Janet Evans

LA or Paris? The strategic play? Or emotional?

LA or Paris? The strategic play? Or emotional?

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — In a Samaranch-style bit of kabuki theater, the decision itself having been ordained long ago, the full membership of the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved the double allocation of the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games to the last two cities standing in the campaign, Los Angeles and Paris.

In theory, the IOC will announce whether it’s LA first and Paris next, or vice-versa, at another all-members assembly in Lima, Peru, on September 13. In reality, this decision has been ordained as well. Paris almost surely will get 2024, LA 2028. This deal will be done in just weeks, maybe even before the calendar turns to August, and if you have noted that U.S. President Donald Trump has accepted French President Emmanuel Macron’s invitation to visit France on Bastille Day, July 14, well, maybe that is some strategic thinking there.

Los Angeles, Paris, Kigali and celebrating Olympism

Los Angeles, Paris, Kigali and celebrating Olympism

Before Rod Stewart got all weird, writing stuff like Da Ya Think I’m Sexy, or doing lovestruck Van Morrison covers, like Have I Told You Lately, he did some pretty cool songs, like 1971’s Every Picture Tells a Story.

Don’t it?

The International Olympic Committee’s would-be reform plan, Agenda 2020, is purportedly all about less-is-more.

'The Last Gold': on history, and shades of gray

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The very essence of competition at the Olympics is fair play. What happens when doping makes a mockery of that ideal? When it’s all but impossible to re-write history? When the notion of who is a victim, and why, is the farthest thing from black and white — but is, instead, layered in varying shades of gray?

These and other questions are as essential now, amid allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russia, as they have been since at least 1976, at the Montreal Olympics, when East German’s female swimmers won 11 of 13 gold medals.

The world did not understand then the state-sponsored doping conspiracy it was witnessing in plain sight.

Now it does.

But, like all matters of history with pressing relevance for our time, the question is not just what happened.

The three surviving members of the 1976 U.S. women's 4x100 gold medal-winning relay: left to right, Wendy Boglioli, Jill Sterkel, Shirley Babashoff

It’s how to make sense of it.

And thus to go forward — in this context, in the best spirit of the Olympics, to make the world maybe just a little bit better for having shared the experience.

As we have discovered since after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the East German women were bulked-up on a powerful anabolic steroid, a little blue pill called oral turinabol.

The 1976 U.S. men’s team won 12 of 13 events. The East German women won 11 of 13. The U.S. women, like the men long a power in international swimming, won but one gold medal — the final race on the program, the 4x100 freestyle relay. (The other non-East German gold: the Soviet swimmer Marina Koshevaya, in the 200-meter breaststroke.)

That 4x1 relay — and more broadly, the swimming at those Olympics — tells the story of “The Last Gold,” a documentary that made its premier Monday night at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

The four women on the U.S. relay: Kim Peyton, Wendy Boglioli, Jill Sterkel and Shirley Babashoff. The winning time: a then-world record 3:44.82. The East Germans took second, in 3:45.5. Canada won the bronze, in 3:48.81.

Peyton died in 1986, just 29, of a brain tumor. For the other three, the showing of the film marked the first time they had been together in these 40 years.

Babashoff, arguably the central protagonist of the piece, brought her gold medal for the occasion. Sterkel, who was just 15 in 1976, said that watching the movie helped her recall so much about what happened way back when, noting that what she really remembered was Babashoff getting them free Puma shoes: “That was awesome.”

Babashoff with her gold medal // Getty Images

Babashoff, in her remarks to the audience at the conclusion of the film, posed the central question: why do this film, 40 years later?

She answered: “Because it’s still relevant.”

Indeed, It’s all the more important now to understand what happened then. Everyone with even a passing interest in the Olympics ought to see “The Last Gold.”

Boglioli asserted that Olympic athletes in particular have a “moral obligation,” explaining, “This is what sport is about. These are the rules.”

She also said, “I think something is amiss in sports today.”

Sterkel, who would go on to coach the women’s swim and dive teams at the University of Texas for 15 years, said, “I think I can safely say that after ’76 we haven’t experienced a clean Olympics, which is mortifying.”

She added, “For me, the tragedy is when I do watch sport … having [that] doubt in the back of mind: is this person legit?”

Having to entertain that notion, she said, is “awful.”

On the medals stand in Montreal: left to right, Kim Peyton, Boglioli, Sterkel, Babashoff // The Last Gold via USOC archives

Truth is, doping has been going on since time immemorial. The Montreal 1976 Games were hardly the first Olympics, nor will they be the last, at which someone from somewhere tried to cheat to win.

What makes 1976 so breathtaking, of course, is the scale and the scope of the East German doping program.

This is why USA Swimming made the documentary, spending in the range of seven figures to do so. Brian T. Brown, who won 15 Emmy awards for his work at NBC, directed the project. Chuck Wielgus and Mike Unger, No. 1 and 2 for years at USA Swimming, served as executive producers. The acclaimed American actor Julianna Margulies narrates.

