Katie Ledecky wins by 12 seconds in trials finale, can tie Michael Phelps record at worlds

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Katie Ledecky won the 1500m freestyle by 12.37 seconds to finish the U.S. swimming trials, going four-for-four in her first major meet since the Tokyo Olympics and a cross-country move.

“It didn’t feel like a thing of beauty,” Ledecky said on CNBC of the longest race on the program. “It was decent. Would have liked to have been a little bit faster, but I’ll take it at the end of the week.

“It’s the last race of the week. It’s the 1500m. It’s never going to feel good.”

She qualified for June’s world championships in Budapest in her four primary events — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees — and is also expected to be on the 4x200m free relay. That was her lineup at the Tokyo Olympics, where she won two golds, two silvers and placed fifth in the 200m free.

Ledecky, who has the 12 fastest 1500m free times in history, clocked 15:38.99 in Greensboro, N.C., on Saturday night. Her world record is 15:20.48. The second-fastest woman in history went 15:38.88, nine years ago.

On Saturday, Katie Grimes was the distant runner-up to join Ledecky on the world team in the event.

Ledecky, a 25-year-old who last fall left Stanford to train at the University of Florida, won all of her events this week by at least a second.

U.S. SWIMMING TRIALS: Results | World Championships Roster

She is the fastest or tied for the fastest in the world this year in all four events, but it’s early and Australia hasn’t had its trials yet.

The best measuring stick for Ledecky is to compare her times this week with those from last year’s Olympic Trials. She was faster by more than a second in three of her four events this week. In the 200m free, she was four hundredths slower than her time from last year.

If Ledecky wins all four of her individual events at worlds, she will tie Michael Phelps‘ record 15 individual world titles. She pulled off that Ledecky Slam in 2015, sweeping the 200m through 1500m golds.

Ledecky, with 18 total world championships medals, is two behind the female record of 20 medals held by Natalie Coughlin. Ledecky owns 15 total golds dating to 2013, three shy of Ryan Lochte for the second-most in world swimming championships history behind Phelps’ 26.

Ledecky’s primary rival, Olympic 200m and 400m free champion Ariarne Titmus of Australia, is skipping worlds to focus on the Commonwealth Games later this summer.

In other events Saturday, Caeleb Dressel matched Ledecky with his fourth victory in as many events. He took the 50m freestyle in 21.29 seconds, topping Michael Andrew by .16. He is fastest in the world this year in the 50m and 100m frees and the 100m butterfly, all of which he won in Tokyo.

“I thought I could be [21.4] tonight, so to see [21.2], I’m pretty fired up,” said Dressel, who flung his cap, flexed his biceps and slapped the water four times after the victory.

Dressel is expected to swim the same eight-event schedule as he did at worlds in 2017 and 2019: 50m and 100m frees and flies, plus two men’s relays and two mixed-gender relays.

Torri Huske notched her third win of the week, taking the women’s 50m free by .02 over Erika Brown. Huske and Claire Curzan could each swim in eight events at worlds when including relays.

Olympic bronze medalist Alex Walsh won the 200m individual medley in 2:07.84, the world’s fastest time in nearly three years. Walsh improved to become the sixth-fastest performer in history and the No. 2 American behind Ariana Kukors.

Chase Kalisz will contest both IMs at a major international meet for the fifth consecutive time. Kalisz followed his runner-up in the 400m IM on Wednesday by winning the 200m IM on Saturday. Kalisz, the Olympic 400m IM champion, clocked 1:56.21, the second-fastest time in the world this year and his best since 2018.

Olympic champ Bobby Finke won the 800m free in 7:43.32, the fastest time ever in a U.S. pool.

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach
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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

Alyssa Thomas
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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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