Katie Ledecky earns gold for record 20th swim worlds medal; Regan Smith wins backstroke

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BUDAPEST — Katie Ledecky is more interested in lap times than medal counts. She was satisfied with both at the world swimming championships on Monday.

Ledecky took gold in the 1500m freestyle for her 20th career world medal, tying Natalie Coughlin for the female record. Ledecky, after winning her opening 400m free on Saturday, clocked 15 minutes, 30.15 seconds to bag her fourth world title in the 1500m on Monday. It was a U.S. one-two as 16-year-old Katie Grimes took silver, 14.74 seconds back.

“My goal was to hold 31 low [second lengths of the pool], so that’s right on the money,” said Ledecky, who averaged 31.005 seconds per length and went 7.59 seconds faster than her time to win the event’s Olympic debut in Tokyo.

Grimes is the youngest U.S. medalist at a worlds since Ledecky in 2013 and the second-youngest medalist ever in the women’s 1500m after Ledecky, who is now both the youngest and the oldest world 1500m free champion, according to Bill Mallon of Olympedia.org.

The U.S. added four medals between the men’s and women’s 100m backstrokes — gold (Regan Smith), silver (Ryan Murphy) and bronze (Hunter Armstrong and Claire Curzan). Murphy ceded his world record to Italian gold medalist Thomas Ceccon, who lowered it from 51.85 to 51.60.

SWIMMING WORLDS: TV Schedule | Results | U.S. Roster

Ledecky, now a four-time world champion in the 1500m free, owns the 13 fastest times in history in the event, including the world record of 15:20.48. Her time on Monday was 8.73 seconds faster than any swimmer in history not named Ledecky.

The only swimmers with more world championships medals than Ledecky are Michael Phelps (33) and Ryan Lochte (27). Ledecky’s 17 gold medals are also third in history behind Phelps (26) and Lochte (18).

“I don’t count [medals],” Ledecky said. “It’s pretty wild because I feel like just yesterday I was in Barcelona at my first worlds [at age 16 in 2013] like Katie [Grimes] is now.”

She has two more events left at worlds, the 4x200m free relay on Wednesday and the 800m free on Friday and Saturday. In the 800m free, Ledecky can become the first swimmer to win five consecutive world titles in one event.

Smith added a 100m back title to the 200m crown she earned in 2019, when she broke three world records in two races at age 17.

She held off two-time defending world champion Kylie Masse of Canada by .18, prevailing in the absence of Olympic gold medalist and world record holder Kaylee McKeown of Australia. McKeown scratched the 100m back, reportedly to focus on the 200m individual medley, where she took silver.

“It’s getting harder and harder to deal with the pressure because a lot of people expecting me to deliver,” said Smith, who took 100m back bronze in Tokyo. “I’ve been working a lot with a psychologist to survive this situation, and it seems to be working.”

Curzan, who is slated to join Smith at Stanford later this summer, earned her first individual Olympic or world medal.

In the men’s 100m back, Ceccon went from fourth in Tokyo to a world champion and world record holder. He trained the last few years at the same pool as Italian legend Federica Pellegrini, who retired last year.

“I haven’t realized that I broke the world record,” he said in disbelief. “I didn’t think of any record or time before the start.”

Murphy, who swept the backstrokes at the 2016 Olympics, wasn’t upset that he was denied his first individual world title given he swam his best time in four years.

“I honestly was not expecting to be that fast,” he said. “Thomas is an incredible talent. Hats off to him. That’s a gnarly swim.”

Armstrong, who broke the 50m back world record at April’s trials, earned his first individual medal at an Olympics or worlds.

In the 100m breaststroke, 2016 Olympic champion and world record holder Lilly King took fourth after squeaking into the final in the eighth and last spot. She got in after training partner Annie Lazor was disqualified for illegal leg movement with her kick in the semifinals.

King, vying to become the first woman to win three consecutive world titles in a breaststroke event, missed bronze by five hundredths behind 2012 Olympic champion Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania. Meilutyte retired in 2019 after it was announced she was facing a ban for missed (but not failed) drug tests. She was given a two-year ban and returned to competition last December.

