Erika Brown

Regan Smith swims another historic backstroke time at Pro Series meet

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Regan Smith, who last summer broke both backstroke world records, put up the fastest 100m back in history outside of a major international meet or trials competition on Saturday.

Smith, a 17-year-old Minnesota high school senior, clocked 58.26 seconds to win at a Pro Series meet in Knoxville, Tenn. It tied for the 12th-fastest time in history. None of the other fastest dozen came in January, six months out from when swimmers peak for the world’s biggest events like the Olympics.

Making it more impressive: Smith did it 27 minutes after finishing second in the 200m butterfly, which she’s also expected to contest at June’s Olympic trials in Omaha.

“It actually wasn’t as bad, as I was nervous it was going to be,” Smith, whose world record is 57.57, said of the double on NBCSN. Smith entered two events per day at the three-day Knoxville meet, in part to prepare for the trials, where she is slated to race six straight days in a bid to make the Olympic team in enough events to swim eight straight days in Tokyo.

On Saturday, Smith held off fellow 17-year-old Phoebe Bacon by six tenths. Bacon beat Smith at the U.S. Open in December, posting the second-fastest time among Americans in the event for 2019.

The teen emergence puts pressure on Kathleen Baker, the Rio Olympic silver medalist who had the world record before Smith took it at worlds.

Full Knoxville results are here. USASwimming.org live streams the last night of finals Sunday at 6:30 ET.

In other events Saturday, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger overcame Smith in the 200m fly, winning in 2:08.34. Smith, third-fastest among Americans last season, was .39 behind. The second-fastest American last year, Katie Drabot, was not in the field. The top two at trials make the Olympic team.

Erika Brown beat world champion Simone Manuel in a freestyle sprint for a second straight meet, taking the 50m free in 24.57 seconds.

Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, edged Manuel by .06 and took .01 off her personal best. Brown ranked third among Americans last year behind Manuel (24.05) and Abbey Weitzeil (24.47).

Brown also defeated Manuel in the 100m free at the U.S. Open in December, moving to fourth-fastest in the U.S. last year in that event. The top six in the 100m free at trials are in line to make the Olympic team, given relay spots.

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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Ryan Lochte wins U.S. swimming title in return from suspension

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Ryan Lochte won the 200m individual medley on Sunday to close the U.S. Championships, his first meet back from a 14-month suspension over a social media blunder.

At 35, Lochte proved he has a chance to make a fifth Olympic team next year.

The 12-time Olympic medalist clocked 1:57.76 for his 27th national title, .12 faster than his time trial Thursday.

His time ranks 11th in the world this year and fourth among Americans (the top three — Chase Kalisz, Michael Andrew and Abrahm Devine — skipped nationals after competing at the world championships last week).

The top two at trials in June make the Olympic team.

“This was a lot easier 10 years ago,” Lochte, breathing heavily, told Tanith White on Olympic Channel moments after getting out of the pool. “I got a lot of ways to go for 2020.”

Lochte had to be satisfied, given he said he trained “maybe” four times per week in the seven weeks since the birth of his second child, daughter Liv.

“The time wasn’t that good … but it’s a good starting point,” he said. “I’m just kicking the rust off.”

Lochte was also banned from competition until late July. He was caught last year receiving an IV infusion of a legal substance that, after a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigation with Lochte’s cooperation, was deemed above the legal limit of 100 milliliters.

The probe was sparked by Lochte, for he posted a social-media image of the infusion in May 2018. Lochte had already served a 10-month ban for his Rio gas station incident.

“It’s pretty obvious now, I’m 100 percent family,” Lochte said. “That party-boy image that I used to have, I know it kind of messed me up, and it stuck with me, but that’s not me. I could care less about that lifestyle. My celebrations are picking up my son and my daughter and playing with them.”

Lochte, who went to rehab for alcohol addiction during his most recent ban, will turn 36 during the Tokyo Olympics. He will be older than all but two previous U.S. Olympic swimmers in individual events (Edgar Adams, 1904, and Dara Torres, 2008).

In other events Sunday, Madisyn Cox won the women’s 200m IM in 2:10.00, ranking her ninth in the world this year and second among Americans behind Melanie Margalis. Cox, the 2017 World bronze medalist, missed last week’s worlds after failing a 2018 drug test over what she said was a contaminated multivitamin.

Ryan Held won the 50m freestyle in 21.87, lowering his personal best twice Sunday. Held, a Rio Olympic 4x100m free champion, won the 100m free on Wednesday in a time that would have taken bronze at worlds. His 50m free was not quite as impressive but does rank him third among Americans this year behind Caeleb Dressel and Michael Andrew.

Erika Brown took the women’s 50m free in 24.71, ranking her third among Americans this year behind world champion Simone Manuel and Rio Olympian Abbey Weitzeil.

Ally McHugh completed a sweep of the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles by taking the longest distance in 16:05.98. The field lacked Katie Ledecky, whose world record is 15:20.48 in an event that debuts at the Olympics next year. McHugh ranks fourth among Americans in the 1500m this year.

Bobby Finke upset Zane Grothe in the 800m free, clocking 7:47.58, the fastest time by an American this year. Finke, who also won the 1500m free and 400m IM at nationals, would have placed eighth at worlds with that time.

The 2019-20 swimming season starts with a Tyr Pro Series stop in Greensboro, N.C., from Nov. 6-9.

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