swimming championships in Gwangju, South Korea, the U.S. team has stormed back with a dizzying run of world championships and world records.

Caeleb Dressel took three gold medals in less than two hours Saturday, bringing his total for the week to six world titles and keeping alive his chances of matching his seven-gold tally from the 2017 world championships. Dressel’s final race of the evening was the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay, where Simone Manuel also picked up another world title — and a world record.

Dressel repeated his 2017 feat of three golds in one night, something Michael Phelps never attempted at an Olympics or worlds.

“It was not easy in ’17, and it was not easy this year,” said Dressel, who joined Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Katie Ledecky as the only swimmers to earn four individual titles at a single worlds. “I don’t want it to be easy.”

Regan Smith — who, like Dressel, set a world record in a semifinal race Friday — won her first world title at age 17.

Ledecky allied from a week of illness and a substantial deficit in the 800m freestyle to add an emphatic win to her trophy case.

READ: Ledecky rallies after difficult week to win 800m free

Swedish star Sarah Sjoestroem kicked off the evening with her third straight 50m butterfly title, her first gold after a silver and two bronze medals this week. She also won four medals in 2017 and can match her record of five from 2015.

Then Dressel hit the pool for the 50m freestyle and set a championship and American record of 21.04 seconds. Brazil’s Bruno Fratus and Greece’s Kristian Gkolomeev tied for second 0.41 seconds behind, an eternity in such a short race.

Dressel was up again 34 minutes later in the 100m butterfly, in which he broke Phelps’ world record in Friday’s semifinal. His time of 49.66 seconds was just shy of his new record of 49.50 but a comfortable 1.17 seconds ahead of Russia’s Andrei Minakov.

South Africa’s Chad le Clos, a longtime Phelps rival, took bronze just ahead of 19-year-old Hungarian Kristof Milak, who broke Phelps’ record in the 200m butterfly on Wednesday.

Next up was Smith, who broke through in the international swimming scene with authority on Friday with a world record of 2:03.35 in the 200m backstroke semifinals on Friday. In the final, she was nearly a second ahead of her new world record at the halfway mark (59.45 seconds, a time that would have taken sixth in the 100m backstroke here) before cruising home in 2:03.69, a solid 2.57 seconds ahead of Australia’s Kaylee McKeown.

Smith has one more year at Lakeville North (Minn.) High School before beginning her college career at Stanford. She is not entered in any other individual events but could be selected for the medley relay.

“I didn’t want to put pressure on myself to try to break (the world record) two nights in a row,” Smith said. “Just to get close to that again was awesome, so I’m really happy.”

Then Ledecky, the world’s most dominant freestyle swimmer in the 2010s, shook off a week of illness that forced her out of a couple of races and rallied with a furious sprint in the final lap to take gold in the 800m freestyle, in which she has taken every world and Olympic title from the 2012 Olympics onwards.

Dressel returned for a third swim in the leadoff leg of the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay, staking the U.S. team to a narrow lead of 0.03 seconds over Australia. Zach Apple pushed that lead out to nearly a second, and Mallory Comerford stayed in front despite a charge from Emma McKeon.

Then it was up to Manuel, who defended her world title in the 100m freestyle earlier in the week and qualified for the 50m free final with a strong semifinal earlier in the evening. She extended the lead slightly at the turn and finished 0.57 seconds in front.

The overall time of 3:19.40 pared 0.20 seconds off the previous world record, set by the U.S. team in 2017.

Earlier this week, Dressel took gold in the 100m freestyle, the 50m butterfly and the men’s 4x100m freestyle. He can equal his 2017 total of seven golds in the men’s 4×100 medley relay on Sunday.

In the first final of the evening, Sjoestroem won the 50m butterfly over Dutch veteran Ranomi Kromowidjojo, who took silver for the second straight world championship. Egypt’s Farida Osman edged out American Kelsi Dahlia by 0.01 seconds to take bronze. Dahlia tied the American record with a time of 25.48.