Italian 17-year-old Benedetta Pilato won the 100m breast in 1:05.93, holding off German Anna Elendt by .05.

The 17-year-old Romanian David Popovici won the 200m free in 1:43.21, the world’s best time in 10 years. Popovici became the first Romanian man to win a world title and the youngest male gold medalist from any nation in 15 years.

Worlds continue Tuesday featuring Olympic champion Bobby Finke in the 800m free final and the mixed medley relay, expected to include Caeleb Dressel.

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As Ilia Malinin ponders quintuple jump, figure skating may face an urgent matter

Ilia Malinin
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SAN JOSE, California – The subject of a five-revolution jump was sure to come up, now that Ilia Malinin has become the first person to land a fully rotated quadruple Axel, which has four and one-half revolutions in the air.

And, in Malinin’s case, to land it cleanly not only once but three times this fall, the most recent with stunning command at December’s Grand Prix Final.

Rafael Arutunian, who coaches Malinin intermittently, said via telephone that he and the skater talked about a quintuple when they were working together in California during the high school senior’s recent holiday break.

“I was basically saying a five-revolution toe loop can be done,” Arutunian said. “He agreed and was smiling.”

“It is definitely in the back of my mind right now,” Malinin, 18, said in media conference call last week. “It’s very hard to think of it at this moment because it’s still pretty much the middle of the middle of the season. I think after the season I’ll think about it, and maybe we will see one.”

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

With a laugh, Arutunian described the impish plan he is dreaming of for Malinin to make the attempt.

The jump would come out of the blue.

This is the scenario: Arutunian would ask Malinin, favored to win his first senior U.S. Championship title this weekend in San Jose, not to publicize his practicing a quint on social media, as he had done with the quad Axel and many of the unprecedented jump combinations he tries.

“He would just come out and do it in a competition, and that would be a shock, right?” said Arutunian, who guided Nathan Chen to the 2022 Olympic title. “Imagine what the officials would do then.”

As it turns out, the officials would do literally nothing. Under current rules, Malinin would get zero points for the jump, as quintuple jumps are not yet recognized or given a value in the sport’s Scale of Values (SOV).

That is something U.S. Figure Skating president Sam Auxier plans to discuss with Fabio Bianchetti, head of the International Skating Union’s singles and pairs technical committee, when the two are to meet at next month’s Four Continents Championships in Colorado Springs.

“I believe Fabio and the technical committee will update the SOV soon, and if anyone is practicing (a quint) and may try it, they will get the change in before it is done in competition,” Auxier said in a text message. “With Ilia, I think that needs to be urgent!”

Even before such a rules change is made, Auxier said, if competition officials were aware a skater was planning to attempt a quint, they would ask for an emergency ruling and have the tech team add a value into the computer system used to calculate scores.

“We wouldn’t let it be zero,” Auxier said. “However, if someone did it with no warning … that would be a problem.”

Bianchetti does not feel the same sense of urgency.

“So far the prospect of executing quintuple jumps seems remote,” Bianchetti said in an email. “We are not aware of any quintuple jump correctly executed and full rotated having been done even in practice.

“Therefore there is not an urgent need to add quintuple jumps in the SOV. In any case it is something we will discuss in the near future.”

For now, then, everyone can continue to marvel at Malinin’s quad Axel. He said the jump has not become a burden and isn’t worried about fans being disappointed if he doesn’t attempt one, as Malinin has in all five of his competitions so far this season.

“Some people might think that (it is a burden),” he said. “My priority is focusing on what I’m doing in practice. I have been sticking with it, and I am planning to attempt it (in the free skate at nationals.)”

The irony is the risk on the jump seems greater than the reward, given the quad Axel’s surprisingly low base value as compared to its difficulty and uniqueness.

“I have always prided myself on looking for a challenge,” Malinin said.

At 12.5 points, the jump is worth just one point more than a four-revolution quad Lutz. Yet 23 men and women have been credited with a fully rotated quad Lutz a total of 228 times in international competition, according to skatingscores.com.

Until the SOV revision for the 2018-19 season, when no one had landed a quad Axel, it was worth 15.0. All quads had their base values lowered in 2018, but the Axel had the biggest percentage drop.

