Katie Ledecky, Caeleb Dressel and an Alaskan post statement swims


Katie Ledecky swam the second-fastest 200m freestyle of her life. Caeleb Dressel, in one of his non-primary events, beat the top-ranked American. And a 17-year-old Alaskan rocketed into the Olympic discussion.

The first set of events at a Pro Series stop in Mission Viejo, California, generated the most buzz of any one day of a professional swim meet in the U.S. so far in 2021. The Olympic Trials, where the top two per individual event are in line to go to Tokyo, are in two months.

Start with Ledecky, who won Friday’s opening race, the 200m free, in 1:54.40, matching the fastest time ever in an American pool.

“Passed the first test,” Ledecky said of a meet that continues Saturday and Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Olympic Channel, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app). Full results are here.

The only time she’s been faster was at the Rio Olympics, when she prevailed in 1:53.73. Since, Ledecky shared 200m free silver at the 2017 Worlds, took bronze at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships and didn’t race it at 2019 Worlds due to a stomach virus.

With her time on Friday, Ledecky improved to third-fastest in the world since the start of 2019 (behind veteran world champion Federica Pellegrini of Italy and 20-year-old Australian rival Ariarne Titmus) and fastest this year.

“It was a good confidence-building swim,” Ledecky said. “It was right where I felt like I should be.”

Immediately after Ledecky’s win, Dressel notched a similarly defining victory, though because of the event rather than the time.

Dressel, who won six medals in Olympic events at worlds in 2017 and 2019 (10 of the 12 gold), won the 200m free (which he did not swim at worlds) in 1:47.57. He ranks third among Americans this year (and outside the top 10 since the start of 2019), but on Friday he beat the highest-ranked American, Andrew Seliskar.

Dressel is in the mix for the 4x200m free relay at the Olympics, which could be a potential seventh Olympic event. It will likely take a swim in the 1:45s to make the Olympic team in the individual 200m free, potentially an eighth event for Dressel, which he did not rule out.

“I would not want to give up an opportunity to have another swim at the Olympics and representing the U.S. in the 200m free,” Dressel said. “I don’t want to say I’m going to promise anything or what. We’re going to get the feet wet at trials.”

Dressel noted he swam the 200m free at the 2017 World Championships trials and finished sixth to make that relay pool. The fifth- and sixth-place swimmers in the 100m and 200m frees at trials usually swim preliminary heats of relays at worlds and the Olympics (and are eligible for medals).

Dressel did not swim the 4x200m free relay at 2017 Worlds. The schedule set up so that he had two other individual swims during those sessions.

At Olympic Trials, the 200m free heats, semifinals and final are in sessions where Dressel has no other scheduled events. At the Olympics, the 200m free and the 4x200m free relay are in sessions with no more than one race in Dressel’s primary events.

“I’ll get my feet wet with that swim [at trials] and kind of feel out the meet, and then we’ll go from there,” Dressel said. “So I’m not sure. I’ll talk to [coach Gregg] Troy once we’re getting into crunch time [closer to Olympic Trials], and then we’ll figure out what our concrete plan will be.”

Dressel also won the 100m butterfly, where he holds the world record, a half-hour after the 200m free.

In other events Friday, Lilly King comfortably won the 100m breaststroke in 1:05.70.

But the Olympic and world champion and world-record holder wasn’t the story of the race. In second place: 17-year-old Alaskan Lydia Jacoby, who between prelims and the final lowered her personal best by 1.17 seconds and now ranks second in the U.S. this year and third since the start of 2019.

No person born in Alaska has made an Olympic swim team, according to Bill Mallon of Olympedia.org. No Alaskan has made an Olympic swim team, according to an Alaska Swimming Hall of Fame contact.

Nic Fink won the men’s 100m breast in 59.74, lowering his mark as fastest American this year. Fink, a 27-year-old eyeing his first Olympics, remains outside the top five Americans since the start of 2019. Andrew Wilson, who was second on Friday, owns the top time in that span of 58.93.

Melanie Margalis swam the world’s fastest 400m individual medley in 2021, clocking 4:35.18 and beating a field that included Olympic hopefuls by 2.37 seconds. Margalis, a 29-year-old who was fourth in the 200m IM in Rio, ranks fourth in the world in the 400m IM since the start of 2019, trailing the three 2019 World Championships medalists.

Rio Olympian Kelsi Dahlia won the women’s 100m fly in 58.11. She remains the second-fastest American in the event since the start of 2019, trailing 16-year-old Claire Curzan. Curzan is slated to swim a 100m fly in her native North Carolina on Saturday.

