Madison Kennedy

Connor Jaeger, Abbey Weitzeil end Olympic Swim Trials with wins

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Connor Jaeger had to swim nearly a mile to earn another race at the Olympics.

Abbey Weitzeil claimed her second individual event in Rio with a frantic dash from one end of the pool to the other.

The final night of the U.S. Olympic swimming trials came down to the long and short of it, a pair of races that couldn’t provide more of a contrast.

Jaeger used a powerful finishing kick to pull away from Jordan Wilimovsky in the 1,500-meter freestyle Sunday night, while Weitzeil claimed victory in the 50 free just ahead of Simone Manuel.

The metric mile was a two-man race all the way. By the end, no one was within a half-lap of the leaders.

Jaeger got a strong kick off the next-to-last wall and began to get some separation on his only challenger. Pulling away on the final lap, he finished in 14 minutes, 47.61 seconds.

“He’s the fastest American ever, so it’s fun to just try and hang with him as far as I can,” said Wilimovsky, who touched in 14:49.19 — more than 17 seconds ahead of third-place finisher Michael McBroom.

Jaeger and Wilimovsky had already locked up their berths in Rio before they dove in the pool. Jaeger also won the 400 free, while Wilimovsky had earned a spot for the U.S. in the open-water event at Rio.

Now, he’ll become the first U.S. swimmer to compete in both the pool and the ocean at the same Olympics.

“It’s really, really cool,” Wilimovsky said. “Obviously open water has only been around (at the Olympics) since 2008, so it’s not that old.”

Jaeger won a silver medal in the 1,500 at last year’s world championships. Four years ago, he finished sixth in the event at the London Olympics.

“We’re going to have to be better in Rio,” said Jaeger, who was more than 6 seconds off his personal-best time. ”

The 50 free was a carbon copy of the 100 free.

Weitzeil won in 24.28 seconds and Manuel was next at 24.33 — the same 1-2 finish they had in the two-lap race. Madison Kennedy missed out on a trip to Rio by 15-hundredths of a second.

“I’m super stoked,” Weitzeil said. “I came to this meet in 2012 as a 16-year-old just making the cuts, just came to participate. To go from then to now in four years, winning events that I was thinking about during that time, it’s just amazing. It hasn’t set in what I’ve actually done.”

Four other swimmers who already earned spots on the Olympic team were farther back.

Olivia Smoliga finished fourth, while Dana Vollmer, Lia Neal and Amanda Weirbrought up the back of the pack.

VIDEO: Michael Phelps reflects on Trials, looks ahead to Rio

Katie Ledecky’s growth evident on anniversary of breakout

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Five thoughts off Saturday’s finals at swim meets in Charlotte and Atlanta:

1. Katie Ledecky has come a long way in four years

It was this weekend four years ago that Katie Ledecky became a U.S. Olympic team contender. At the 2012 Charlotte Grand Prix, a 15-year-old Ledecky finished second in the 400m freestyle and won the 800m freestyle.

On Saturday, Ledecky won a 400m free in Atlanta by 8.72 seconds in 4:00.31. In 2012, she went 4:05.79 at that Charlotte meet, one month before she qualified to become the youngest member of Team USA in London.

In two days in Atlanta, Ledecky won the 200m and 400m frees easily and set a personal best in the 400m individual medley by 1.25 seconds. She will likely swim two more events Sunday to close the meet, which could be her final races before the Olympic Trials from June 26-July 3.

Atlanta Results | Charlotte Results

2. Natalie Coughlin is an unknown

The 12-time Olympic medalist made a triumphant return to the 100m backstroke last year by posting the fastest time in the U.S. by a comfortable .35 of a second over 2012 Olympic champion Missy Franklin.

This year, Coughlin ranks sixth among Americans in the 100m back after clocking 1:01.07 in prelims and 1:01.18 in the final in Atlanta. Coughlin’s best time last year was 59.05.

Fortunately for Coughlin, Franklin is the only U.S. woman to break one minute in 2016. If Franklin is the Olympic Trials favorite, the second spot looks up for grabs at this point.

