Joey Mantia, top in the world, sets 1500m track record to make third Olympic team

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If this is what Joey Mantia and Brittany Bowe can do while training through the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials, they’ve set the bar high for Beijing.

Mantia just wanted to be fast enough in the 1500m to make his third straight Olympic team in the event Saturday and chase a medal at the Games.

That’s something that has eluded Mantia in a speed skating career that has reached nearly every other peak.

It turns out Mantia checked off another box, too. The 35-year-old won the race and got his first track record. Mantia clocked 1:44.01 to shatter the record of 1:44.47 set by Olympic bronze medalist Chad Hedrick in October 2009 at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee.

“It’s a nice solidification and builds a lot of confidence that you’re doing the right thing,” said Mantia, who was fourth in the 1000m at the 2018 Olympics and eighth in the 1500m, “especially when you think it didn’t go 100 percent according to plan.”

Bowe won her third event at this Olympic Trials, capturing the women’s 1500m in 1:55.81. Although she wasn’t pleased with the time, she was well ahead of runner-up Mia Manganello Kilburg, who clinched her berth at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in 1:57.29.

Manganello Kilburg won the 3000 on Wednesday, but is not assured of an Olympic berth in that event. A 2018 Olympic bronze medalist in team pursuit, she is favored to win the mass start on Sunday.

There was just as much drama off the ice.

Bowe and Kimi Goetz, who was third in the 1500, opened the door to be joined in Beijing by teammate Erin Jackson. With a literal stroke of bad luck, Jackson slipped in the 500 on Friday and missed qualifying for the Games in an event in which she leads the world and won four of eight World Cup races.

Bowe and Goetz went 1-2 in both the 500 and 1000 and one could relinquish her spot in the 500 to allow Jackson to make the five-woman team. An international reallocation could produce a third berth, but it is not guaranteed.

OLYMPIC SPEED SKATING TRIALS: Broadcast Schedule

“I’m sure there will be a discussion,” Bowe said. “It’s hard to say. In my heart, I thought Kimi and I were going for that second-place spot. Hopefully we get three spots when we get to the Olympics, but as of now, it seems that the only way Erin will get to compete in the Olympics is if one of us gives up that spot.

“I’m hopeful that internally we can figure that out and all of three of us are in Beijing.”

Bowe has known Jackson since they were inline skaters in Ocala, Florida. While Jackson raced in the 1500, she finished sixth in an event she rarely contests, so her fate is in the hands of her two friends.

And they were well aware of that.

“As competitors, once we get to the line, it’s on us to let everything go,” Bowe said. “I’m focused on the task at hand and nothing else is in my mind, but the past 24 hours have been an emotional roller coaster. Erin is one of my great friends, great teammates and the No. 1-ranked 500m girl in the world. So I’d be lying if I said that hasn’t taken a a bit of an emotional toll on me.”

Goetz added, “We’re friends first, teammates second and competitors third. We’ve talked about it a little bit, but Brittany and I both told her we need to get through today and see how today goes before we make any tough decisions.”

Manganello Kilburg sympathized with their plight. “I can’t imagine being in the position of the three of them,” she said. “Erin deserves support and deserves protection for her amazing results. I think the best should race at the Olympics. I can’t speak for anybody in that position, but I can guarantee it probably won’t happen again.”

Because of the rules, Jackson was not allowed a re-skate. Had she fallen, she would have been awarded a second chance.

Goetz said all three skaters had been training to race the 500 all year, but misinterpreted the rules that determined how they could qualify for the Olympics. Each ranks among the fastest in the world. Yet because of a groin injury Bowe suffered during the World Cup season, she didn’t amass enough points to get the U.S. an automatic third qualification spot.

“It just feels sad,” Goetz said. “It’s sad for Erin, it’s sad for Britt or I if we decide to give up the spot. It’s sad for my teammates that didn’t make it. It’s not the exciting feeling that I thought I’d have, or that I had the first day.”

On the men’s side, however, there was still excitement as Emery Lehman made his third straight Olympic team. He finished second in the men’s 1500m with a time of 1:45.10.

Lehman, 25, was just 17 when he made his first Olympic team in 2014.

