Katie Ledecky gets gold, bronze to open Pan Pacific Championships

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Katie Ledecky was beaten in a major international meet individual final for just the second time, taking her first career bronze medal on Thursday.

Ledecky finished third in the 200m freestyle at the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo behind a pair of 18-year-olds. Canadian Taylor Ruck won in 1:54.44, while Japanese Rikako Ikee took silver in 1:54.85.

Ledecky touched in 1:55.15, about 85 minutes after winning the 800m freestyle by 7.94 seconds. She said she didn’t feel fatigued going into the 200m.

“I have been a lot faster than that a number of times this year, so I’m a little disappointed,” said Ledecky, who was faster at June and July meets but not as fast as Ruck. “I think I have a lot more in me in that race. I’m going to continue to work towards that for the next two years.”

Ledecky came into the race with 27 medals among the Olympics, worlds and Pan Pacs — 25 golds and two silvers. Those two defeats came in the Rio Olympic 4x100m free relay and the 2017 Worlds 200m free, where Italian Federica Pellegrini passed the American by covering the last 50 meters nearly a second faster.

On Thursday, Ruck, set to join Ledecky at Stanford after this meet, led at every 50-meter split. Ikee passed Ledecky in the last 50 meters. Ledecky’s best time — 1:53.73 from the Rio Olympics — would have easily won, but Ruck’s time is the fastest in the world since Ledecky’s Olympic title.

Ruck, known for drinking an espresso before races, felt the nerves.

“Because [Ledecky] is the fastest woman on the planet,” Ruck, who was born in British Columbia and moved to Arizona at 10 months old, said, according to Agence France-Presse. “It was starting to get into my head a bit — just her name, I guess.”

Earlier Thursday, Ledecky opened the four-day meet by clocking the fifth fastest 800m free in history — 8:09.13 — to win by 7.94 seconds over Australian 17-year-old Ariarne Titmus.

Ledecky now owns the 20 fastest 800m frees in history, led by the world record of 8:04.79 from the Rio Olympics.

World bronze medalist Leah Smith was third, clinching the other U.S. spot in the 800m free for the 2019 Worlds. In the 200m free, eight-time Olympic medalist Allison Schmitt joins Ledecky on the world team. Schmitt’s last individual swim at an Olympics or worlds came in the 2012 Olympic 200m free.

Pan Pacs is the year’s major international meet and, along with times from nationals last month, determines the U.S. roster for the 2019 World Championships. Non-European nations take part, with the U.S., Australia and Japan fielding the best teams.

PAN PACS: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Olympic and world champion Lilly King easily took the 100m breaststroke in 1:05.44, which was .08 slower than her time at nationals two weeks ago and 1.31 seconds off her world record from 2017. Russian rival Yuliya Efimova, not at Pan Pacs, remains fastest in the world this year (1:04.98).

King is joined on the 2019 Worlds team by Olympic and world medalist Katie Meili, whose time from nationals held up for No. 2 on the U.S. list, though she was the fourth fastest American on Thursday.

Chase Kalisz, who swept the individual medleys at the 2017 Worlds, crushed Japanese rivals Kosuke Hagino and Daiya Seto in the 400m IM. Kalisz clocked 4:07.95, the fastest time in the world this year, and won by 3.18 seconds in a matchup of the world’s best all-around swimmers.

World silver medalist Townley Haas took the men’s 200m free in 1:45.56, edging U.S. champion Andrew Seliskar by .18. Haas ranks third in the world this year. They’ll make up the world team in the event.

Jordan Wilimovsky and Zane Grothe had the fastest 1500m freestyle times between two heats, with the Rio fourth-place finisher Wilimovsky topping the field at 14:46.93. Grothe, the U.S. champ at 400m and 800m, edged Robert Finke for second — and the final 2019 Worlds spot in the event — by three tenths of a second.

Melanie Margalis took silver in the women’s 400m IM behind Japanese Yui Ohashi, but the Olympian’s time was slower than Ally McHugh and Brooke Forde from nationals, so Margalis did not make the 2019 Worlds team.

Japan’s Yasuhiro Koseki won the men’s 100m breast in 59.08, well off Brit Adam Peaty‘s world record from the European Championships set Saturday (57.10). Americans Andrew Wilson and Michael Andrew were fourth and seventh and made the 2017 Worlds team.

