Five thoughts off U.S. Swimming Championships

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IRVINE, Calif. — Five thoughts off the U.S. Swimming Championships, the biggest domestic meet between now and the 2020 Olympic Trials, which decided the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships team and began deciding the 2019 World Championships team …

1. Michael Andrew was the male swimmer of the meet
Andrew, who made national news turning professional at age 14 in 2013, won his first senior national titles (four of them) and made his first senior major international meet team (two of them). He became the first man to win four finals at a nationals since Michael Phelps at the 2008 Olympic Trials and capped the meet by beating seven-time 2017 World champion Caeleb Dressel in the 50m freestyle.

“It’s been a long road,” Andrew said after his first victory. “We went through a lot of interesting feedback from the swimming world.”

Andrew was referencing his unorthodox training setup. His typical session is 2,500 to 3,000 meters, about one-third the amount of typical elite swimmers. It’s called race-paced training, “coding our brain … creating those neuropatterns,” Andrew said. He has no training partners and is taught by his father, a former college swimmer and Navy diver in South Africa who is not on the U.S. coaching staff for Pan Pacs.

Two of Andrew’s wins came in non-Olympic events (50m breaststroke, 50m butterfly), but he went from boy to man this week, at least domestically.

2. Kathleen Baker was the female swimmer of the meet
Andrew was a big surprise. Baker, a mild one. She earned 100m backstroke silver in Rio. In 2017, she bagged world silver and bronze backstroke medals. This past week, Baker became best in the world this year in the 200m individual medley (with a 3.26-second personal best) and the fastest in history in the 100m back.

If Ledecky is the most dominant swimmer in the world, Baker may be the best all-arounder (until we see something from Katinka Hosszu this year). The backstrokes at Pan Pacs are now marquee events, with Baker taking on now-former world-record holder Kylie Masse of Canada.

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3. Katie Ledecky is right on track
None of Ledecky’s fastest swims this season came in Irvine, but the focus is to peak in two weeks in Tokyo anyway. Plus Ledecky didn’t need to be in top form this week. All she needed was to finish in the top three in one event, and she could swim anything she wanted at Pan Pacs.

Of course, Ledecky comfortably won the 200m free (by 1.22 seconds), the 400m free (by 3.12 seconds) and the 800m free (by 10.81 seconds) before scratching the 1500m (as she did at nationals four years ago). The new professional already proved in the spring that she’s on form, breaking her first world record since Rio and setting the fastest times in the world this year in her four events.

If Ledecky has a questionable event, it’s the 200m, but her two closest rivals in recent years are both Europeans and thus will not be in Tokyo. Keep an eye on Canadian Taylor Ruck, though.

4. Mixed fortunes for Caeleb Dressel, Chase Kalisz
A concerning week for the seven-time 2017 World champ Dressel. Dominant in the 100m butterfly, but beaten in the 50m free and sixth in the 100m free. Again, there was no need to peak for this meet, and coach Gregg Troy shouldered some of the burden saying he may have overtrained Dressel following NCAA Championships in the spring. Give him a pass, but he can’t afford another horrible (his description) 100m free in Tokyo.

Kalisz, who swept the individual medleys at 2017 Worlds, posted the fastest times in the world this year in both the 200m and 400m IMs. Japanese media on hand, including four-time Olympic breaststroke champion Kosuke Kitajima, can relay that back home to Kalisz’s biggest rivals, Kosuke Hagino and Daiya Seto. Kalisz is already planning to host Seto in Athens, Ga., this fall for a University of Georgia football game.

5. Early look at Pan Pacs
The showdowns in Tokyo will come in the women’s backstrokes (Baker-Masse-Ruck), men’s individual medleys (Kalisz-Hagino-Seto) and, maybe most interesting, among the U.S. swimmers battling each other for two world championships spots per individual Olympic event.

Those world champs spots go to the swimmers with the best times between nationals A finals and Pan Pacs A and B finals.

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MORE: Ledecky faces unique challenge at Pan Pacs

As swim nationals close, an Olympic champion prepares to pass the torch

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IRVINE, Calif. — Anthony Ervin met his goal at the U.S. Swimming Championships, but he did not make the national team.

Ervin, who in Rio shattered the record for oldest individual Olympic swimming gold medalist, was 17th in the 50m freestyle heats Sunday, his only event as the five-day meet ended. He also missed last year’s world team after placing sixth at nationals.

The 37-year-old Ervin will not be at the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo in two weeks or the 2019 World Championships, the two biggest international events before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Ervin isn’t the only big name missing; four-time 2012 Olympic champion Missy Franklin and Rio 100m breaststroke bronze medalist Cody Miller also did not make the cut.

Ervin’s goal Sunday was modest by his top standard, to break 23 seconds (which he did twice, 22.74 and 22.68 in a swim-off). Ervin clocked 21.98 and 21.40 for his Olympic titles in 2000 and 2016, but hasn’t competed much this year and said he’s at “the low bar” for focus.

“I’ve got a lot of things I’ve got to sort,” Ervin said, noting he has “debts to pay off.” “I’ve got to get my life in order.”

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The long-term goal is to make the eight-man final at the 2020 Olympic Trials.

By then, he will be older than all but one previous U.S. Olympic swimmer, all but one previous Olympic swimming medalist and all but one Olympic swimmer since 1928 (the exception in all three cases was Dara Torres, 41 in 2008).

