Caeleb Dressel, U.S. women wrap swimming world championships with medals and records

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Caeleb Dressel didn’t match his seven-gold tally of 2017 but became the first swimmer to take eight medals in one world championship meet as the U.S. men took silver in the 4x100m medley relay, the last men’s race of the world championships in Gwangju, South Korea.

The U.S. women capped their late surge in the championships with individual golds for Lilly King and Simone Manuel, followed by an emphatic world-record swim in the 4x100m medley relay in which breakout star Regan Smith set the tone in the backstroke before handing off to King, Kelsi Dahlia and Manuel.

The Sunday successes added to a late rally for a U.S. team that ran away with the overall medal count as usual but suffered a series of setbacks earlier in the week, including an illness than wiped out much of Katie Ledecky‘s week as well as some puzzling performances in a handful of events that are typically U.S. strongholds.

The Americans finished with 27 medals and 14 golds, down from their haul of 38 medals and 18 golds in 2017. Australia was second in the medal standings with 19 medals and five golds.

Dressel wound up with six gold medals: 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 50m butterfly, 100m butterfly, men’s 4x100m freestyle and the mixed 4×100 freestyle. He took silver in both medley relays — the men’s 4x100m and the mixed 4x100m. The 50m butterfly and the mixed 4x100m freestyle are not on the Olympic program.

In 2017, Dressel missed out on the medals in the 50m butterfly but took gold in all four relays in addition to his other three individual medals.

The U.S. women celebrate their gold medal and world record in the 4×100 medley relay. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The women’s relay opened with Smith, a high school student from Minnesota who’ll start college at Stanford after the Olympics next year. The 17-year-old swimmer broke out on the international scene earlier in the week with a world record in the 200m backstroke semifinals and followed up with a convincing win in the final. She lived up to expectations in the relay with a world-record backstroke leg of 57.57 seconds.

“There’s nothing better than diving in with a body-length lead already,” King said.

King extended the lead to nearly three seconds. Dahlia, a 100m butterfly bronze medalist in 2017 under her maiden name of Kelsi Worrell, kept the lead around the same margin while Canada passed Australia to move into second place.

The only questions left on the freestyle leg were whether Australia’s Cate Campbell could surge past Canadian star Penny Oleksiak for silver and whether Manuel could wrap up keep the U.S. women under world record pace. The answer on both counts was yes, with Manuel swimming a leg of 51.86 seconds for a final time of 3:50.40, more than a second off the record the U.S. women set in 2017.

“To start off with a world record from Regan, I think that really pumped us all up,” Manuel said.

Olivia Smoliga swam in the heats for the medley relay to earn her third medal and second gold of the meet.

Dressel did all he could in the men’s relay, pulling the U.S. team from fourth to first with the fastest butterfly time (49.28) by more than a second in his last race of a busy week.

Ryan Murphy, who was fourth in the 50m backstroke earlier in the evening, stayed close to Russian multimedalist Evgeny Rylov, and breaststroke specialist Andrew Wilson handed off in fourth place amid a tightly bunch lead group.

Dressel handed off to Nathan Adrian, a much-decorated freestyle veteran who has rebounded from treatment for testicular cancer earlier this year and anchored the winning 4x100m freestyle relay earlier this week. Adrian held off the charge from Russia, but Duncan Scott, the subject of an angry outburst from China’s Sun Yang at a medal ceremony earlier in the week, posted the second-fastest freestyle split of all time to give Great Britain the gold.

Earlier Sunday, Manuel inched past a loaded field in the 50m freestyle to win in 24.05 seconds, 0.02 seconds ahead of Swedish star Sarah Sjoestroem and 0.06 ahead of Australia’s Cate Campbell. Denmark’s Pernille Blume finished within 0.07 seconds of Manuel but missed out on the podium.

The medalists were the same, albeit with Campbell and Sjoestroem reversed, as they were in the 100m freestyle earlier in the week, when Manuel won from all the way out in Lane 1 after a slow time in the semifinals.

In the first women’s final of the evening, King won her final showdown with Russian Yuliya Efimova in the 50m breaststroke. King, who holds the world record of 29.40, finished in 29.84, barely outtouching 14-year-old Italian Benedetta Pilato, (30.00) who burst into tears as King reached over to congratulate her. Efimova was third in 30.15.

