Kelsi Worrell

Ryan Murphy leads as U.S. cleans up at swimming short course worlds

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U.S. Olympic swimmers Ryan MurphyBlake Pieroni and Olivia Smoliga won individual short-course world titles in Hangzhou, China, on Wednesday.

The U.S. also broke world records in winning two relays — the women’s 4x50m medley and mixed-gender 4x50m freestyle.

Murphy, who swept the Rio backstrokes, led off by edging Chinese rival Xu Jiayu by .03 in the 100m back. Xu had relegated Murphy to bronze at the 2017 World Championships in the standard Olympic-size pool.

Smoliga upset Olympic champion Katinka Hosszu and world-record holder Kathleen Baker in the women’s 100m back, touching .07 ahead of the Hungarian superstar. Baker was fifth.

Pieroni, a veteran U.S. freestyler on relays, earned his first individual global gold medal. Pieroni won the 200m free despite being the slowest qualifier into the final. He beat Lithuanian Danas Rapsys by .29. Olympic and 2017 World champion Sun Yang of China is not racing short-course worlds.

Short-course worlds are held in even-numbered years in a 25-meter pool rather than the 50-meter pool used at the Olympics. U.S. Olympic champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Lilly King are among those not competing this week.

WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

In other events Wednesday, triple Rio Olympic champion Hosszu overtook American Kelsi Dahlia in the final strokes of the 200m butterfly, winning by .13. Dahlia lowered her American record by 1.16 seconds.

South African Cameron van der Burgh turned back the clock to win the 100m breaststroke from lane seven by .07. Van der Burgh, 30, won the 2012 Olympic 100m breast but ceded to Brit Adam Peaty in the last Olympic cycle. Peaty is not at short-course worlds.

Worlds continue Thursday, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

MORE: The U.S. breaststroke hope to end Olympic drought

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Katie Ledecky wins 400m free at Pan Pacs, but she has company

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Katie Ledecky is still queen of the 400m freestyle, but now a younger swimmer is closer to Ledecky than any previous rival.

Ledecky won the 400m free at the Pan Pacific Championships in 3:58.50, the sixth-fastest time ever. She was under world-record pace through 250 meters in Tokyo. None of that is a surprise.

Runner-up Ariarne Titmus has been the recent revelation, clocking an Australian record 3:59.66 on Saturday and finishing about a body length behind Ledecky, outsplitting her in the last half of the race. Nobody has been that close to the American in a major 400m final.

“It’s exciting for me to see how I kind of put the standard out there,” Ledecky said. “I know there a lot of girls that are chasing that. It’s good to see someone get under it [four minutes]. It’s going to push me to go even faster and set the benchmark a little higher.”

PAN PACS: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Ledecky winning margins in 400m frees
2013 Worlds — 2.65 seconds
2014 Pan Pacs — 6.18
2015 Worlds — 3.89
2016 Olympics — 4.77
2017 Worlds — 3.2
2018 Pan Pacs — 1.16

Ledecky was not on Saturday’s U.S. 4x100m free relay that took silver behind Australia, which means she has one event left at Pan Pacs, Sunday’s 1500m free.

Ledecky is an overwhelming favorite there, putting her in line to finish the meet with three golds, one silver and one bronze in five events. She captured five golds in six events at 2014 Pan Pacs, breaking two world records.

“It’s been a tough week competing in a different time zone, very far from the U.S., 16-hour time difference,” Ledecky said. “So it’s been a lot harder, I think, than all of us anticipated, knowing that we just got here [Sunday].”

Titmus, 17, became the third woman to break four minutes in the 400m free after Ledecky and former world-record holder Federica Pellegrini.

Titmus ranks third in the world in the 200m free this year but skipped the event at Pan Pacs, where Ledecky finished third behind Canadian Taylor Ruck and Japanese Rikako Ikee. The Tasmanian also ranks third in the 800m free, nearly 10 seconds behind Ledecky, so the 400m may be her sweet spot.

“That’s the goal, to be up there with her and hopefully she’ll enjoy having someone to race,” Titmus said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “She hasn’t had anyone to race for a long time, so I’m getting closer. On the sixth lap [from 250 meters to 300 meters] I pulled her back in a bit, but she has a bit more speed than me, and she got away a bit on the seventh 50 and not the last 50. I did the best I could.”

Also Saturday, seven-time 2017 World champion Caeleb Dressel won the 100m butterfly by .57 in 50.75, a quarter of a second off his time from nationals two weeks ago, which remains fastest in the world this year.

Dressel later led off the U.S. men’s 4x100m free relay anchored by Nathan Adrian, edging Brazil by .35. But the Americans were later disqualified for swimming out of order.

Chase Kalisz completed a sweep of the individual medleys, as he did at 2017 Worlds, by taking the 200m IM in 1:55.40, a personal best.

Olympic champion Mack Horton was upset by fellow Aussie Jack McLoughlin in the men’s 400m free — 3:44.20 to 3:44.31. Horton’s 3:43.76 from the Commonwealth Games on April 5 remains fastest in the world this year.

