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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U.S. men hold small edge in swimming world rankings

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The U.S. still reigns in men’s swimming, but the world rankings show the field is as diverse as ever and much tighter than on the women’s side, where there are U.S. medal contenders in every event.

U.S. men would earn four golds and eight medals overall from the 14 individual Olympic events based on fastest times from 2018 across all competitions. That’s one more gold and two more total medals than the second-place nations. It’s close.

Japan, ramping up to host the Olympics in two years, is second in the world in men ranked in the top three (six) and top five (11 to the U.S.’ 14) of Olympic events.

The biggest meet remaining on the calendar, the Asian Games, finished last week. Every swimming power has had its major international meet of the year among the Commonwealth Games in April and the European Championships, Pan Pacific Championships and Asian Games this month.

Gone for now are the days of the U.S. and Australia dominating and American superstars Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte collecting four or five individual gold medals in Olympic events.

Caeleb Dressel could succeed Phelps and Lochte. He did earn a Phelps record-tying seven golds at the 2017 Worlds, including three in individual Olympic events. This year, Dressel ranks Nos. 1, 8 and 12 in those events (100m butterfly, 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle), although he did his job in qualifying for all three for the 2019 Worlds after a whirlwind spring turning professional.

The other Americans on top of the rankings are Ryan Murphy (100m back), who swept the backstrokes in Rio, and Chase Kalisz, who leads both individual medleys after sweeping them at the 2017 Worlds. No doubt Kalisz is the world’s best all-around swimmer.

But look around the world.

Lithuania, which has never put a man in the top six of an Olympic swimming event, has the world’s fastest 200m freestyler. Germany, which last earned Olympic men’s swimming gold as West Germany, and Ukraine, with no Olympic golds, have world leaders in distance freestyles.

Great Britain has two individual men’s medals total from the last three Olympics. But on 2018 times, it would earn two golds and two silvers, shared among four different swimmers. Adam Peaty has company in the British camp.

Russia last earned an Olympic men’s swimming gold in 1996, but it now has men in three different strokes atop world rankings.

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MORE: Sun Yang requests second anthem after flags fall at Asian Games

2018 Swimming World Rankings — Men
50m Freestyle

1. Ben Proud (GBR) — 21.11
2. Bruno Fratus (BRA) — 21.35
3. Andrea Vergani (ITA) — 21.37
4. Kristian Gkolomeev (GRE) — 21.44
4. Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 21.44

100m Freestyle
1. Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 47.75
2. Katsumi Nakamura (JPN) — 47.87
3. Alessandro Miressi (ITA) — 47.92
4. Pedro Spajari (BRA) — 47.95
5. Gabriel Santos (BRA) — 47.98

200m Freestyle
1. Danas Rapsys (LTU) — 1:45.12
2. Duncan Scott (GBR) — 1:45.34
3. Sun Yang (CHN) — 1:45.43
4. Kyle Chalmers (AUS) — 1:45.56
5. Townley Haas (USA) — 1:45.56

400m Freestyle
1. Sun Yang (CHN) — 3:42.92
2. Mack Horton (AUS) — 3:43.76
2. Jack McLoughlin (AUS) — 3:44.20
4. Mykhailo Romanchuk (UKR) — 3:45.18
5. Zane Grothe (USA) — 3:45.32
5. James Guy (GBR) — 3:45.32

800m Freestyle
1. Mykhailo Romanchuk (UKR) — 7:42.96
2. Zane Grothe (USA) — 7:43.74
3. Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA) — 7:45.12
4. Jordan Wilimovsky (USA) — 7:45.19
5. Florian Wellbrock (GER) — 7:45.60

1500m Freestyle
1. Florian Wellbrock (GER) — 14:36.15
2. Mykhailo Romanchuk (UKR) — 14:36.88
3. Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA) — 14:42.85
4. Jordan Wilimovsky (USA) — 14:46.93
5. Jack McLoughlin (AUS) — 14:47.09

100m Backstroke
1. Ryan Murphy (USA) — 51.94
2. Xu Jiayu (CHN) — 52.34
3. Kliment Kolensikov (RUS) — 52.51
4. Ryosuke Irie (JPN) — 52.53
5. Matt Grevers (USA) — 52.55

200m Backstroke
1. Evgeny Rylov (RUS) — 1:53.36
2. Ryan Murphy (USA) — 1:53.57
3. Xu Jiayu (CHN) — 1:53.99
4. Ryosuke Irie (JPN) — 1:55.11
5. Mitch Larkin (AUS) — 1:55.40

100m Breaststroke
1. Adam Peaty (GBR) — 57.10
2. James Wilby (GBR) — 58.64
3. Yasuhiro Koseki (JPN) — 58.78
4. Anton Chupkov (RUS) — 59.06
5. Arno Kamminga (NED) — 59.14
5. Ross Murdoch (GBR) — 59.14

200m Breaststroke
1. Anton Chupkov (RUS) — 2:06.80
2. Josh Prenot (USA) — 2:07.28
3. Ippei Watanabe (JPN) — 2:07.56
4. Yasuhiro Koseki (JPN) — 2:07.81
5. Zac Stubblety-Cook (AUS) — 2:07.89

100m Butterfly
1. Caeleb Dressel (USA) — 50.50
2. Piero Codia (ITA) — 50.64
3. Chad le Clos (RSA) — 50.65
4. Jack Conger (USA) — 51.00
5. Joseph Schooling (SIN) — 51.04

200m Butterfly
1. Kristof Milak (HUN) — 1:52.71
2. Nao Horomura (JPN) — 1:53.79
3. Chad le Clos (RSA) — 1:54.00
4. Tamas Kenderesi (HUN) — 1:54.14
5. Daiya Seto (JPN) — 1:54.34

200m Individual Medley
1. Chase Kalisz (USA) — 1:55.40
2. Mitch Larkin (AUS) — 1:56.21
3. Kosuke Hagino (JPN) — 1:56.37
4. Wang Shun (CHN) — 1:56.52
5. Philip Heintz (GER) — 1:56.67

400m Individual Medley
1. Chase Kalisz (USA) — 4:07.95
2. Daiya Seto (JPN) — 4:08.79
3. Jay Litherland (USA) — 4:10.21
4. Kosuke Hagino (JPN) — 4:10.30
5. David Verraszto (HUN) — 4:10.65

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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MORE: U.S. DQed from Pan Pacs relay for swimming out of order