Australians defeat U.S. freestyle sprinters, relay at Pan Pacs

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The U.S. has dominated swimming since the heyday of its rivalry with Australia more than a decade ago, but the Aussies had one of their biggest recent gold-medal sweeps at the expense of the Americans on Friday.

Cate Campbell and Kyle Chalmers won the 100m freestyles at the Pan Pacific Championships, the biggest international meet for U.S. swimmers this year, in Tokyo.

The Aussies also beat the U.S. in the 4x200m free relay, with Madeline Groves holding off Katie Ledecky on anchor.

Groves was given a 2.88-second lead and edged Ledecky by .25, marking the American women’s first loss in a major international meet since 2009 Worlds.

Ledecky had the fastest split of the relay — 1:53.84 — which was .28 faster than Canadian Taylor Ruck, who won the individual 200m free over Ledecky on Thursday.

U.S. leadoff Allison Schmitt had the slowest leg of the 16 total swimmers — 1:58.62 — the slowest by an American woman in a 4x200m free final at a major meet since 2010, though leadoff legs are slowed by reaction time.

The U.S. men held off Australia in the 4x200m free, with Townley Haas touching .24 ahead of Jack Cartwright.

PAN PACS: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Campbell clocked the second-fastest time ever — 52.03 seconds — to hand Simone Manuel her first loss in a major international 100m free in three years. Manuel, a distant runner-up in 52.66, shared the 2016 Olympic title with Canadian Penny Oleksiak and took the 2017 World title outright.

“I definitely was disappointed with losing, but I think I’m more disappointed with my time,” said Manuel, who was .12 faster at nationals two weeks ago.

Campbell entered the Rio Games as the world-record holder but was a disappointing sixth in Brazil, later saying she swam with a hernia. The 26-year-old skipped the 2017 Worlds but stormed back this year, clocking 52.37 in March, good for No. 2 in the world going into Pan Pacs.

“I can put to bed all the nightmares and thoughts that come creeping in when you’re lying awake, stewing over past performances,” Campbell said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “I swam a personal best. These don’t come around very often at my age. I couldn’t be happier.”

Chalmers, the surprise Rio Olympic 100m free champion, pulled off another upset to take the Pan Pacs title. He touched in 48.00, beating world champion Caeleb Dressel and fellow Aussie Cartwright by .22.

Chalmers, 20, entered the final with the fifth-fastest time this year among the eight racers. He missed the 2017 Worlds after undergoing heart surgery and was third at the Commonwealth Games on April 8.

“I was beginning to doubt myself that little bit in the 100m,” Chalmers said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “I haven’t done a whole lot of 100m work, but I’m a competitor.”

Australia bagged as many gold medals Friday at Pan Pacs — a meet without European nations and top stars from China and South Africa — as it did in all swim events at the Rio Olympics. The Aussies won a single gold at the 2017 Worlds.

Dressel dominated the 100m free at 2017 Worlds, winning in an American record 47.17 seconds as one of his Michael Phelps-record-tying seven gold medals at the meet.

He was sixth at the U.S. Championships two weeks ago in what coach Gregg Troy said was the worst thing that’s happened to him in the pool in four years since matriculating at the University of Florida.

“Pretty far off my best,” Dressel said Friday. “It’s been a little bit of a hectic year [Dressel finished his college career and turned pro in the last six months]. It was a learning year. Pan Pacs is a little more low key than worlds and Olympics. It’s just been a little crazy. That’s all right for right now.”

Dressel managed a different kind of victory Friday, grabbing one of two spots on the U.S. team in the 100m free for the 2019 World Championships, along with U.S. champion Blake Pieroni.

That means Nathan Adrian will not contest a 100m free at a major international meet for the first time since he was a prelim relay swimmer at the 2008 Olympics.

Also Friday, Rio gold medalist Ryan Murphy won the 100m backstroke in 51.94, just .09 off his world record. The race lacked world champion Xu Jiayu as China is saving its best swimmers for the Asian Games later this month.

World champion Kylie Masse of Canada captured the women’s 100m back in 58.61, .11 ahead of 2015 World champion Emily Seebohm of Australia. American Kathleen Baker, who at nationals broke Masse’s world record, earned bronze.

U.S. Olympian Hali Flickinger won the 200m butterfly in 2:07.35. Flickinger ranks second in the world this year with her 2:05.87 from nationals.