Like Dressel, Sjoestroem has a busy schedule here. She was back in the pool barely 20 minutes later, posting the fastest time in the 50m freestyle semifinals. Manuel qualified fourth, while fellow American Abbey Weitzeil did not qualify.

Lilly King, who won her second straight 100m breaststroke world title earlier in the week, rebounded from her disqualification in the 200m breaststroke to post the fastest time in the semifinals of the 50m breaststroke, another event in which she is the defending champion. King finished in 29.84, with Russian rival Yuliya Efimova winning the other semi in 30.12.

Ryan Murphy qualified for the 50m backstroke final, taking second in his semifinal behind Russia’s Evgeny Rylov, who took gold ahead of Murphy in the 200m backstroke.

Michael Andrew finished sixth in the 50m freestyle and returned an hour later to earn the rare distinction of qualifying for the final in all four 50m disciplines, qualifying seventh in the backstroke. He finished fourth in the butterfly final and seventh in the breaststroke.

Dressel has one event left Sunday, the men’s 4x100m medley relay. He’s accomplished everything he could have hoped for individually in Gwangju with four American records and a world record. It will only raise the hype going into the Tokyo Olympics, where if all goes right at trials he will in at least six events and perhaps a Phelpsian eight.

“I’ll be ready for it next year,” said Dressel, who burned out from the sport as the world’s top prep swimmer five years ago and struggled with the increased demands of turning pro last year. “I’ve never been one to buy into all the hype. It’s really just between me, myself and my coach getting ready for next year.”

OlympicTalk editor Nick Zaccardi contributed to this report.

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SWIM WORLDS: TV Schedule | Results

Brian Orser reveals Hanyu’s, Medvedeva’s, and Brown’s Grand Prix plans

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Over the past decade, the Toronto club where Brian Orser coached South Korea’s Yuna Kim to the 2010 Olympic title has become such an attraction for top figure skaters from around the globe that it could add a word to a name that already is a mouthful.

You could call it the Toronto International Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

But its reach now is limited by the deadly virus pandemic that has effectively frozen out the elite athletes from Japan, Russia, South Korea and Poland who train at the Cricket Club.

That situation won’t change quickly, even with the International Skating Union having announced Monday its plans to proceed with a live format for the international Grand Prix Series. This fall, it will become a series of six essentially domestic competitions scheduled to begin with Skate America Oct. 23-25 in Las Vegas.

If they take place.

“As soon as the skaters can come back, it will be full steam ahead… to where, we don’t know,” Orser said via telephone Wednesday.

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu remains in Japan. Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is in Russia, four-time national champion Cha Jun-Hwan in South Korea, and two-time national champion Yekaterina Kurakova in Poland.

“We would like for them all to come back, but with the Canadian travel restrictions in place until at least Aug. 21, we can’t guarantee approval to get them in, and they would have a 14-day quarantine here if they do get in,” Tracy Wilson, who coaches with Orser, said via telephone Wednesday. “Right now, they are all training at home, and that’s OK.

“The situation is different for each one. The Japanese federation may need Yuzu to do the Grand Prix in Japan, and at this point he would face quarantine entering Canada and returning to Japan.

“For Yevgenia, as soon as she does the Russian test skates (scheduled for early September), we will re-evaluate her situation.”

Orser said he has been doing three video coaching sessions a week with Medvedeva, with whom he is in his third season as coach. Medvedeva, who left Russia for Canada after winning a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics, also is currently getting help from coach Elena Buyanova at the CSKA rink in Moscow.

“She (Medvedeva) looks way ahead of where she was at this point last year,” Orser said.

MORE: Looking back at Yuna Kim’s 10-year gold medal anniversary

Orser also has been having live remote sessions with Cha and Kurakova, and they are also sending videos to him. The only skater he has not seen is Hanyu.

“That’s normal when he is back in Japan,” Orser said. “I wasn’t expecting anything.”

How long Hanyu stays in Japan may depend on travel restrictions being loosened in both his homeland and Canada.