“The girls next to me really gave me a good race,” King said.

Like Manuel, King also won the 100m race in her discipline. King also won both events in the 2017 world championships and won the 100m in the 2016 Olympics but was denied a shot at a breakthrough in the 200m after being disqualified in the preliminary heats.

Jay Litherland took a surprising silver in the men’s 400m individual medley, in which top American Chase Kalisz failed to qualify two years after setting the championship record in the event. Litherland, a bronze medalist in the 4x200m freestyle relay in 2017, was 3.34 seconds behind Japanese favorite Daiya Seto heading into the freestyle leg but closed to within 0.27 seconds at the finish.

“I can’t explain it,” Litherland said. “That was a fun race.”

In the first final of the evening, South Africa’s Zane Waddell, who swims at the University of Alabama and won an NCAA title this year in the men’s 4x50m medley relay, stunned the Russian and American favorites in a tightly bunched finish in the men’s 50m backstroke.

Waddell finished in 24.43, just ahead of Evgeny Rylov (24.49) and world record-holder Kliment Kolesnikov (24.51).

Murphy (24.53, fourth) won the 100m and 200m backstroke in the 2016 Olympics but has never claimed an individual world title. He took silver and bronze in 2017 and then silver in the 200m backstroke earlier this week.

Michael Andrew (24.58, fifth) has the unusual distinction of qualifying for the final in every 50m race of the week, though he was unable to crack the podium in any final.

“What was nice about not hitting every mark was the motivation it gives me going into Tokyo,” Andrew said.

Germany’s Florian Wellbrock won the men’s 1,500m freestyle in 14:36.54. No U.S. swimmers qualified for the final.

Hungary’s “Iron Lady,” 30-year-old Katinka Hosszu completed a quadruple-double, winning the 400m individual medley title for the fourth straight time after doing the same in the 200m medley earlier in the week. U.S. swimmer Ally McHugh was sixth.

Hosszu also swept the medleys in the 2016 Olympics and won the 400m race back in 2009.

Other swimmers with large medal hauls in the championships included Australia’s Campbell (two individual medals, three from relays) and Ariarne Titmus (three individual, one relay), Russia’s Rylov (three individual, two relay) and Efimova (three individual), Great Britain’s Adam Peaty (two individual, two relay), and Canada’s Kylie Masse and Sydney Pickrem (two individual and one relay each).

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Peter Snell, 3-time Olympic track champion, dies

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Three-time Olympic champion and world mile record-holder Peter Snell has died in Dallas. He was aged 80.

Snell, who is regarded as one of the greatest middle-distance runners of all-time, won the 800m at the 1960 Rome Olympics aged 21, and the 800m-1500m double at the 1964 Tokyo Games.

He was the first man since 1920 to win the 800m and 1500m at the same Olympics. No male athlete has done so since.

Snell also won two Commonwealth Games gold medals in the 880 yards and mile at Perth in 1962.

He twice held the mile world record and also held world records in the 800m, 880 yards, 1000m, and the 4xmile relay.

Snell’s death was confirmed by family friend and New Zealand sports historian Ron Palenski, who heads New Zealand’s Sport Hall of Fame.

“It is very sad news, a grievous loss for New Zealand,” Palenski said. “In terms of track and field, he is probably the greatest athlete New Zealand has had.”

Snell was coached by Arthur Lydiard, an innovator who was regarded as one of the world’s finest coaches of middle and long distance athletes. Lydiard also coached Murray Halberg to win the 5000m at Rome in 1960.

Snell’s wife, Miki, said he died suddenly at his home in Dallas around noon on Thursday. He had been suffering from a heart ailment and had required a pacemaker for several years.

Snell’s athletics career was relatively short. He retired in 1965 to pursue educational opportunities in the United States.

Snell graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in human performance from the University of California, Davis, and later with a Ph.D. in exercise physiology from Washington State University.

He became a research fellow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 1981, later becoming director of the university’s Human Performance Center.

Snell was knighted by New Zealand in 2009. A statue in his honor stands at Cooks Gardens, Whanganui, near his birthplace of Opunake, where he broke the mile world record for the first time in 1962.