“I probably didn’t even know what I was doing,” he said. “In 2018, I was coming back from having mono, so I was really lucky to be there. Now I feel like I’m going back as a competitor, not only in team pursuit but the 1500.”

Mantia, Lehman, Ethan Cepuran, who won the 5000, and Casey Dawson are expected to be named to the U.S. squad for team pursuit. Team USA holds the world record in the event.

Lehman said this 1500 was the closest he’s been to Mantia all season. His best World Cup finish was fourth in Calgary and he earned the second quota spot for the United States in the event. “Coming here and defending it is a really good feeling,” he said.

Mantia will be a busy man in Beijing. He qualified for the seven-man Olympic team in the 1000, finishing second in that event on Friday night. In addition, Mantia is the favorite in mass start, the event which will close the Olympic trials on Sunday.

Mantia is ranked No. 1 in the world in the 1500 and captured World Cup wins in Salt Lake City and Calgary in December in what’s known as the “King’s Distance.” In the other two World Cups, he won a silver and a bronze.

After calling his 1000m race “terrible” despite placing second, Mantia said he was “ecstatic” with his 1500 even though he usually has a little more gas at the end. He blamed his intense training regimen the last couple of weeks.

But Mantia told the USA television broadcast that “in my heart, I truly believe if you’re awesome right now, you’re not going to be at the Games.”

Mantia said he thinks he can go into the low 1:43s in Beijing, which is at sea level. His personal best is 1:41.15 at altitude in Salt Lake City a month ago.

However, Mantia was able to find the “sweet spot” amid his heavy training to perform well in his signature race at the trials. Mantia said that after Jordan Stolz set track records in the 500 and 1000, he couldn’t let the 17-year-old “have all the fun.”

Stolz did not compete in the 1500. “I called him a chicken today because he didn’t skate,” Mantia said. “It’s been fun watching him crush through the 500 and the 1000. In my playground, he would have struggled a little bit, maybe.”

Mantia, who set a boatload of records as one of the world’s best inline skaters, said of his first track record on the ice, “It’s nice to have in your back pocket. It says nobody has skated that fast before at that track. I felt like I’ve been good enough to get them before, but with the level being where it is in the last six or seven years in long track speed skating it’s just been tougher and tougher to try to snag those records.”

The Ocala native said that it was especially meaningful to break a record held by Hedrick, “a guy I looked up to when I was a kid skating in inline. I’m excited about what’s to come in the future in the next 30 days.”

However, Mantia said he still maintains that the Olympic Trials should have been cancelled due to the rise in Covid-19 cases. “I think it was a bad move that we skated here and had this event,” he said. “I think it was an unnecessary risk.”

But Mantia added, “Everybody’s masked up. We’re doing the best we can dealing with this situation and hopefully we make it out of this and back home and to the Games without any issues.”

Karen Rosen, who has covered every summer and winter Olympics since 1992, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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Shoma Uno tops Grand Prix Final short program; Ilia Malinin 5th

Shoma Uno
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World champion Shoma Uno of Japan leads after the short program at the Grand Prix Final, the biggest figure skating competition of the fall. Ilia Malinin, an 18-year-old American, is fifth out of six skaters after struggling on jumps on Thursday.

Uno, bidding for his first Final title after two silvers and two bronzes, landed a quadruple flip and quad toe loop-double toe combination en route to 99.99 points at the Palavela, the 2006 Olympic venue in Turin, Italy.

He takes a 5.13-point lead over countryman Sota Yamamoto going into Saturday’s free skate.

Malinin is fifth, 19.89 points behind, after stepping out of the landing on the back end of a quad toe-triple toe combination and spinning out of a triple Axel landing, putting a hand on the ice.

“It was a performance that I wasn’t really expecting,” said Malinin, who did not mention a left foot injury that affected him at his last competition (a win) two weeks ago. “We put a lot of effort trying to perfect all these movements in the program with all these jumps. The jumps didn’t go so well, but I think that my performance and my spins definitely have improved. … I just have to stay confident and look forward to the free skate.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Malinin rallied from smaller short program deficits to win his first three competitions in his first full senior season, becoming the first skater to land a quad Axel in September and repeating it in October and November.

