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Katie Ledecky
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Katie Ledecky, Caeleb Dressel sizzle as world championships near

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Two of U.S. swimming’s biggest stars appear in form going into the world championships.

Katie Ledecky swam the world’s fastest 800m freestyle of 2019 at a Tyr Pro Series meet in Bloomington, Ind., on Sunday. A half-hour later in Atlanta, Caeleb Dressel clocked his fastest 100m freestyle since the summer of 2017.

It marked the last full meet for Ledecky before worlds in Gwangju, South Korea, in two months. Dressel will swim another meet in late June, his coach, Gregg Troy, said Monday.

Ledecky’s swim was a statement by virtue of the world rankings. She came to Bloomington as the world leader in the 800m, but only by four tenths of a second over Wang Jianjiahe, a 16-year-old who broke the Asian record at the Chinese Championships.

Nobody has been that close to Ledecky in her trademark event since her breakthrough 2012 Olympic title at age 15, though Ledecky and Wang have never been in the same race.

“I’m aware of what everyone else in the world is doing,” Ledecky said last month, according to the Washington Post.

Ledecky opened breathing room in Bloomington, going four seconds faster than a month ago and winning by 26 seconds against a domestic field (Ledecky swept the 200m, 400m and 800m frees over the weekend and hasn’t lost domestically in any of those events in five years). She owns the 20 fastest 800m frees in history and on Sunday clocked the seventh-fastest of that set.

It’s an opportune time to look at the world rankings in the four individual events Ledecky will swim in Gwangju:

200m Freestyle
1. Ariarne Titmus (AUS) — 1:54.30
2. Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) — 1:55.29 (not expected to swim 200m free at worlds)
3. Katie Ledecky — 1:55.78

400m Freestyle
1. Ariarne Titmus (AUS) — 3:59.66
2. Katie Ledecky — 3:59.95
3. Li Bingjie (CHN) — 4:03.29

800m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky — 8:10.70

2. Wang Jianjiahe (CHN) — 8:14.64
3. Leah Smith (USA) — 8:16.33

1500m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky — 15:45.59
2. Wang Jianjiahe (CHN) — 15:46.69
3. Simona Quadarella (ITA) — 16:04.02

On paper, it’s the toughest competition Ledecky faces going into a major international meet since she expanded her program to include all of those events in 2014. Titmus, 18, is now the fifth-fastest 200m freestyler in history and the third-fastest in the 400m free. Wang is No. 3 all-time in the 800m and No. 6 in the 1500m.

The difficulty increases when putting history in perspective. Most elite female distance swimmers peak in their teens and, until recent years, were all but if not retired in their early 20s (Ledecky is 22).

Dressel’s performance last weekend triggered alarm bells to anybody who might have been sleeping on the man who earned a Michael Phelps-record-tying seven golds at the 2017 Worlds.

The summer of 2018 did not go to plan for Dressel, who earned two individual victories in seven tries between the two biggest meets of the year.

But in Atlanta, Dressel ran down Chase Kalisz in Saturday’s 200m butterfly, covering the last 50 meters 1.79 seconds faster than the field. Impressive for Dressel, a sprinter, to do that in an event he rarely contests and against Kalisz, the world’s greatest all-around swimmer whose primary event is the 400m individual medley.

Then on Sunday, Dressel moved from No. 27 to No. 4 in the world this year in the 100m freestyle. His 47.86 was his fastest 100m free since the 2017 Worlds, when Dressel recorded the three fastest 100m free times in American history.

The 2019 world rankings in Dressel’s primary events show that he, like Ledecky, could be in for a fight to repeat his 2017 medal haul:

50m Freestyle
1. Bruno Fratus (BRA) — 21.47
2. Ben Proud (GBR) — 21.48
3. Andrea Vergani (ITA) — 21.53
6. Caeleb Dressel — 21.69 (Dressel did not swim the 50m free in Atlanta)

100m Freestyle
1. Vladislav Grinev (RUS) — 47.43
2. Kyle Chalmers (AUS) — 47.48
3. Marcelo Chierighini (BRA) — 47.68
4. Caeleb Dressel (USA) — 47.86

100m Butterfly
1. Mehdy Metella (FRA) — 50.85
2. Chad le Clos (RSA) — 51.25
3. Sebastian Sabo (HUN) — 51.34
5. Caeleb Dressel — 51.41

Dressel’s winning times from 2017 Worlds in those three events were all significantly faster than Fratus, Grinev and Metella’s top times for 2019, but smart swimmers will be peaking in July and not at spring meets.

