Simone Manuel and Katie Ledecky needed a pool. He offered his backyard.

Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel
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When Simone Manuel and Katie Ledecky, arguably the world’s two best female swimmers, were suddenly, indefinitely without a pool three months before the Olympic Trials, a 71-year-old hall of fame masters swimmer offered to help.

In March 2020, at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., Manuel and Ledecky were shut out as their state-of-the-art training facilities at Stanford closed. All of the public pools in the area did the same. The Olympics, at that point, were still scheduled for July 2020. The Olympic Trials were slated for that June.

Other swimmers, either Stanford student-athletes or post-graduates, traveled home. Ledecky and Manuel, NCAA champions for the Cardinal who turned professional in 2018, stayed.

“We were scrambling to find any water because the reality was the trials were going to be in about 12, 13, weeks,” said Greg Meehan, who coaches Stanford’s women’s team as well as post-grads including Ledecky and Manuel. “If we get stuck without being in water for a month or six weeks or something, it’s just not going to go well. I had thought a lot about what happens if we don’t find water. I was trying connections everywhere.”

The first two days, they found a club pool in nearby Menlo Park. They drove up to rival Cal-Berkeley on March 17, Ledecky’s 23rd birthday, before those doors shut.

The duo spent the next two days out of the pool. Meehan knew a friend of a friend in Florida with their own facility, but did it make sense to fly across the country and possibly get stuck there?

Meehan, coach of the reigning NCAA champions and the Olympic team head coach, had no other leads. But Ted Knapp, who spent 35 years on the Stanford men’s coaching staff, knew a guy.

Tod Spieker, a former UCLA All-American, 1968 Olympic Trials backstroker and decorated masters swimmer, lives two miles from campus. Spieker and wife Cathy, for whom UCLA’s aquatics center is named, have a two-lane, 25-yard backyard pool. One lane for each of Meehan’s swimmers.

“I called Tod,” Meehan said. “I don’t think at the time I envisioned us being there for the better part of three months.”

Manuel, Ledecky and Meehan pulled up separately to the Spiekers’ driveway in Atherton for the first time on March 20 or March 21 (the Olympics were postponed to 2021 on March 24).

They went around the house, through a gate and onto a veranda patio out back for swim practice. They repeated the process six days a week until mid-June, when Stanford re-opened. They were very conscious of social distancing.

“I don’t think they ever set foot in the house,” said Spieker, who was out of town for the first few weeks. “I think one time Greg snuck in to use the bathroom.”

The pool checked all the boxes. It had backstroke flags, synchronized pace clocks at both ends and starting blocks. Meehan called the setup “a 10 out of 10” under the circumstances.

“There’s no way I could have lived with myself by denying them use of a pool that satisfied their needs,” Spieker said.

Of all the practices, Meehan will most remember what he called the “death by relay” set. Manuel and Ledecky took turns swimming, one racing while the other rested, for nearly a half-hour.

“The sense of accomplishment and partnership through that particular day was really cool to see,” Meehan said. “I think that was something they’ll both remember as well.”

Ledecky and Manuel, who were Olympic roommates, then Stanford teammates, developed bonds with the Spiekers’ grandchildren who sometimes visited. They brought them swim caps.

“It was more than just a pool for them at that point,” Meehan said. “It was an opportunity for normalcy amid all the chaos that was going on in the world.”

Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel
Courtesy Greg Meehan

Meanwhile, the U.S.’ other top swimmers made do around the country. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where they often gather for altitude training camps, closed. As did major colleges and universities that host elite post-graduate training cadres.

A Berkeley group including Olympic gold medalists Nathan Adrian and Ryan Murphy went across the San Francisco Bay to the Ann Curtis School of Swimming for three months. (Cal’s Spieker Aquatics Complex was named after and largely funded by Spieker’s brother, a former Cal water polo player.)

The swim school, with a three-foot deep, four-lane pool, was built and owned by Curtis, a 1948 Olympic swimming champion and Cal alum who died in 2012. Adrian and former Cal teammate Will Copeland bought it in 2019 — while Adrian was coming back from cancer treatment — to save it from being shut down and potentially demolished.

Caeleb Dressel, the U.S.’ top male swimmer who trains at the University of Florida, drove 45 minutes south to a pool in Ocala and lifted weights in his strength coach’s garage. Lilly King, the Olympic and world champion and world-record holder in the 100m breaststroke, at one point swam in an Indiana subdivision pond.

All of the top Americans convene in two months in Omaha for the Olympic Trials, which start exactly one year after Manuel and Ledecky’s last practice in the Spiekers’ pool. Manuel, the world’s top sprinter, and Ledecky, the top distance swimmer, could combine for more than 10 medals in Tokyo.

They never would have thought a backyard pool in Atherton would have helped them get there. How much it aided is impossible to say, but consider the very possible alternative of no pool at all for three months.

Not having the Spiekers’ backyard “would have mattered,” Meehan said. “It wasn’t three months of the greatest training of their life, but it was enough to keep the engine running.”