Grand Prix Final results show women’s figure skating revolution progressing quickly

Grand Prix Final podium
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The revolution in women’s figure skating is being televised.

That’s a turn of phrase on an admittedly dated reference (Google it). The point is we all have been able to witness, from TV broadcasts or live streams, a season with the most radical change in the sport since child prodigy Sonja Henie, then age 11, began doing jumps in her programs nearly a century ago.

What we watched other child prodigies do at last week’s Grand Prix Final boggled the minds of even those who saw it coming, because no one imagined it coming this soon and to this degree.

This essentially Russian revolution, which has taken maximum advantage of the scoring system and youthful body types to overthrow longtime technical norms of women’s skating, has split the discipline into haves and have-nots.

There are those who have the high-scoring quadruple jumps or multiple triple Axels to seize all the medals. And those who do not have those big jumps and, as of now, no chance to regain the podiums from which they have been summarily ousted.

Given what already had happened this season, it was not surprising that Russian first-year seniors Alena Kostornaia, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova swept the medals in the senior Final. Each had qualified by winning two of the six events in the Grand Prix series.

What is surprising is how far and fast the Troika – as NBC commentator and two-time Olympian Johnny Weir artfully nicknamed them, in a reference to a traditional Russian three-horse sled – has pushed the envelope and how far and fast they have left everyone else behind.

And imagine what the gap could be if women were allowed to do quads in the short program, which likely will be proposed at next year’s International Skating Union congress.

A year ago, it was shocking when the Troika, then all juniors internationally, swept the medals at the senior Russian Championships. Now it will be shocking if they don’t do it again at this year’s Russian Championships, which take place Dec. 24-29.

No women were regularly doing quads until last season. Consider what the Troika has done just this autumn:

*Kostornaia, 16, did not attempt a triple Axel in international competition before this season. Now she is doing one in the short program and two in the free, and all three were very well executed as she took gold at the Grand Prix Final.

*Shcherbakova, 15, began her international season the way she had finished last year at junior worlds, with one quad Lutz in the free skate; at the Grand Prix Final, she did two quad Lutzes (one clean, one under-rotated) and attempted her first quad flip (fall) in finishing second.

*Trusova, 15, began this season after having landed quad Lutz, quad Salchow and quad toe loop as a junior, but she was not attempting more than two in a program. In her senior Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada, she did four quads (three clean). At the Grand Prix Final, she added an excellent quad flip for five free skate quads, one of which she doubled and three of which were clean. She also attempted (and under-rotated) a triple Axel for the first time in the short program.

Even with the mistakes, the quads still racked up enough points for Shcherbakova that she beat a flawless Kostornaia in the free skate. And they gave Trusova a 20.71-point overall margin over fourth finisher Rika Kihira, 17, of Japan, who already had mastered triple Axels but has dropped so far from contention against the Troika that Kihira tried (and fell on) her first quad in competition.

And you have to feel a little sorry for reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova of Russia, at the technical cutting edge of her sport less than two years ago, now utterly overmatched – and still just 17 years old.

Zagitova’s free skate, an error-filled mess, dropped her from second after a fine short (less than six points behind Kostornaia) to sixth overall, more than 42 points behind Kostornaia and nearly 28 behind the third-place Trusova.

Even had she skated cleanly, having a long program with no quads or triple Axels meant the base value of Zagitova’s elements was more than 30 points less than Trusova’s, more than 20 less than Shcherbakova’s and about five less than Kostornaia’s. Zagitova would have needed otherworldly Grades of Execution marks and program component scores to compete for a medal.

Zagitova acknowledged the futility of her current situation by telling a Russian TV station Friday she was effectively putting her competitive career on hold by withdrawing from the Russian Championships and not asking to be considered for selection for either the European or world championships.

According to a Eurosport summary of the interview, Zagitova said she needed to find new motivation to continue competing. The story quoted her as saying she intended to do shows and keep training under her longtime coach, Eteri Tutberidze, who also coaches the Troika.

Zagitova also said she intended to learn new elements and ways to go into jumps.

“I need to find the desire to want to go into a competition,” she said, according to a translation. “The athletes who have gone down that road will understand me.”

Those who decry how much the quads have thrown the sport’s athletic-artistic balance out of whack found some satisfaction in Kostornaia’s having won with a performance and interpretive quality rare for a skater of her age.

