Katie Ledecky retakes 400m freestyle at swim worlds; Michael Phelps’ last record rattled


BUDAPEST — Katie Ledecky reclaimed the 400m freestyle crown to open the world swimming championships, prevailing in the absence of rival Ariarne Titmus of Australia.

Ledecky won in a championship record 3 minutes, 58.15 seconds, topping 15-year-old Canadian Summer McIntosh by 1.24 seconds. American Leah Smith took bronze, matching her finish from the 2016 Olympics and 2019 Worlds.

“Just wanted to start the meet on a good note,” said Ledecky, who is expected to swim in four events over the eight-day competition. “It hurt a bit, but I’m really happy and couldn’t be happier to have Leah on the medal podium with me.”

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Also Saturday, 20-year-old Frenchman Léon Marchand established himself as a star ahead of the 2024 Paris Games.

Marchand, who swims at Arizona State under Michael Phelps‘ longtime coach Bob Bowman, won the 400m individual medley in 4:04.28, the second-best time in history behind Phelps’ world record 4:03.84.

Americans Carson Foster and Chase Kalisz (Tokyo Olympic champion) took silver and bronze.

Marchand was under Phelps’ record pace through 350 meters, nearly wiping Phelps’ last remaining individual record, and the last individual record overall from the 2008 Olympics, off the books.

“I talk to [Phelps] a little bit by [text] message, and he’s always sending some some texts to Bob,” Marchand said.

Australian Elijah Winnington took the men’s 400m free in 3:41.22, the world’s best time since 2012. Winnington was seventh at the Tokyo Olympics.

In the 4x100m free relays, the U.S. men, led by Caeleb Dressel, won by 1.46 seconds over Australia. The U.S. has won the event at every Olympics and worlds since Dressel joined the lineup in 2016.

Favored Australia took the women’s 4x100m free despite lacking seven-time Tokyo Olympic medalist Emma McKeon, who along with Titmus is skipping worlds to focus on the Commonwealth Games. Australia won by 1.20 seconds over Canada, with a young U.S. quartet taking bronze, just as a more experienced foursome did in Tokyo.

Ledecky earned her 16th career world championships gold medal and her 12th in individual events, breaking her tie in the latter with China’s Sun Yang for the second-most in history behind Phelps’ 15 individual world titles. Ledecky has two more individual events left in Budapest, the 800m and 1500m frees.

This marked Ledecky’s first 400m free gold at a major international meet since 2018. She took silver behind Titmus at the 2019 Worlds and the Tokyo Olympics.

Last month, Titmus broke Ledecky’s 400m free world record, lowering it by six hundredths to 3:56.40.

Titmus and some other Australian stars are skipping worlds to prioritize the Commonwealth Games later this summer. Ledecky and Titmus are not expected to race against each other until the 2023 World Championships in Japan.

“The focus maybe for everyone else is about time, but for me it hasn’t been about time this year,” said Ledecky, who after winning two golds and four medals at the Tokyo Olympics moved from Stanford to Florida. “It’s just about finding my stroke, finding my rhythm and not putting a limit on what I can do.”

Worlds continue Sunday, including Dressel in the 50m butterfly final and fellow Americans Torri Huske and Claire Curzan in the 100m fly final.

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Luz Long’s Olympic silver medal for sale from Jesse Owens long jump duel

Jesse Owens, Luz Long

One of the most consequential Olympic medals ever awarded is on the auction block — the silver medal captured in 1936 by Germany’s Luz Long, the long jumper who walked arm in arm through the stadium with Jesse Owens to celebrate their triumphs while Adolf Hitler watched from the stands.

Long’s family has decided to auction the medal and other collectibles from the German jumper’s career. Long was killed in World War II in 1943.

The auction house selling the medal has labeled Long’s collection “The Beacon of Hope.”

“The story of Jesse Owens never seems to end,” said Long’s granddaughter, Julia Kellner-Long, in a phone interview from her house in Munich. “My grandfather has always been inspirational and influential in the way I choose to see the world, and this is something I think the world outside needs. Now more than ever. It gives us hope.”

Long cemented himself in Olympic lore during the Berlin Games when he was the first to congratulate Owens on his triumph in the long jump. Later they walked around the stadium together and posed for pictures.

There’s also the story Owens told of Long approaching him after he fouled on his first two attempts in the preliminary round. With only one more try to make the final, Owens said Long suggested he take off a foot in front of the board, to assure he wouldn’t foul on his last try. Owens took that advice and went on to win the title — one of four he captured in Berlin — with a then-Olympic record jump of 8.06 meters (26 feet, 5 1/2 inches).

Owens was Black, and his stirring success at those Olympics was said to have annoyed Hitler by puncturing the Nazi myth of Aryan racial superiority.

The camaraderie between Owens and Long, and the relationship that ensued between the men and their families, are often held up as the prime example of what the Olympics are supposed to be about — a peaceful coming together of people from different countries and cultures who set their differences aside in the spirit of competition.

“It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me,” Owens said, years later. “You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace.”

The decision to sell came shortly after Luz’s son (and Julia’s father), Kai, died at age 80. Kellner-Long said the great responsibility of preserving her grandfather’s memorabilia should be passed onto an individual, or museum, that has the time and resources to do so. The family also wanted to use the sale to rekindle the story of Long and Owens.

“Even 86 years later, shining a beacon of hope is an important and realistic value, especially in a time of increasing racism, increasing exclusion and hatred,” Kellner-Long said.

The auction house started the bidding for Long’s medal at $50,000, and estimated the value at somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million. The bidding runs through Oct. 15. The value of Olympic medals on the open market varies widely. One of Owens’ four gold medals from 1936 fetched $1.46 million. Bill Russell’s gold medal from the 1956 Olympics recently sold for $587,500.

David Kohler of SCP Auctions, which is conducting the sale, said the medal is about Long, but also “the story of the courageousness and the athlete and what he did there.”

Long didn’t live long enough to see his legacy play out. He was killed in 1943 in the battle of St. Pietro on the Italian island of Sardinia. Shortly before that, he wrote a letter to Owens, one he predicted would be “the last letter I shall ever write.”

In it, Long asked Owens to go to Germany after the war and find his son.

“Tell him, Jesse, what times were like when we were not separated by war,” Long wrote. “I am saying — tell him how things can be between men on this earth.”

Owens and Kai Long met several times over the years, including at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium in 1966. Owens later was a best man at Kai’s wedding.

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Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson

Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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