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Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier win U.S. figure skating pairs’ title in possible final nationals

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier haven’t decided if they’ll compete beyond this season, so Saturday may have been their farewell to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

If so, they went out as dominant winners, the first pair in their 30s to win nationals in more than 50 years.

Knierim, 31, and Frazier, 30, took their second U.S. title together, totaling 227.97 points to prevail by 31.11 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe. They led by a gaping 15.1 points after Thursday’s short.

Knierim and Frazier were solid after errors on their opening jumping combination in Saturday’s free skate. They broke their own pairs’ margin of victory record from the 2021 U.S. Championships under a scoring system implemented in 2006. Knierim appeared to wipe away tears backstage.

“As I get older, the longer I’m in this sport, the more gratitude I have for it,” Knierim, the oldest woman to win a U.S. figure skating title since 1995 (Renée Roca), said on USA Network. “After that music ended, I’m just thankful that Brandon’s by my side and I’m able to do what I love.”

Ellie Kam and Danny O’Shea bagged bronze to likely round out the three-pair team for March’s world championships.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Knierim and Frazier considered retiring after last season, after they missed nationals due to Frazier’s COVID-19, petitioned onto the Olympic team and posted the best Olympic finish for a U.S. pair (sixth) in 20 years.

They then became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, beating a field that didn’t include any of the top five from the Olympics.

They returned in part to compete as world champions and rank second in the world this season (during which the top Olympic pairs also haven’t competed). They will likely go into March’s worlds in Japan as underdogs to Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who won their lone head-to-head this past fall at the Grand Prix Final.

Back in October, Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“This U.S. Championships for us was extra special because you’re just reflecting on the journey, and you know that there’s a good chance that this will be your last one,” Frazier said.

Knierim won her fifth U.S. title, tying the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka InaTai BabiloniaRandy GardnerKarol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Silver medalists Chan and Howe continued their recent surge. After placing fourth at last season’s nationals, they rank sixth in the world this season. That’s despite summer injuries that left them unable to practice lifts (his shoulder) and throws (her foot) for a while.

Kam, 18, and O’Shea, 31, made the podium four months after becoming a pair and less than two months after a car Kim was riding in was hit by a drunk driver while crossing an intersection. The car was totaled, but Kim and O’Shea still competed days later in Croatia.

O’Shea won the 2016 U.S. title with Tarah Kayne, retired after they split in late 2020, then came back in 2021 with Chelsea Liu. They ranked sixth in the U.S. going into 2022 Nationals, but withdrew beforehand due to concussions both suffered in a November competition fall, according to Figure Skaters Online.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Women
Gold: Isabeau Levito — 223.33
Silver: Bradie Tennell — 213.12
Bronze: Amber Glenn — 207.44
4. Starr Andrews — 188.24
5. Josephine Lee — 187.68
6. Lindsay Thorngren — 187.19
7. Clare Seo — 175.60
8. Gracie Gold — 173.98
9. Ava Ziegler — 167.70
10. Sonja Hilmer — 166.49
11. Gabriella Izzo — 166.40
12. Ting Cui — 161.27
13. Audrey Shin — 161.12
14. Lindsay Wang — 154.91
15. Michelle Lee — 145.28
16. Elsa Cheng — 138.13
17. Alexa Gasparotto — 129.41
WD. Hanna Harrell

Men’s Short Program
1. Ilia Malinin — 110.36
2. Jason Brown — 100.25
3. Tomoki Hiwatashi — 85.43
4. Liam Kapeikis — 82.27
5. Andrew Torgashev — 78.78
6. Maxim Naumov — 77.71
7. Jimmy Ma — 73.88
8. Goku Endo — 73.45
9. Samuel Mindra — 71.36
10. Yaroslav Paniot — 70.87
11. Camden Pulkinen — 69.47
12. Matthew Nielsen — 67.98
13. Joonsoo Kim — 67.45
14. Daniel Martynov — 64.04
15. Will Annis — 63.46
16. Dinh Tran — 60.63
17. Mitchell Friess — 59.14
18. Joseph Klein — 58.38

Pairs
Gold: Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 227.97
Silver: Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 196.86

Bronze: Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea — 184.01
4. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 179.08
5. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 176.34
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 172.74
7. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 148.84
8. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 137.98
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 135.30
10. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 132.07
11. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 129.80

Ice Dance
Gold: Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 229.75
Silver: Caroline Green/Michael Parsons — 207.46
Bronze: Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 198.45
4. Emilea Zingas/Vadym Kolesnik — 198.13
5. Emily Bratti/Ian Somerville — 189.84
6. Lorraine McNamara/Anton Spiridonov — 189.15
7. Katarina Wolfkostin/Jeffrey Chen — 183.05
8. Eva Pate/Logan Bye — 182.61
9. Oona Brown/Gage Brown — 181.89
10. Isabella Flores/Ivan Desyatov — 177.31
11. Angela Ling/Caleb Wein — 167.87
12. Leah Krauskopf/YuanShi Jin — 133.93
13. Cara Murphy/Joshua Levitt — 129.85
14. Caroline Depietri/TJ Carey — 123.40
WD. Raffaella Koncius/Alexey Shchepetov

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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