Micah Sumrall

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U.S. female swimmers historically dominant in 2018 world rankings

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The U.S. has a female swimmer ranked in the top four of every Olympic event this year, which is the first time since 2007, according to FINA and USA Swimming databases.

The world’s fastest times came into focus following last week’s Asian Games, the biggest meet remaining on the 2018 senior international schedule. There are still opportunities remaining, particularly the Youth Olympics in October, but that has an age limit of 18 years old.

The biggest meet of the year for every swimming power has passed — the Commonwealth Games in April and the European Championships, Pan Pacific Championships and Asian Games this month.

This is the only year in the four-year cycle without an Olympics or a world championships. The best way to determine the world’s best swimmers is to compare best times from around the world throughout the year.

The U.S. women would earn medals in 12 of 14 individual Olympic events if awarded based on fastest times this year, matching their results from the 2016 Olympics and 2017 World Championships.

Katie Ledecky would take three golds (400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles) and a silver (200m freestyle). Kathleen Baker would earn 100m backstroke gold and silver in the 200m back and 200m individual medley, making her the most versatile swimmer in the country.

The notable improvement this year came in the U.S.’ traditionally weak events — the 200m breaststroke and 200m butterfly.

In 2016, the top-ranked U.S. women in the 200m breast was Katie Meili at No. 14, according to FINA. No Americans made the Olympic final. Now it’s arguably a deep event. Micah Sumrall (formerly Lawrence) is ranked No. 3 in 2018 despite taking all of 2017 off from competition. Bethany Galat and Lilly King finished second and fourth in the 200m breast at 2017 Worlds.

In 2017, Hali Flickinger was the top American in the 200m fly but No. 12 in the world. The U.S. hasn’t earned an Olympic women’s 200m fly medal since Misty Hyman‘s upset gold at Sydney 2000, its longest drought in any men’s or women’s Olympic pool event. In every other event, the U.S. has earned at least one medal between the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

But Flickinger, a 24-year-old veteran, took gold at Pan Pacs after lowering her personal best at nationals from 2:06.67 to 2:05.87. Flickinger was seventh in Rio and ninth at the 2017 Worlds. She’s No. 2 in the world this year.

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2018 Swimming World Rankings — Women
50m Freestyle
1. Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) — 23.74
2. Pernille Blume (DEN) — 23.75
3. Cate Campbell (AUS) — 23.78
4. Simone Manuel (USA) — 24.10
5. Maria Kameneva (RUS) — 24.21
5. Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED) — 24.21

100m Freestyle
1. Cate Campbell (AUS) — 52.03
2. Bronte Campbell (AUS) — 52.27
3. Simone Manuel (USA) — 52.54
4. Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) — 52.72
5. Taylor Ruck (CAN) — 52.72
5. Pernille Blume (DEN) — 52.72

200m Freestyle
1. Taylor Ruck (CAN) — 1:54.44
2. Katie Ledecky (USA) — 1:54.56
3. Ariarne Titmus (AUS) — 1:54.85
3. Rikako Ikee (JPN) — 1:54.85
5. Charlotte Bonnet (FRA) — 1:54.95

400m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky (USA) — 3:57.94
2. Ariarne Titmus (AUS) — 3:59.66
3. Leah Smith (USA) — 4:02.21
4. Wang Jianjiahe (CHN) — 4:03.14
5. Simona Quadrella (ITA) — 4:03.35

800m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky (USA) — 8:07.27
2. Simona Quadrella (ITA) — 8:16.45
3. Ariarne Titmus (AUS) — 8:17.07
4. Leah Smith (USA) — 8:17.27
5. Wang Jianjiahe (CHN) — 8:18.09

1500m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky (USA) — 15:20.48
2. Simona Quadrella (ITA) — 15:51.61
3. Wang Jianjiahe (CHN) — 15:53.01
4. Li Bingjie (CHN) — 15:53.80
5. Ashley Twichell (USA) — 15:55.68

100m Backstroke
1. Kathleen Baker (USA) — 58.00
2. Kylie Masse (CAN) — 58.54
3. Emily Seebohm (AUS) — 58.66
4. Olivia Smoliga (USA) — 58.75
5. Regan Smith (USA) — 58.83

200m Backstroke
1. Kylie Masse (CAN) — 2:05.98
2. Kathleen Baker (USA) — 2:06.14
3. Margherita Panziera (ITA) — 2:06.18
4. Taylor Ruck (CAN) — 2:06.36
5. Regan Smith (USA) — 2:06.43