3. Anthony Ervin matches his 2000 Olympic time

The tattooed Ervin may have one more Olympics left in him. At 34, Ervin is trying to become the oldest U.S. man to swim an individual event at the Games since 1904, according to sports-reference.com.

Ervin needs to finish top two at the trials in the 50m freestyle to do that. On Saturday, he moved up to No. 2 in the U.S. rankings this year (behind Nathan Adrian) by clocking 21.98 to win in Charlotte, his new training base. The time was his fastest-ever this early in a year and matched his Olympic final time in 2000, when he shared gold with Gary Hall Jr.

Ervin also swam 21.98 at the 2015 World Championships, where he missed the final in a swim-off. That time ranked him fifth in the U.S. for 2015, so he’ll need to be faster at trials to make his third Olympic team.

4. Madison Kennedy backs up her wind-aided Mesa time

In April, Kennedy clocked the fastest U.S. women’s 50m freestyle outside of the fast suit era of 2008 and 2009. But it was thought to be heavily aided by huge tailwinds. Maybe it wasn’t.

Kennedy confirmed on Saturday, indoors, that she deserves to be favored to qualify for her first major international meet at age 28. She swam 24.53, just .08 off her Mesa time.

No other Americans broke 25 seconds in Atlanta or Charlotte on Saturday, including Simone Manuel, the fastest American in the event in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Manuel clocked 25.21 in Atlanta.

5. The Olympics may be too early for Reece Whitley

Whitley, a 6-foot-8 high school sophomore profiled by Sports Illustrated for Kids and The New York Times, is a great talent in the breaststroke.

In 2015, he ranked No. 7 in the U.S. in the 200m breast at age 15. The top two at the Olympic Trials on June 27 make the Olympic team, so Whitley’s ascent needs to speed up if Rio is a hope.

“The trials may be six months too early for him,” NBC Olympics analyst Rowdy Gaines said, according to the Times profile this week.

That appears true after the 200m breast finals in Atlanta and Charlotte on Saturday. In Charlotte, Cody Miller won in 2:12.22. In Atlanta, Josh Prenot prevailed in 2:09.49. Whitley was second in Atlanta, but well back in 2:14.99.

Whitley could become the first U.S. Olympic swimmer born in the 2000s, but he may have to wait until 2020 to earn that distinction.

MORE: Elizabeth Beisel is back

Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky overcome wind for Mesa wins

Michael Phelps
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Michael Phelps thought he might fall off the starting block. Nathan Adrian worried he might not hear the starting beep.

Winds around 30 miles per hour wreaked havoc on the second night of finals at a Pro Series meet in Mesa, Ariz., on Friday, but Olympic champions fought their way to victories.

Phelps prevailed in the 200m butterfly. Katie Ledecky won by a comfortable 5.93 seconds in the 400m freestyle. Adrian was similarly dominant in the 50m freestyle, topping the field by .59.

“I felt like I was moving backwards with about 15 meters to go going into that wall [at 150 meters],” Phelps said on NBC Sports Live Extra, adding later, “I’ve never swam in wind like that in my life.”

Full results are here.

The 50m freestylers benefitted because they started with the wind to their backs and only swam one length of the pool.

Madison Kennedy in particular. She clocked the fastest-ever U.S. women’s 50m freestyle outside of the 2008 and 2009 high-tech swimsuit era. Her 24.45 broke Dara Torres‘ 2007 mark of 24.53.

Missy Franklin finished fifth in the 100m backstroke, one day after failing to qualify for the top eight-swimmer final in the 200m freestyle.

Ryan Lochte was second in the 100m backstroke, not one of his primary events.

Swimmers are training to peak for the Olympic Trials from June 26-July 3 in Omaha, Neb.

NBC Sports Live Extra will have live coverage of the last night of racing in Mesa on Saturday at 8 ET.

MORE: Ledecky ‘breaks’ Olympic male gold medalist in practice