In other events Sunday, Annie Lazor continued her tear by clocking 2:20.77 in Bloomington’s 200m breaststroke and becoming the second-fastest American in history behind two-time Olympic champion Rebecca Soni.

Lazor, a 24-year-old who was seventh at the 2016 Olympic Trials, chopped 3.65 seconds off her personal best in the last 10 months. She leads the 2019 world rankings ahead of world champion Yuliya Yefimova of Russia. But Lazor did not qualify for the world championships team last summer.

Nathan Adrian ended his first meet since testicular cancer treatment (which included two surgeries) with a third-place finish in Sunday’s 50m freestyle. Adrian, a five-time Olympic champion, was fourth in the 100m free on Friday.

“I don’t really know what to make of the times, but in terms of my stroke, that felt better than I expected it to feel,” Adrian told Swimswam.com.

MORE: Olympic breaststroke champion faces ban for missed drug tests

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Nathan Adrian races for first time since cancer treatment

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Nathan Adrian finished fourth in his first event since being diagnosed with testicular cancer and undergoing two surgeries, swimming the 100m freestyle at the Tyr Pro Series in Bloomington, Ind., on Friday.

Adrian, who captured the 2012 Olympic 100m free among five career golds, clocked 49.31 seconds to finish .55 behind winner Zach Apple. Adrian, 30, announced Jan. 24 that he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. It was caught early, and the prognosis was good.

“It’s a good feeling,” Adrian said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “It’s tough to describe, right? This is home for me. Honestly, I’ve never been to Bloomington, but this environment. … That’s what feels right.”

It’s just the beginning of what should be a busy season. Adrian plans to swim the 4x100m free at the world championships in July and race individually at the Pan American Games the following week.

Come next summer, Adrian will likely need to break 49 seconds to make a fourth straight Olympic team and get under 48 to swim the individual 100m free in Tokyo.

“You get something like an adverse health diagnosis, everything kind of stops,” Adrian said. “You realize health is No. 1, and everything had to be pushed to the side. Fortunately, we’re through that for now, and I get to do what I can to get back on track.”

TYR BLOOMINGTON: Full Results | TV/Stream Schedule

In other events Friday, Katie Ledecky won the 400m freestyle in 3:59.95, the second-fastest time in the world this year. Australian 18-year-old Ariarne Titmus swam 3:59.66 at her national championships last month. Ledecky owns the 12 fastest times in history, including the world record of 3:56.46 from Rio.

Olympic and world champion Simone Manuel took the women’s 100m free in 53.65, topping Mallory Comerford by .46. Ledecky, who doesn’t swim the 100m free internationally, was fourth.

Manuel remains ranked 10th in the world this year, while Australian Cate Campbell has been a half-second faster than anyone else.

Olympic and world champion Lilly King clocked the world’s fastest 100m breaststroke of 2019, a 1:05.68 to knock Russian rival Yulia Efimova off the top of the world rankings. King swam for the first time as a pro following a decorated career in Bloomington at the University of Indiana.

Fellow former Hoosier Cody Miller won the men’s 100m breast in 59.24, his fastest time since the 2017 World Championships. Miller, the Olympic bronze medalist, was slowed by a knee injury last year, when he failed to qualify for this year’s world championships. His time on Friday, which beat national champion Michael Andrew, would have won the 2018 U.S. title.

MORE: Olympic breaststroke champion faces ban for missed drug tests

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Nathan Adrian, with cancer diagnosis, surgeries behind him, has simple ask for return meet

Nathan Adrian
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Nathan Adrian would like to reveal special plans for his first meet since his testicular cancer diagnosis and two surgeries, but that is not his style.

“As I was preparing for this interview, I was thinking,” Adrian said Tuesday night, “I don’t even have something cool, like Damian Lillard wearing an Oakland A’s jersey to the arena.”

No, Adrian would be fine without extra fanfare at this weekend’s Tyr Pro Swim Series in Bloomington, Ind., where he will race the 100m freestyle on Friday and the 50m freestyle on Sunday.