USA Swimming's Mike Unger, left, and Chuck Wielgus, right, with the 1976 medalists // Getty Images

Going forward, the production is hugely likely to serve as a model for other sport federations, whether in or out of the United States. Why is elemental: content is now king. And every single sports federation generates massive amounts of content; that is, every single federation has a story, or stories, to tell. Why rely on outsiders when you can make a journalistically responsible and dramatically compelling vehicle yourself?

Especially one that can run on The Olympic Channel, likely to launch after the Rio 2016 Games.

The film also underscores an elemental lesson in journalism, indeed story-telling, everywhere:

Have the courage to follow your own convictions. Don’t be swayed by the mooing of other reporters in the herd — like the U.S. press corps in attendance in Montreal, which to a large degree soured on the U.S. women swimmers, seeing them as bad sports for not losing with grace, even casting Babashoff as something of a villain with the nickname “Surly Shirley.”

When she had the temerity to, you know, tell the truth.

Boglioli said, “At some point, you do wonder: how are they so fast? Why doesn’t everyone see the obvious?”

In a brief address to the crowd in Culver City, California, before the film showed, Unger said there were three reasons to make it:

To tell history.

To tell the “anti-doping message": “how to do it right,” meaning the way the U.S. team approached the 1976 Games in contrast to the East Germans. The U.S. women, to be clear, were hugely unlikely to be doping, then or now. Doping just wasn’t — and to a large degree, still isn’t — a culture with significant traction within U.S. swimming. Katie Ledecky this summer at the Rio 2016 Games, like Janet Evans in 1988 and 1992, like Babashoff in 1976: outsized talents with ferocious will and absurd work ethic.

The third reason: to pay tribute to the women on that 1976 U.S. team.

The risk with such motivation, of course, is that the film could have veered into jingoism.

It is the farthest thing from.

A key question it poses: who is a victim?

The American women, Babashoff in particular, who if the East Germans weren’t doping assuredly would have won bunches of golds?

Or the East German athletes themselves? They essentially had no choice. They had to take those blue pills.

Over the years, some leading swim writers have called for Olympic and international swim federation officials to consider yanking the 1976 medals away from the East Germans.

It’s one thing, as the International Olympic Committee does now, to re-allocate medals when someone like the U.S. track star Marion Jones admits to doping. She “won” five medals, three gold, at the Sydney 2000 Games. The world saw it live on television. But all she has now are dubious memories, not medals. She chose to cheat.

It is the case now, via the World Anti-Doping Code, that an athlete who dopes is liable for whatever is in his or her system. That is the cardinal rule. But the rewriting of history on a significant scale surely has to involve more: intent — the volitionally undertaken choice to cheat — has to serve as a significant element in assessing how and whether to re-work facts as they are, and were.

As the film suggests, and pointedly: how would stripping the East German female swimmers right a wrong that was committed not just by them but to them as well?

By extension: if the allegations accusing Russia of state-sponsored or -sanctioned sport turn out to be proven true, what to make of those athletes in a system where choice might well be, at best, limited?

In Montreal, East Germany’s Ulrike Tauber won gold in the women’s 400-meter individual medley, breaking the world record by just a touch over six seconds, a crazy drop in time; she also took silver in the 200 butterfly. In the film, she says of the use of “substances,” as she refers to the program of oral turinabol, “Surely, that affects the Olympic victory.”

She says, “I admit that honestly.”

At the same time, she says, “… who can guarantee me that it wasn’t also the case in other countries? Who can guarantee me that it was only [East Germany]?”

Answer: no one.

What is clear, another point the movie underscores, is this:

If you give anabolic steroids to male subjects, it may enhance performance to some degree. But consider: the East German men, who also were doping, didn’t run away with the 1976 meet.

If you give anabolic steroids to women, it almost surely will enhance performance, and probably to a huge degree, because androgenic steroids — by definition — are rooted in testosterone, the male hormone. Women ripped by testosterone are way more likely to defeat women who are not.

This is the basic from 1976 that leads to a considered exploration of anything and everything else.

This lesson holds consequences now well beyond Russia and allegations of a state link to a widespread doping problem. And way beyond swimming, too.

Caster Semenya, left, running the 800 at the May 2016 Diamond League meet in Doha, Qatar // Getty Images

Consider the case of South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya. To be clear, no one is suggesting that she is doping, or has been using illicit performance-enhancing substances. She simply has naturally high testosterone levels. The rules, as they are now, say she can compete as a woman. She is already running 800 meters this season in about 1:56. No one else is even really close.

Is that fair? What to do about her, or others similarly situated? What about the other women in the field who don’t have her indisputable testosterone advantage?

In 2009, when Semenya first burst onto the international scene, at the world championships in Berlin, she was depicted far too often as a — well, a freak. Reporters camped out around a trailer that served as a TV-style green room, and shouted questions as she emerged to collect her medal. She looked, understandably, frozen with fear.

In Rio, Semenya’s story is likely to emerge as a core narrative of the Games, in real time and, like the East German women, for generations to come.

The obvious will, again, be front and center.