Japan’s Daiya Seto took the men’s 200m fly in 1:54.34, ranking him fifth in the world this year. The top American was Zach Harting in third in 1:55.05.

Pan Pacs continue Saturday, highlighted by Ledecky in the 400m freestyle (full broadcast schedule here).

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Five events to watch at Pan Pacific Swimming Championships

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Five races to watch at the Pan Pacific Championships, the major international meet of 2018 for the U.S. (TV/stream schedule here) …

Women’s 200m Freestyle
Thursday (Olympic Channel, 5 a.m. ET)

If Katie Ledecky is going to be tested in any of her four individual events, it will be this one, her shortest race. Though Ledecky is the Olympic champion, Swede Sarah Sjöström was fastest in the world in 2015 and Italian Federica Pellegrini beat Ledecky for the 2017 World title. Of course, neither Sjöström nor Pellegrini is at Pan Pacs, a meet for non-European nations (neither is racing the 200m free at the concurrent European Championships, either).

No matter, the four fastest women in the world this year are from Pan Pacs nations — Ledecky (1:54.56), Canadian Taylor Ruck (1:54.81), Australian Ariarne Titmus (1:54.85) and Japanese Rikako Ikee (1:55.04). Ruck, Titmus and Ikee were all born in 2000, three years after Ledecky, who is now most certainly a veteran swimmer at age 21. Titmus, also ranked No. 2 in the world to Ledecky in the 400m free, is reportedly skipping the 200m free this week, though.

Men’s 400m Individual Medley
Thursday (Olympic Channel, 5 a.m. ET)

Arguably the most anticipated race for the home crowd. Japan’s Kosuke Hagino and Daiya Seto earned gold and bronze medals in the decathlon of swimming at the Rio Olympics, with American Chase Kalisz sandwiched for silver. Kalisz then swept the IMs at the 2017 Worlds and goes into Pan Pacs with the fastest time in the world this year by .73. Seto is ranked No. 2 in the world this year, followed by American Jay Litherland and then Hagino.

A Japanese film crew, including retired four-time Olympic breaststroke champion Kosuke Kitajima, has followed Kalisz from his training base in Athens, Ga., to covering him at nationals in California two weeks ago. Kalisz plans to host Seto for a trip to Athens in the fall, highlighted by a University of Georgia football game.

Women’s 100m Freestyle
Friday, (Olympic Channel, 6 a.m. ET)

Co-Olympic champion Simone Manuel gets her first head-to-head with Australian Cate Campbell since the Rio Games, where Campbell went in as the world-record holder and finished a disappointing sixth (later saying she swam with a hernia). Campbell skipped the 2017 Worlds, which Manuel won outright. Campbell stormed back this year, clocking 52.37 in March, good for No. 2 in the world this year. This would be an even bigger event if not for the absence of Cate’s younger sister, Bronte Campbell (No. 1 in the world this year), and Canadian Penny Oleksiak, who shared gold with Manuel in Rio. Both are skipping Pan Pacs.

Men’s 100m Freestyle
Friday (Olympic Channel, 6 a.m. ET)

Features the reigning Olympic champion (Australian Kyle Chalmers) and world champion (American Caeleb Dressel), plus the second-fastest in the world this year (Japanese Katsumi Nakamura). The story within the race is the fight for the two U.S. spots in the 100m free at the 2019 Worlds. Dressel, who went under the previous American record three times at the 2017 Worlds, was only sixth at nationals. If Dressel wants to defend his title at 2019 Worlds, he must be one of the two fastest Americans in the Pan Pacs finals and clock no slower than 48.25 seconds. Nathan Adrian, the 2012 Olympic 100m free champ, is under some pressure here, too, as the runner-up at nationals to Blake Pieroni.

Women’s 100m Backstroke
Friday (Olympic Channel, 6 a.m. ET)

Olympic and world silver medalist Kathleen Baker took the world record along with the U.S. title in this event two weeks ago. Canadian Kylie Masse, who broke the eight-year-old record at the 2017 Worlds, gets her chance to reclaim it in Tokyo. Baker, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2010, has never won an individual event at a major international meet. If either Baker or Masse lowers the record, she will become the first woman to break 58 seconds in the event. In 2008, an 11-year-old Baker was a spectator at the U.S. Olympic Trials, where Natalie Coughlin became the first woman to break 59 seconds.

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