The U.S. mixed medley relay team of Kathleen Baker, Andrew, Caeleb Dressel and Simone Manuel took bronze behind Australia and Japan.

Pan Pacs continue Friday, highlighted by the 100m freestyles (full broadcast schedule here).

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Five events to watch at Pan Pacific Swimming Championships

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Five races to watch at the Pan Pacific Championships, the major international meet of 2018 for the U.S. (TV/stream schedule here) …

Women’s 200m Freestyle
Thursday (Olympic Channel, 5 a.m. ET)

If Katie Ledecky is going to be tested in any of her four individual events, it will be this one, her shortest race. Though Ledecky is the Olympic champion, Swede Sarah Sjöström was fastest in the world in 2015 and Italian Federica Pellegrini beat Ledecky for the 2017 World title. Of course, neither Sjöström nor Pellegrini is at Pan Pacs, a meet for non-European nations (neither is racing the 200m free at the concurrent European Championships, either).

No matter, the four fastest women in the world this year are from Pan Pacs nations — Ledecky (1:54.56), Canadian Taylor Ruck (1:54.81), Australian Ariarne Titmus (1:54.85) and Japanese Rikako Ikee (1:55.04). Ruck, Titmus and Ikee were all born in 2000, three years after Ledecky, who is now most certainly a veteran swimmer at age 21. Titmus, also ranked No. 2 in the world to Ledecky in the 400m free, is reportedly skipping the 200m free this week, though.

Men’s 400m Individual Medley
Thursday (Olympic Channel, 5 a.m. ET)

Arguably the most anticipated race for the home crowd. Japan’s Kosuke Hagino and Daiya Seto earned gold and bronze medals in the decathlon of swimming at the Rio Olympics, with American Chase Kalisz sandwiched for silver. Kalisz then swept the IMs at the 2017 Worlds and goes into Pan Pacs with the fastest time in the world this year by .73. Seto is ranked No. 2 in the world this year, followed by American Jay Litherland and then Hagino.

A Japanese film crew, including retired four-time Olympic breaststroke champion Kosuke Kitajima, has followed Kalisz from his training base in Athens, Ga., to covering him at nationals in California two weeks ago. Kalisz plans to host Seto for a trip to Athens in the fall, highlighted by a University of Georgia football game.

Women’s 100m Freestyle
Friday, (Olympic Channel, 6 a.m. ET)

Co-Olympic champion Simone Manuel gets her first head-to-head with Australian Cate Campbell since the Rio Games, where Campbell went in as the world-record holder and finished a disappointing sixth (later saying she swam with a hernia). Campbell skipped the 2017 Worlds, which Manuel won outright. Campbell stormed back this year, clocking 52.37 in March, good for No. 2 in the world this year. This would be an even bigger event if not for the absence of Cate’s younger sister, Bronte Campbell (No. 1 in the world this year), and Canadian Penny Oleksiak, who shared gold with Manuel in Rio. Both are skipping Pan Pacs.

Men’s 100m Freestyle
Friday (Olympic Channel, 6 a.m. ET)

Features the reigning Olympic champion (Australian Kyle Chalmers) and world champion (American Caeleb Dressel), plus the second-fastest in the world this year (Japanese Katsumi Nakamura). The story within the race is the fight for the two U.S. spots in the 100m free at the 2019 Worlds. Dressel, who went under the previous American record three times at the 2017 Worlds, was only sixth at nationals. If Dressel wants to defend his title at 2019 Worlds, he must be one of the two fastest Americans in the Pan Pacs finals and clock no slower than 48.25 seconds. Nathan Adrian, the 2012 Olympic 100m free champ, is under some pressure here, too, as the runner-up at nationals to Blake Pieroni.

Women’s 100m Backstroke
Friday (Olympic Channel, 6 a.m. ET)

Olympic and world silver medalist Kathleen Baker took the world record along with the U.S. title in this event two weeks ago. Canadian Kylie Masse, who broke the eight-year-old record at the 2017 Worlds, gets her chance to reclaim it in Tokyo. Baker, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2010, has never won an individual event at a major international meet. If either Baker or Masse lowers the record, she will become the first woman to break 58 seconds in the event. In 2008, an 11-year-old Baker was a spectator at the U.S. Olympic Trials, where Natalie Coughlin became the first woman to break 59 seconds.

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