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At the French Open, a Ukrainian mom makes her comeback

Elina Svitolina French Open

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, once the world’s third-ranked tennis player, is into the French Open third round in her first major tournament since childbirth.

Svitolina, 28, swept 2022 French Open semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, then beat Australian qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the last 32 at Roland Garros. She next plays 56th-ranked Russian Anna Blinkova, who took out the top French player, fifth seed Caroline Garcia, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on her ninth match point.

Svitolina’s husband, French player Gael Monfils, finished his first-round five-set win after midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. She watched that match on a computer before going to sleep ahead of her 11 a.m. start Wednesday.

“This morning, he told me, ‘I’m coming to your match, so make it worth it,'” she joked on Tennis Channel. “I was like, OK, no pressure.

“I don’t know what he’s doing here now. He should be resting.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Svitolina made at least one major quarterfinal every year from 2017 through 2021, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019. She married Monfils one week before the Tokyo Olympics, then won a singles bronze medal.

Svitolina played her last match before maternity leave on March 24, 2022, one month after Russia invaded her country. She gave birth to daughter Skai on Oct. 15.

Svitolina returned to competition in April. Last week, she won the tournament preceding the French Open, sweeping Blinkova to improve to 17-3 in her career in finals. She’s playing on a protected ranking of 27th after her year absence and, now, on a seven-match win streak.

“It was always in my head the plan to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” she said. “I’m as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger, because I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court, and match by match I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental can influence your physicality, as well.”

Svitolina said she’s motivated by goals to attain before she retires from the sport and to help Ukraine, such as donating her prize money from last week’s title in Strasbourg.

“These moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well, the kids who loved to play tennis before the war, and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “But these moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”

Svitolina was born in Odesa and has lived in Kharkiv, two cities that have been attacked by Russia.

“I talk a lot with my friends, with my family back in Ukraine, and it’s a horrible thing, but they are used to it now,” she said. “They are used to the alarms that are on. As soon as they hear something, they go to the bomb shelters. Sleepless nights. You know, it’s a terrible thing, but they tell me that now it’s a part of their life, which is very, very sad.”

Svitolina noted that she plays with a flag next to her name — unlike the Russians and Belarusians, who are allowed to play as neutral athletes.

“When I step on the court, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine,” she said, “and me, I’m fighting here on my own front line.”

Svitolina said that she’s noticed “a lot of rubbish” concerning how tennis is reacting to the war.

“We have to focus on what the main point of what is going on,” she said. “Ukrainian people need help and need support. We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.

“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians. That’s the main point of this, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands because they are at the war, and they are fighting for Ukraine.

“You can donate. Couple of dollars might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people.”

Also Wednesday, 108th-ranked Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis ousted three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 in four and a half hours. Wawrinka’s exit leaves Novak Djokovic as the lone man in the draw who has won the French Open and Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz as the lone men left who have won any major.

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Marcell Jacobs still sidelined, misses another race with Fred Kerley

Marcell Jacobs

Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs of Italy will miss another scheduled clash with world 100m champion Fred Kerley, withdrawing from Friday’s Diamond League meet in Florence.

Jacobs, 28, has not recovered from the nerve pain that forced him out of last Sunday’s Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco, according to Italy’s track and field federation.

In his absence, Kerley’s top competition will be fellow American Trayvon Bromell, the world bronze medalist, and Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala, the world’s fastest man this year at 9.84 seconds. Kerley beat both of them in Rabat.

The Florence Diamond League airs live on Peacock on Friday from 2-4 p.m. ET.

Jacobs has withdrawn from six scheduled head-to-heads with Kerley dating to May 2022 due to a series of health issues since that surprise gold in Tokyo.

Kerley, primarily a 400m sprinter until the Tokyo Olympic year, became the world’s fastest man in Jacobs’ absence. He ran a personal best 9.76 seconds, the world’s best time of 2022, at last June’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Then he led a U.S. sweep of the medals at July’s worlds.

Jacobs’ next scheduled race is a 100m at the Paris Diamond League on June 9. Kerley is not in that field, but world 200m champion Noah Lyles is.

The last time the reigning Olympic and world men’s 100m champions met in a 100m was the 2012 London Olympic final between Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. From 2013 to 2017, Bolt held both titles, then retired in 2017 while remaining reigning Olympic champion until Jacobs’ win in Tokyo, where Kerley took silver.

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