100m Breaststroke
1. Yulia Efimova (RUS) — 1:04.98
2. Lilly King (USA) — 1:05.36
3. Molly Hannis (USA) — 1:05.78
4. Reona Aoki (JPN) — 1:05.90
5. Katie Meili (USA) — 1:06.19

200m Breaststroke
1. Yulia Efimova (RUS) — 2:20.72
2. Reona Aoki (JPN) — 2:21.85
3. Micah Sumrall (USA) — 2:21.88
4. Tatjana Schoenmaker (RSA) — 2:22.02
5. Lilly King (USA) — 2:22.12

100m Butterfly
1. Rikako Ikee (JPN) — 56.08
2. Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) — 56.23
3. Kelsi Dahlia (USA) — 56.44
4. Emma McKeon (AUS) — 56.54
5. Maddie Groves (AUS) — 57.19

200m Butterfly
1. Alys Thomas (GBR) — 2:05.45
2. Hali Flickinger (USA) — 2:05.87
3. Zhang Yufei (CHN) — 2:06.61
4. Laura Taylor (AUS) — 2:06.80
5. Mireia Belmonta (ESP) — 2:07.09

200m Individual Medley
1. Yui Ohashi (JPN) — 2:08.16
2. Kathleen Baker (USA) — 2:08.32
3. Kim Seoyeong (KOR) — 2:08.34
4. Sydney Pickrem (CAN) — 2:09.07
5. Melanie Margalis (USA) — 2:09.43

400m Individual Medley
1. Yui Ohashi (JPN) — 4:33.77
2. Fantine Lesaffre (FRA) — 4:34.17
3. Ilaria Cusinato (ITA) — 4:34.65
4. Ally McHugh (USA) — 4:34.80
5. Aimee Wilmott (GBR) — 4:34.90

Katie Ledecky wins by 21 seconds to close Pan Pacs

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Katie Ledecky routed the 1500m freestyle field by 21.11 seconds as the U.S. won seven of 10 events on the last day of the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo on Sunday.

Ledecky ended the meet with three gold medals, one silver and one bronze. In her last swim, she clocked 15:38.97, well off her world record from May 16 of 15:20.48, but still easily enough to win an event that she has never lost.

“The time wasn’t great,” Ledecky told media in Tokyo. “Swimming the range of events that I swim, it’s hard to put together all great races.”

She qualified for the 2019 World Championships in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees and also figures to anchor the 4x200m free relay in South Korea next year. Ledecky swam all of those events plus the 4x100m free at the 2017 Worlds.

Sweeping those five events at 2019 Worlds, as she did at the 2015 Worlds, looks like a difficult task. Ledecky was third in the 200m free in Tokyo, faced (and passed) her toughest test in the 400m free in six years and was part of a 4x200m free team at Pan Pacs that was beaten by Australia.

Overall, many U.S. swimmers posted slower times than they did at nationals two weeks ago, some citing jet lag from arriving in Japan four days before the meet started. The Americans won two of the seven relays, its worst percentage at a major international meet since it went winless at the 2001 Worlds.

Australia swept the women’s relays, capped by Cate Campbell passing Olympic and world 100m free champion Simone Manuel on the last leg of the medley relay Sunday. The U.S. barely held off Japan by .05 in the men’s medley relay, one day after swimming out of order in the 4x100m free.

The U.S. totaled 18 gold medals for the meet, which does not include European nations and lacks China’s best swimmers. Australia was second at eight golds with open-water events still to come.

PAN PACS: Full Results | U.S. qualifiers for 2019 Worlds

In other events Sunday, Michael Andrew upset seven-time 2017 World champion Caeleb Dressel in the 50m freestyle for a second straight meet. Andrew, who turned pro at 14 in 2013, clocked a personal-best 21.46 seconds, easily beating Dressel (21.93). Great Britain’s Ben Proud is fastest in the world this year at 21.11.

“The first two finals sessions [this week] were kind of rough,” said Andrew, who clocked personal bests in the 50m free, 100m backstroke and 100m butterfly in Tokyo. “I feel like that had to do with maybe time zone or something. But very quickly I took the effort, changing my mental frame of mind, being able to prepare for the meet I still had ahead of me. So I’m really happy with the swims.”

Campbell completed a sweep of the sprint freestyles, holding off Manuel in the 50m free. Campbell clocked 23.81 to Manuel’s 24.22 and finished the meet with five golds, including three on relays.

Olympic champion Ryan Murphy won the 200m backstroke in a personal-best 1:53.57, ranking him second in the world this year behind world champion Evgeny Rylov of Russia.

Zane Grothe missed the American record by .14, winning the 800m freestyle in 7:43.74. Grothe, who made the 2019 Worlds team in the 400m, 800m and 1500m frees, ranks second in the world this year behind European champion Mykhailo Romanchuk of Ukraine.