“I want to make my way to the end of the quad, just so I can see those guys off,” Ervin said of the younger U.S. sprinters like 19-year-old Michael Andrew, who upset world champion Caeleb Dressel in Sunday’s 50m free final. “That’s a special thing if I can be in the final to shake their hand, whoever does go [to the Tokyo Olympics].”

The U.S. team now heads to Tokyo for Pan Pacs, a major international meet for non-European nations, including swim powers Australia, China and Japan.

Pan Pacs offer a competition within a competition because the meet determines the U.S. team for the 2019 World Championships. The top two Americans per individual Olympic event make worlds, based off each’s best time from either nationals or Pan Pacs. And swimmers can enter any event at Pan Pacs.

In Sunday’s finals at nationals, Ashley Twichell won a Katie Ledecky-less 1500m freestyle in 15:55.68, breaking 16 minutes for the first time. Ledecky skipped the 1500m free, an event where she has lowered the world record six times from 15:42.54 to 15:20.48.

Since Ledecky won the 200m, 400m and 800m frees earlier in the meet, she is eligible to swim any event at Pan Pacs and is expected to contest the 1500m free. That would match her individual-event program from the last two world championships and the 2014 Pan Pacs.

Simone Manuel recorded the fastest 50m free ever in a U.S. pool, winning in 24.10, a whopping .53 ahead of Abbey Weitzeil. Manuel, an Olympic and world medalist in the splash and dash, owns the American record of 23.97.

Kathleen Baker won the 200m IM in the fastest time ever in a U.S. pool, 2:08.32, one day after breaking the 100m backstroke world record. It’s the fastest time in the world this year and a personal best by 3.26 seconds.

Chase Kalisz completed a sweep of the individual medleys, as he did at 2017 Worlds, taking the 200m IM in 1:55.73, the fastest time in the world this year by .54. Kalisz credited his fast swimming in part to kale Caesar salads.

“I definitely would say I’m eating a lot healthier, but I do live across from a Waffle House,” he said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA.

Zane Grothe added the 800m free to his 400m free title, clocking 7:44.57. It’s a personal best, the fastest time ever in a U.S. pool and the fastest in the world this year.

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MORE: Ledecky faces unique challenge at Pan Pacs

Katie Ledecky, after 3rd win at nationals, readies for teen tests

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IRVINE, Calif. — Not too long ago, Katie Ledecky was the teen phenom in the pool. Now, after finishing her nationals slate with a third convincing win, her threats ahead are all younger than she is.

Ledecky prevailed by 3.12 seconds in the 400m freestyle on Saturday night and scratched out of her last event, Sunday’s 1500m freestyle. Don’t worry, she is still eligible to swim the 1500m free at this year’s major international meet, the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo in two weeks.

Ledecky, who holds the 11 fastest 400m free times ever, added the victory in 3:59.09 to her 200m and 800m free titles earlier this week. While Kathleen Baker broke the 100m backstroke world record later Saturday night, Ledecky was under world-record pace through 200 meters.

“I wanted to put myself through some pain tonight,” Ledecky said, “and I’m happy with getting under four minutes.”

The 21-year-old rolls into Pan Pacs, still unchallenged in the U.S.

“Haven’t really had an off-swim [since turning pro in March],” Ledecky said. “I feel like I’m in a really good spot.”

New chasers from around the globe emerged since Rio, namely a pair of teenagers who will be at Pan Pacs.

Pan Pacs are for non-European nations, which means Ledecky will not face older 200m free rivals Federica Pellegrini (Italy) and Sarah Sjöström (Sweden).

Australian distance phenom Ariarne Titmus, 17, will be there. The Tasmania native lowered her personal bests in the 200m, 400m and 800m frees by more than three seconds each since 2017 Worlds (but is still two seconds slower than Ledecky in the 400m free this year, and 12 seconds slower in the 800m free).

Taylor Ruck will also be in Tokyo. The 18-year-old Canadian ranks second to Ledecky in the 200m free this year, just .25 behind (followed by Titmus, .29 behind).

Ruck has taken more than three seconds off her 200m free personal best in the last year. She will join Ledecky at Stanford in the fall (though Ledecky has turned pro and won’t compete for the Cardinal).

Ledecky has never lost a major international meet final to a younger swimmer. It doesn’t look likely to happen in two weeks, but she may never be the youngest woman on the podium again.

“I guess it’s a little different, but I think I have the benefit of knowing … what it’s like to have somebody in mind that you’re chasing,” said Ledecky, who notably beat reigning Olympic 800m free champion Rebecca Adlington at her first Games as a 15-year-old in 2012. “I know that there are a lot of great swimmers out there that are chasing me. That motivates me just as much as chasing someone motivated me when I was 15.”

Nationals conclude Sunday, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA at 9 p.m. ET.

In other events Saturday, Olympic and world champion Lilly King won the 100m breaststroke in 1:05.36, a time that trails only Russian rival Yulia Efimova this year.

Olympic champions Ryan Murphy and Matt Grevers went one-two in the men’s 100m back in 52.51 and 52.55, the two fastest times in the world this year. They shared the podium at 2017 Worlds behind Chinese winner Xu Jiayu.

Michael Andrew, who turned pro at 14 in 2013, won his first national title in an Olympic event, taking the men’s 100m breast in 59.38 seconds. Olympic bronze medalist Cody Miller was sixth and will not swim at Pan Pacs or the 2019 Worlds.

Zane Grothe repeated as U.S. men’s 400m free champion. The 26-year-old clocked 3:46.53, edging Grant Shoults by .37. Grothe was seventh at the 2017 World Championships and ranks 10th in the world this year.

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