Ikee captured the women’s 100m fly in 56.08, becoming the fourth fastest woman all time. World bronze medalist Kelsi Dahlia of the U.S. was second in 56.44. Olympic and world champion Sarah Sjöström of Sweden, not competing at Pan Pacs, has the 11 fastest times ever.

World silver medalist Yui Ohashi of Japan clocked the fastest women’s 200m IM of the year — 2:08.16.

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MORE: Jason Lezak recalls Beijing Olympic relay as 10th anniversary hits

Caeleb Dressel, after some drama, shines at swim nationals

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IRVINE, Calif. — Caeleb Dressel had his worst experience in the pool on Wednesday in the four years Gregg Troy has coached him.

“Oh, by far,” Troy said.

Dressel, who tied Michael Phelps‘ record with seven gold medals at the 2017 World Championships, finished sixth in the 100m freestyle on the first night of the U.S. Championships on Wednesday.

“I started off really rough, there’s no doubt about it,” said Dressel, who went 1.33 seconds slower than when he won the 2017 World title in an American record time. “I was absolutely horrible.”

Dressel was beaten again in the 50m butterfly on Thursday, which put some pressure on the 21-year-old going into the 100m butterfly on Friday.

If Dressel swam poorly in the 100m fly, his hopes of qualifying for the two biggest international meets before the 2020 Olympics would lie solely in Sunday’s fickle splash-and-dash 50m free.

Dressel lined up for Friday night’s final as the fourth seed from the morning preliminary heats. He remembered advice from six-time Olympic medalist breaststroker Brendan Hansen, who stressed Dressel focus not day by day or race by race, but stroke by stroke.

“I know how much was on the line,” Dressel said. “It’s basically setting up the next two years for a race that lasted 50 seconds. I do enjoy that. I didn’t want to crumble under that.”

He didn’t. Dressel won the 100m fly in 50.50 seconds, the fastest time in the world since he won the 2017 World title in 49.86 seconds (just .04 off Michael Phelps‘ world record). Dressel knocked an old Phelps rival, Chad le Clos, off the top of the 2018 world rankings.

SWIM NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Results | Swimmers to Watch

“There’s a lot left in the tank for me,” Dressel said, “as you can see.”

It was a relief for Troy, too. Dressel said the two butted heads after the 100m free.

“We talked about it a lot,” Troy said. “No matter how good you are, there’s always confidence issues. Quite frankly, he’s had four years where nothing bad has happened. … So I think the mere fact of how well he handled it, that’s not chopped liver. That’s a pretty good swim. I think he just learned another skill that’s going to make him that much better.”

Dressel’s sixth-place finish in the 100m free was rendered a footnote by his win Friday.

That’s because Dressel can still enter the 100m free at this year’s major international meet — August’s Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo. Any swimmer that qualifies for Pan Pacs can enter as many events as he or she wants at the meet.

The 2019 Worlds team takes the top two swimmers per individual Olympic event using best times from nationals or Pan Pacs.

“I did what I needed to do, and right now I’m on the [Pan Pacs] team,” Dressel said. “That’s what this meet is for.”

Dressel won the 50m and 100m frees and 100m fly at the 2017 Worlds, along with four relay golds.

It was the international breakout many thought possible for the former jewel recruit out of rural Green Cove Springs, Fla.

Dressel almost didn’t go to college, taking a five-month break from the sport, citing mental demons. He did matriculate to the University of Florida, where he rewrote the NCAA sprint record book. He led off the gold-medal U.S. 4x100m free relay in Rio, eight years after watching Jason Lezak‘s memorable anchor leg from his parents’ bed as an 11-year-old.

The last year brought increased attention for the Phelpsian performance at the world championships and increased time demands turning professional after the NCAA Championships in March.

“I don’t want to say anything has changed, but it definitely affected me more than I know,” Dressel said of finding an agent and signing with Speedo. “It’s a new adventure, as my dad says.”

Nationals continue Saturday, headlined by Katie Ledecky in the 400m freestyle, with coverage on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA at 10 p.m. ET.

In other events Friday, world champion Chase Kalisz distanced the 400m individual medley field by 1.96 seconds. Kalisz clocked 4:08.25, the fastest time in the world this year (supplanting himself). The race lacked the suspended Ryan Lochte, who was ranked No. 2 in the nation in the event this year before nationals.

“The time wasn’t so great, but that’s not what it’s about,” Kalisz said on Olympic Channel. “It’s about making the team, setting yourself up, getting ready for Tokyo [in August].”

World bronze medalist Kelsi Dahlia similarly cruised in the women’s 100m fly, winning by .68 of a second in 56.83 ahead of Katie McLaughlin.

Ally McHugh upset Olympians Leah Smith and Melanie Margalis to win the women’s 400m IM in 4:34.80, a personal best by 4.87 seconds. The rising Penn State senior ranked sixth in the U.S. this year going into nationals.

Olympic and world 100m breaststroke champion Lilly King edged Molly Hannis in the non-Olympic 50m breast. The world-record holder King clocked 29.82 to Hannis’ 30.07. The 50m breast is swum at worlds but not Pan Pacs.

Ryan Murphy broke a nine-year-old American record in the 50m backstroke, winning in 24.24.

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MORE: Mental health on swimmers’ minds at nationals