Uno, the world’s top returning skater after Yuzuru Hanyu retired and Nathan Chen went back to Yale, didn’t compete against Malinin at those earlier events.

“It wasn’t up to the levels of my best performance,” Uno said of Thursday’s short program, according to a translation. “But I think I was able to show what I’ve done this season up until this competition. I’m genuinely happy.”

The quad Axel is not a point-scoring element in short programs, but it is in free skates.

Malinin, the son of Olympic skaters from Uzbekistan, was second at last January’s U.S. Championships but left off the three-man Olympic team due to his relative inexperience. He went to senior worlds in March and finished ninth, then won the world junior title in April.

The Grand Prix Final, which takes the top six per discipline from the six-event Grand Prix Series, is the most exclusive figure skating competition. It was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier, Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara topped the pairs’ short program with 78.08 points, edging world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier by 43 hundredths of a point.

Miura and Kihara, ranked No. 1 in the world this season, are bidding to win the biggest title ever for a Japanese pair.

Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, recorded a personal best score with their first clean program since those worlds. Frazier put his hand on the ice on their side-by-side triple toe landings, but judges still barely graded it positively.

“We’ve made a big improvement from our [fall] Grand Prix [starts],” Knierim said. “I am elated with the outcome.”

Pairs experienced the biggest change of the four figure skating disciplines since the Olympics with none of the top five teams from the Winter Games competing internationally this fall. Russian pairs, traditionally the best in the world as a group, are ineligible due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including gold medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t skate in the Grand Prix Series.

The Grand Prix Final continues Friday with the pairs’ free skate, rhythm dance and women’s short program, all live on Peacock.

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Katie Ledecky talks swimming legacy and life in Gainesville

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OlympicTalk recently caught up with Katie Ledecky to discuss life since moving from Stanford to Florida 15 months ago, her meticulous mindset, and the legacy she continues to build.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can also catch an encore presentation of Ledecky’s performance at the 2022 U.S. Open this Saturday at 4:30 pm ET on NBC.

What does a typical day look like for you Gainesville? Walk me through a full day starting from the minute your alarm clock goes off.

Ledecky: A typical day would be waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning and swimming from 6 to 8. Then I have weights from 8 to 9:15. I get breakfast, have lunch and then take a nap. Then I have practice again at 2 or 3 in the afternoon for another two hours.

Wow, that sounds incredibly busy! Have you had a chance to find any new favorite places to eat in Gainesville?

Ledecky: I’m still kind of finding my spots. There is a breakfast spot pretty close to campus that a lot of the swimmers like, so I go there quite a bit, but I’m still looking. I haven’t gone to very many places more than once.

What are you doing in your free time? Are you coaching?

Ledecky: Yes, I’m volunteering with the [University of Florida] team, but I think of myself more as a teammate. I have a lot of other things going on with sponsorships, but aside from that, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I have a piano and enjoy playing that!

How often do you get to see your family?

Ledecky: My parents, David and Mary, still live in the D.C. area, and then my brother, Michael, lives in New York, so I’m a lot closer to home [than at Stanford]. I see them around the holidays, and they come to a lot of my swim meets.

I know how much you love to stay academically engaged. Are you taking any classes at the University of Florida?

Ledecky: I’m not taking any classes right now. I’m taking a break, but I’m still trying to learn as much as I can just in other areas, reading a lot and watching the news, following different things that I’m interested in. I think at some point, I’ll probably go to grad school, but I’m still figuring out what area that would be in right now.

There’s a quote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I feel like that only scratches the surface of describing your work ethic and mindset. You demand excellence in every area of your life, not just from yourself, but from others around you. Can you talk about where that mindset comes from?

Ledecky: I’ve always had that kind of a mindset. I’m very driven, and I’m always setting new goals for myself no matter what I’ve achieved in the past. I’m always looking forward, I don’t take very many breaks, and so it’s always on to the next goal and making sure I’m doing the little things right and doing the things I need to do to reach my goals.

To be able to perform at the level that you do every single day takes a lot of mental toughness. What do Katie Ledecky’s inner thoughts look like? What do you tell yourself? Any affirmations? 