“My hope is that you see the same Nathan Adrian at this meet that you’re used to,” the eight-time Olympic medalist said. “I just don’t know, because I am different, whether it be from a physical perspective — I’m missing an entire organ and lymph nodes and have pretty nasty scars. … And from an emotional perspective … I was moved to tears throughout that process.”

Adrian, now 30 years old, received his first Olympic gold medal in a vacuum-sealed packet at a team meeting a decade ago (as a preliminary heat swimmer before the famous Beijing 4x100m freestyle final). His second gold came by .01 of a second in the London 2012 100m free, after which he said he almost cried in the water (but appeared to stay composed in a TV interview and on the medal stand).

His last two golds in Rio relays brought teammates to tears — Ryan Held‘s sobbing in the 4x100m free and Michael Phelps welling up after his last career race in the medley. But Adrian stayed composed on the outside, per usual, casually opening that megawatt smile throughout the pool deck. His Twitter bio reads, “I have never taken myself too seriously and never intend to. I also went to the Olympics.”

“There are a lot of people that are really nice in this sport, but I can count on one hand the people that nobody dislikes,” said NBC Sports analyst Rowdy Gaines, who is on this week’s Olympic Channel call. “Nathan is that one guy that everybody loves.

“He walks into a room, and everybody’s instantly attracted to that, that humility and that grace and that magnetism. … He has time for the 90-year-olds and the 9-year-olds, and everyone in between.”

Tyr Pro Series — Bloomington TV/Stream Schedule

Day TV Stream Time (ET)
Thursday USASwimming.org 4 p.m.
Friday Olympic Channel NBCSports.com, OlympicChannel.com 6 p.m.
NBCSN NBCSports.com 12:30 a.m.
Saturday Olympic Channel NBCSports.com, OlympicChannel.com 6 p.m.
NBCSN NBCSports.com 1 a.m.
Sunday NBCSports.com 6 p.m.

*All streams on NBCSports.com and OlympicChannel.com also available on the NBC Sports app and Olympic Channel app, respectively.

Adrian, at 6-foot-5 and 227 pounds (pre-cancer), is a giant in the sport, perhaps the greatest American sprinter in history. The last year knocked him over like a tidal wave that accompanies him off the turn of a 100m free.

“I would wake up from being asleep and just be in tears, sobbing. I didn’t know why,” he said of life post-cancer diagnosis. “Those were more powerful emotions than I think I’ve ever felt.”

Before catching it early, and undergoing two surgeries, Adrian would have considered summer 2018 his greatest adversity as a swimmer. He failed to qualify for this summer’s world championships in an individual event. He is part of the 4x100m free relay at July’s worlds in South Korea, but it’s his first major international meet without an individual swim since Beijing 2008.

“I just chalk it up to a freak accident of a year,” Adrian said, echoing teammates like Katie Ledecky, who noted nationals and the Pan Pacific Championships being two weeks apart and having a few days to acclimate to the 16-hour difference after arriving in Tokyo for Pan Pacs. Usually, nationals/trials are about a month before Olympics or worlds, and the team has a training camp near the site of international meets.

“It was super weird to see the Americans struggling at night [in finals at Pan Pacs],” said Adrian, who was slower at Pan Pacs than at nationals. “We don’t normally have those issues. It was super weird with, honestly, how slow we were.”

Adrian is adamant that this is the beginning of a full-fledged return that will not end next summer. He is amped to not only race at Indiana University this weekend, not only in Gwangju, not only at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, but also, if maybe not this summer, the new FINA Champions Series and International Swimming League in the years ahead.

What he can’t predict is what it will feel like in Bloomington on Friday, when he mounts an official race starting block for the first time since Dec. 1. He’s lost a couple of inches of vertical leap, which affects his explosiveness off starts and turns.

“It’s one thing to be in good shape. It’s a different thing to be in racing shape,” Adrian said. “Even, like, from an emotional or mental perspective, I’m not in racing shape.

“I still love swimming, but at the same time there was this threat of maybe not being able to compete for a really long time. That certainly made me think, makes me appreciate every day that I get to be in the pool.”

As for tears? “I’m not an extremely emotional guy,” he said, “but you certainly can’t rule it out.”

MORE: U.S. swimmers qualified for world championships

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