“It should definitely be worth more, and we will ask that be considered also,” Auxier said. “(A base value of) 12.5 doesn’t reflect the true difficulty of the jump.”

Bianchetti sees it differently. His perspective is affected by a general feeling many in the sport share that jump pyrotechnics have become too big a factor in determining results.

“As to the value of the quad Axel, the matter to change its value is not on the agenda at the moment,” Bianchetti wrote. “A discussion to make some changes on the value of the jumps should include a general evaluation on all the jumps, not only the quad Axel, to have a more correct proportion between the various jumps but taking also into consideration the fact that the weight of the jump elements in total is already too high with respect to the other not jumping elements and the components marks.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

U.S. Figure Skating Championships
U.S. Figure Skating
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The U.S. Figure Skating Championships, in some ways marking a new era in the sport, air live from San Jose, California, on NBC Sports, USA Network and Peacock.

After last February’s Olympics, U.S. figure skating saw its greatest turnover from one season to the next in more than 20 years.

Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou, the top two men last season, are not competing this season and may be done altogether. Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell, the top two women, retired. As did the top ice dance couple of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, last year’s national pairs’ champions, also left the sport.

So, for the first time since 1993, the U.S. Championships feature a reigning national champion in just one of the four disciplines.

Amid all that, U.S. skaters performed well in the fall Grand Prix Series and made the podium in all four disciplines at December’s Grand Prix Final for the first time. Note the absence of Russian skaters, banned from international events due to the war in Ukraine.

At nationals, skaters are vying for spots on the team — three per discipline — for March’s world championships in Japan.

Ilia Malinin, an 18-year-old from Virginia, is the headliner after becoming the first skater to land a quadruple Axel, doing so at all four of his events this season. He ranks second in the world by best total score, a whopping 38.28 points ahead of the next American (Camden Pulkinen).

Jason Brown is the lone Olympian in the men’s field, competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Games.

Isabeau Levito, 15 and a reigning world junior champion like Malinin, took silver at the Grand Prix Final against the world’s other top skaters. She enters nationals with a best score this season 18.13 points better than the next American, Amber Glenn. Bradie Tennell, a 2018 Olympian coming back from foot and ankle injuries, is also a threat to gain one of the three women’s spots at worlds.

Ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates are the lone defending national champions and will likely make the podium for an 11th consecutive year, which would be one shy of the record.

Bates, who last year at 32 became the oldest U.S. champion in any discipline in decades, has made 12 career senior nationals podiums with Chock and former partner Emily Samuelson. It is believed that a 13th finish in the top three would break the U.S. record for a single discipline he currently shares with Michelle Kwan, Nathaniel Niles and Theresa Weld Blanchard.

In pairs, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier return after missing nationals last year due to Frazier contracting COVID-19 the week of the event. Since, they posted the best U.S. pairs’ finish at an Olympics in 20 years, the first world title for a U.S. pair in 43 years and the first Grand Prix Final medal ever for a U.S. pair.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships Live Broadcast Schedule

Day Event Time (ET) Platform
Thursday Pairs’ Short Program 3:30-5:45 p.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Rhythm Dance 6:30-9 p.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Rhythm Dance 7-9 p.m. USA Network | STREAM LINK
Women’s Short Program 9:10 p.m.-12 a.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Women’s Short Program 10 p.m.-12 a.m. USA Network | STREAM LINK
Friday Men’s Short Program 4:10-7 p.m. Peacock
Men’s Short Program 5-7 p.m. USA Network
Women’s Free Skate 7:45-11 p.m. Peacock
Women’s Free Skate 8-11 p.m. NBC
Saturday Free Dance 1:45-4:30 p.m. Peacock
Free Dance 2:30-4:30 p.m. NBC
Pairs’ Free Skate 7:30-10 p.m. Peacock
Pairs’ Free Skate 8-10 p.m. USA Network
Sunday Men’s Free Skate 2:30-6 p.m. Peacock
Men’s Free Skate 3-6 p.m. NBC

*All NBC and USA Network broadcasts also stream on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.