Kathleen Baker took the women’s 200m back in a personal-best 2:06.14, ranking her second in the world this year. World leader Kylie Masse of Canada was fourth in 2:07.00.

In the 200m breaststroke, Micah Sumrall edged Olympic 100m breast champion Lilly King by .24 in 2:21.88. King’s rival in the 100m breast, Russian Yulia Efimova, owns the fastest time in the world this year of 2:20.72.

World-record holder Ippei Watanabe of Japan won the men’s 200m breast in 2:07.75. World champion Anton Chupkov of Russia is fastest in the world this year with a 2:06.80.

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Katie Ledecky comes back from suit malfunction for nationals win

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IRVINE, Calif. — It’s not about the suit for Katie Ledecky.

On Thursday morning at the U.S. Championships, the five-time Olympic champion experienced what she guessed was the most unexpected obstacle thrown her way in the minutes before a major meet race.

Ledecky ripped a racing swimsuit in the locker room. Then she ripped a backup suit. With about 15 minutes before her 200m freestyle heat, Ledecky put on a practice suit of a different makeup, not designed for top speed.

“It didn’t make me too nervous,” Ledecky said. “It was a blessing in disguise because it really pushed me to get out of my comfort zone.”

Ledecky suffered a rare defeat in her preliminary heat, placing second to Gabby DeLoof, but she still easily advanced to Thursday night’s final. Job done. She of course won the final, without any wardrobe malfunctions, by 1.22 seconds over Allison Schmitt.

Ledecky said many women ripped suits in the morning and even some more before Thursday’s 200m backstroke finals. She blamed the heat at this outdoor Southern California meet, creating sweat and moisture and making it uncomfortable to change in the locker room.

“Everyone’s suit is sticking to them,” she said. “We’re all sweating in there.”

Ledecky’s experience is reminiscent of others. Swede Therese Alshammar famously ripped a high-tech suit before the 2008 Olympic 50m freestyle semifinals, where Dara Torres helped hold up the race for Alshammar to change.

Michael Phelps had a mid-race malfunction when his googles filled with water in the 2008 Olympic 200m butterfly. He had to count strokes to know where he was in the pool.

“It is a good challenge,” said Ledecky, who raced Thursday in front of Phelps and Kobe Bryant in a VIP section. “You’re going to get big meets, and things like that are going to happen. It’s all just about adjusting and making sure you’re prepared.”

Nationals continue Friday with finals at 9 p.m. ET, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming for subscribers on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. Caeleb Dressel, the seven-time 2017 World champion, is expected to headline the action in the 100m butterfly.

Ledecky has two events left at nationals — the 400m freestyle on Saturday and 1500m freestyle on Sunday.

Swimmers are vying for spots at the two biggest international meets before the 2020 Olympics — August’s Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo and the 2019 World Championships in South Korea.

Once a swimmer makes the Pan Pacs team in one event — like Ledecky by winning the 800m free on Wednesday — he or she can swim any event at Pan Pacs. The two fastest swimmers per individual Olympic event, using best times from nationals and Pan Pacs, qualify for worlds.

Missy Franklin, a four-time 2012 Olympic champion, failed to qualify for Pan Pacs and worlds by not making the A final of either the 100m or 200m frees the first two days.

In other events Thursday, Olympic champion Ryan Murphy won the 200m backstroke by 1.53 seconds over Jacob Pebley. Murphy is motivated by his defeats at the 2017 Worlds, where Russian Evgeny Rylov won the 200m back. Rylov is the only man to go faster than Murphy’s 1:54.15 this year.

Micah Sumrall, formerly Micah Lawrence, won the 200m breaststroke in her first major meet since failing to make the Rio Olympic team. Sumrall, a two-time world medalist in the 200m breast, had turned to coaching before deciding to return to competition last year.

Triple 2017 World medalist Kathleen Baker and 16-year-old Regan Smith tied for the women’s 200m backstroke title in 2:06.43.

Andrew Seliskar emerged as 200m free champion by .23 over Olympian Blake Pieroni, who had won the 100m free on Wednesday. Seliskar, a former junior world-record holder, entered five events at the 2016 Olympic Trials, but the 200m free was not one of them. He came into nationals ranked fifth in the U.S. in the 200m free this year.

Olympic silver medalist Josh Prenot overtook Andrew Wilson in the last half of the men’s 200m breast, cruising to win by 1.43 seconds in 2:07.28, the fastest time in the world this year.

Dressel was upset by Michael Andrew in the 50m butterfly, one day after shockingly finishing sixth in the 100m free.

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