Ledecky: I try to stay positive no matter how well or how poorly a practice or a race is going. When I’m swimming, I give myself positive mental pep talks along the way throughout a race. I’ll say “keep it up,” “hold pace” or “hit this turn.”

I just want to read you a few tweets… 

You idolized Michael Phelps when you were younger, and now you’re that person for a lot of people. You’re the GOAT. You’re Katie Ledecky. Someone’s idol. What does that feel like?

Ledecky: It’s an honor to have young swimmers look up to me, and I don’t take that lightly. I try to be a good role model and reach out to young kids and sign autographs and take photos if people approach me at swim meets. I hope that there are some young swimmers out there that will grow up to be champions or maybe they’ll just continue to love the sport or find other things that they’re passionate about, but it’s an honor.

Have you had any memorable interactions with young swimmers?

Ledecky:  Yeah, actually the World Cup in Indianapolis [in November]. We were given those giant checks at the end of the meet that you really can’t travel with, so I was able to sign it and give it to one of the basket carriers at the meet. They were thrilled, and it was fun to be able to put a smile on their face.

Give me just one word to describe each of these milestones in your life, starting with the 2012 Olympics.

Ledecky: The first. It was my first international competition and my first gold medal, so that’s the one that’ll probably be the most special for me forever.

OLY-2012-SWIM

2016 Rio Olympics.

Ledecky: Consistency. I was swimming in multiple events at the Olympics for the first time and I just got into a really good rhythm and felt so comfortable in the pool deck. So confident. That was just a very unique feeling.

Tokyo Games.

Ledecky: Tokyo was different with all the COVID protocols. Nobody in the stands. No family there. But it was a lot of fun still, so a lot of great memories with my teammates there.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind at the end of your career? What do you want to be remembered for?

Ledecky: I’d like to be remembered as somebody that worked really hard and gave my best effort every time I got up on the blocks and represented Team USA. Hopefully, I can continue to inspire young kids to work hard in whatever it is that they are passionate about, whether that’s something academic, athletic, or something else. If you find something that you really love, you should go all in on it and try to be the best you can be at it.

You’ve achieved so much in life already personally and professionally, I just want to ask: Are you genuinely happy? Are you satisfied in this season of life right now?

Ledecky: Oh yeah, I’m very happy. I love the sport more and more every year. I get a little sad thinking about the day I will eventually retire–which isn’t anytime soon. I love the sport. I’m trying to just enjoy every day of training and racing and trying to be the best that I can be.

I say this all the time, I never imagined I would even make it to one Olympics and so to be training now to try to qualify for a fourth Olympics is it’s all just icing on the cake at this point and something that I truly enjoy. I enjoy doing it with my teammates, striving for similar goals, and getting to do it with really great people.

Knowing all that you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self — the little Palisades Porpoise?

Ledecky: I don’t have very many regrets or anything in my career, so I think I would just continue to tell myself to have fun and enjoy every moment. Maybe, write down a little bit more early on. I’ve done a better job of journaling and writing down different things so that I can remember them down the road, but I didn’t do as good of a job in 2012 and 2013.

Rapid-fire questions. Race day hype song? 

Ledecky: “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen.

Finish this sentence: I’m not ready for a meet without … 

Ledecky: My suit, cap and goggles.

Did you have AIM back in the day? What was your embarrassing screen name?

Ledecky: I didn’t. I didn’t even have a cell phone until before the London Olympics. I think I actually borrowed my brother’s phone for that, and then we went out and bought an iPad so that I could FaceTime my family from London. I didn’t have an email account either until high school.

Your life is on the line. You need to sing one karaoke song to save it. What are you picking?

Ledecky: Well, USA Swimming did carpool karaoke in 2016 before the Olympics. My car did “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, which is a great karaoke song because it’s like 10 minutes long so maybe I would choose that just as a fun memory. We also did “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen in 2012. Those are two fun songs with some fond memories.

Post-workout meal?

Ledecky: After morning practice, eggs and toast or veggies and eggs. I love breakfast. I could eat breakfast food for all three meals and I’d be satisfied.

Cheat meal? 

Ledecky: Either pizza or a burger.

If you had to choose another Olympic sport to compete in what would it be and why? 

Ledecky: Probably hockey. I’m not good on skates, but it’s my favorite sport to watch.

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