Yet Kostornaia also accumulated some 21 free skate points for her triple Axels, about 13 more points than fifth-place finisher Bradie Tennell of the U.S. got for two clean double Axels. Even if Tennell had not made some relatively small mistakes, there was no way she could make up that difference.

And remember that if Trusova had cleanly landed the quad she doubled and the quad that resulted in a fall, she could have overcome not only her short program mistake but also the margin Kostornaia built in program components with clearly superior skating skills and artistry.

Tennell, 21, the top U.S. woman at the 2018 Olympics (ninth) and the last two World Championships (sixth and seventh), this season has displayed the best overall level of skating in her career. But a lack of quads and triple Axels has dropped her exponentially further behind the leaders.

Yet Tennell presses on.

“She may never catch them, but we keep pushing forward, trying to improve on both components and technical,” said Denise Myers, who coaches Tennell. “She is not settling for where she is now.”

About a month ago, I began to wonder if changing the factoring of the five Program Component Scores (PCS) so that they were the same for women as for men would level a playing field that has tilted so dramatically toward the jumpers.

Since the International Judging System was introduced in 2004, factors of .8 (short program) and 1.6 (long) have been applied to the raw total of each woman’s component score. They are 1.0 and 2.0 for men.

The logic behind the difference was until last season, a men’s free skate was 30 seconds longer with one more element. (Why it also applied to the short program is unclear, since the number of elements and time have been the same.)

“The idea of possible new factors for the program components for men was evaluated in the past season, because for the top skaters the technical score in the last years had considerably increased,” Italy’s Fabio Bianchetti, chair of the ISU technical committee for singles and pairs, said in an email.

“At the moment, for the majority of the [men], the [PCS] is still corresponding to about 50 percent of the total score. In some cases, the relation might not be exact, but a rule must consider all the skaters and not only the top five.

“Now we are dealing with the same situation for the ladies. This is something totally new, and we will study the problem during the season. But again, we cannot look at a couple of skaters only.”

In a recent interview with Nick Zaccardi of NBC Sports, Weir seconded the idea of giving the women’s PCS scores the same weight as the men’s.

“It would give them a little better chance,” Samuel Auxier, an international judge and former U.S. Figure Skating, said in a text message last month.

So much has changed on the jump front since then that it turns out using the men’s PCS factors would have had almost no impact on the women’s results at the Grand Prix Final.

With some computational help from skatingscores.com, I recalculated the PCS scores from the Final with the 1.0 and 2.0 factors, added them to the TES scores and found just one difference: Kostornaia would have moved from second to first in the free skate. The overall and short program finish order would have been the same.

Actual Grand Prix Final scores
One of these (factor .8 / 1.6) shows the actual scores. Skatingscores.com
A re-imagined scoring of the Grand Prix Final
The Refactored scores show what they would be with factors of 1.0 and 2.0. Skatingscores.com

So, the 20% adjustment of PCS factor gender equality is not enough to put women without the most difficult jumps into medal contention.

And as Bianchetti pointed out, making that change or a more substantial one in the women’s factoring must take into consideration not only a few exceptional new talents.

“I truly do not believe that anyone seriously thought a lady would deliver four quads so quickly and especially at such a young age,” Ted Barton of Canada, who was involved in the creation of IJS, said in a text message last month. “Alysa Liu is a good American example of what the present is and future might be.”

(And, yes, there is an elephant in the room: whether the young talents are getting exaggerated PCS scores from judges smitten by their jumping. That’s a question for another day – or lifetime.)

Yet there is every indication the Troika are only the leading edge of a blizzard of jumping phenoms, not only from Russia. After all, Junior Grand Prix Final silver medalist Liu, 14, last season became the youngest singles champion in U.S. history with three triple Axels, and she has added a quad Lutz this season.

“The factoring and [other] calculations were developed on what was being done at that point,” Barton said. “Now that skaters have shown new possibilities, the technical committees will look to see what adjustments can and should be made. Interesting times, indeed.”

For now, though, we are seeing in real time the unsettling effect revolutions can have.

And it seems surreal.

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

MORE: What’s next for Nathan Chen after third consecutive Grand Prix Final win?

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.

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