“I would like to get them all back, and they need to come back,” Orser said. “But facing a double quarantine is not in anyone’s best interest.”

Only two of the Cricket Club’s international skaters, 2014 Olympian Jason Brown of suburban Chicago and Yi Zhu of Los Angeles (who represents China), have come back to Toronto after leaving in late winter.

It took Brown two tries to get back across the border because of issues with the paperwork necessary for Canada to consider it essential he be allowed to enter. Orser and Wilson want to be sure any skaters coming from Asia and Europe are admitted on the first try.

From April to July, until skaters could get back on the ice in their various homelands, Brown led Thursday off-ice fitness classes via Zoom, with Medvedeva, Cha and Kurakova taking part.

“It was such a fun way to stay connected and still ‘train’ together while we were oceans apart,” Brown said in a Wednesday text message.

Orser and Wilson will recommend that all the foreign skaters training at the Cricket Club try to compete at Skate Canada, scheduled the last weekend of October at a 9,500-seat arena in Ottawa. Wilson thought if the event cannot have spectators, it might be moved to a smaller facility, possibly in a different city.

“All plans are in the early stages,” Skate Canada spokesperson Emma Bowie said in an email.

Grand Prix assignments have not yet been made.

Whether Brown picks Skate Canada over Skate America – if he gets a choice – could depend on when (and if) the Canadian government shortens quarantine periods for travelers from the United States.

“I know that we are in such unprecedented and uncertain times, so I love seeing the ISU being creative and trying to find a way to hold skating events this year,” Brown wrote. “While a lot can happen before October, if it’s safe to do so, I’ll be ready and eager to take part in any events that I can.”

The ISU said it wants to have the Grand Prix Final in Beijing, whether it takes place on its original dates (Dec. 10-13) or early in 2021. The competition is to be used as a test event of the skating venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

There are no details yet on qualification for the final, which usually is determined by points for placements at the six “regular season” events of the series, held in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan. The top six in each of the sport’s four disciplines make the Final.

In the past, the highest-ranked skaters could compete in up to two Grand Prix events, but ISU Vice-President Alexander Lakernik of Russia said in a Tuesday email that everyone would be limited to one event this year.

Because the Final presumably would have much more of an international field than the six other events, staging it is infinitely more problematic because of travel involved.

“We want what’s best for the sport,” Wilson said. “We have to get these kids out there doing programs, to get them on TV. [Note: An NBC spokesman said the network would, as planned, provide coverage of the Grand Prix, with details forthcoming.] In terms of competition, we’re up for anything.

“For me, though, with all the restrictions, there is no way they will be able to run a fair qualification for the Grand Prix Final. You’ve got to reinvent yourself and make it something else – if you are able to have it at all.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: Nathan Chen is surprised, grateful and posing questions about figure skating’s restart

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Steven Nyman, top U.S. downhiller, faces another obstacle

Steven Nyman
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Steven Nyman, the active U.S. leader in World Cup downhill wins, tore his right Achilles in a training crash and had surgery earlier this week in Mt. Hood, Ore.

“I am moving forward,” was posted on Nyman’s social media. “I’ve been through this before and have full intention to comeback [sic] and compete through the next Olympics.”

Nyman raced in three Olympics and owns three World Cup downhill victories.

He turns 40 during the next Winter Games in Beijing in 2022, when he will be three and a half years older than any previous U.S. Olympic Alpine skier.

Nyman missed the PyeongChang Olympics after a pair of major injuries: blowing out his left knee in a January 2017 downhill race crash and tearing his right ACL in downhill training in January 2018. He also tore his left Achilles in 2011.

He raced the last two seasons with a best World Cup finish of fifth in Val Gardena, Italy, site of all of his World Cup wins in 2006, 2012 and 2014.

The U.S. men’s program is in the midst of its longest World Cup downhill victory and podium droughts this millennium — none since Travis Ganong‘s win in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Jan. 27, 2017.

MORE: Alpine skiing World Cup plans earlier season start with fewer fans

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