If past is prologue, how will we tell — and how will we remember — the story?

The Olympic scene drops in on the USA

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WASHINGTON — What got done here this week at the Assn. of National Olympic Committees meeting was not nearly as noteworthy as two other essentials: the fact that the meeting was held in the first place in the United States and that delegates from 204 entities were on hand.

As the session gaveled to order on Thursday, there in their place in the rows of seats were, for instance, representatives from North Korea.

From Syria.

Russia.

Everywhere in the world, including two new national Olympic committees, Kosovo and South Sudan.

There are actually 206 national Olympic committees. The Republic of Congo didn't make it. And elements of the government of Kuwait are involved in a fight with the IOC, meaning the national Olympic committee is now suspended, for the second time in five years, amid political interference; moreover, on Thursday, the IOC announced it had revoked the Olympic qualifying status of a shooting championship in Kuwait, due to begin next week, because an Israeli official was denied a visa for the event.

The North Korean delegation Thursday at ANOC, perusing the magazine from the Olympic publisher Around the Rings

The assembly marked the first time the ANOC session has been held in the United States since 1994, two years before the Atlanta 1996 Summer Games.

With Los Angeles now bidding for the 2024 Games, the stakes were high here for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

As the familiar saying goes, LA surely could not win anything here -- but a poor performance could cost it and the USOC, even though the 2024 race is still in its early stages.

The International Olympic Committee won’t pick the 2024 winner until September 2017. Five cities have declared for the 2024 race: LA, Paris, Rome, Budapest and Hamburg, Germany.

The tentative verdict: no major missteps. All good.

"No problem with [U.S. entry] visas. It was fantastic," the ANOC general secretary, Gunilla Lindberg of Sweden, said Friday, adding of the assembly and related events, "The organization went really well. I heard only positive comments."

Does that mean LA is on course to a sure victory?

Hardly.

Indeed, by most accounts, Paris is considered the 2024 front-runner.

"Two years is a long time," Paris 2024 chief executive Etienne Thobois said. "It's a long journey ahead. 'Favorite' doesn't mean anything."

The calm here simply mean it's on to whatever the future holds, with both the strengths and the challenges underscoring the American effort here this week on full display.

A clear and undisputed strength: Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti.

Garcetti, bid chairman Casey Wasserman and Janet Evans, the 1980s and 1990s Olympic swimming champ, make up the public face of the LA 2024 bid. The Olympic movement in recent years has rarely seen a personality like Garcetti: a mayor who leads from the front and in a style that is both fully American and decidedly international.

LA 2024 bid chief Casey Wasserman, Olympic swim gold medalist and LA 2024 vice chair Janet Evans, ANOC president Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah and LA mayor Eric Garcetti as the ANOC meetings got underway on Tuesday // Getty Images

Garcetti got to welcome to the United States, among others, Tsunekazu Takeda, the Japanese IOC member and Tokyo 2020 leader who for the past year has also been the IOC’s global marketing commission chair.

Takeda speaks English. But no. Garcetti spoke with him in Japanese. When they parted, the mayor passed to Takeda a business card — in Japanese.

Meeting Julio Maglione, the IOC member from Uruguay who is president of both the international swimming federation, FINA, and PASO, the Pan-American Sports Organization, Garcetti spoke in Spanish.

South Sudan? Garcetti, a Rhodes Scholar some 20 years ago, knows the region; he said he lived in East Africa, studying Eritrean nationalism, in the mid-‘90s.

The mayor’s back story — which surely will become ever more widely known — is, truly, remarkable.

Garcetti served for years on the LA city council before becoming mayor. As LA Times columnist Steve Lopez wrote the week before that 2013 mayoral election:

“[Garcetti] seems to have done everything in his 42 years except pitch for the Dodgers and kayak to Borneo,” adding later in the column, ”He’s George Plimpton, Bono and Seinfeld’s Mr. Peterman all rolled into one. When he says: ‘And then there was the time I commandeered a snowmobile at the North Pole while on a climate-change fact-finding mission and located Salma Hayek’s lost purse in the frozen tundra,’ he’s not kidding. He actually did that. And Hayek said he’s a great dancer.”

It was salsa dancing, for the record. And one small correction: the dancing took part in Iqaluit, the provincial capital of Nunavut, Canada.

More from Lopez on Garcetti:

"He was a cheerleader, led his Columbia U. literary society, headed a discussion group on gender and sexuality and served the homeless while composing musicals. He went on to conduct research or serve humanitarian causes in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Burma, worked for Amnesty International and became a university instructor. And did I mention that he speaks fluent Spanish and currently serves as a Naval Reserve officer?"

At Wednesday evening's USOC-hosted reception, left to right: USOC board chair Larry Probst, USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun, IOC president Thomas Bach, LA mayor Eric Garcetti, LA 2024 bid chief Casey Wasserman

Larry Probst, the USOC board chair, said of Garcetti, "That guy is our secret weapon." After this week, "He's no secret anymore."

Some 1200 people were accredited for the ANOC assembly, filling a huge hall on the lower level of the Washington Hilton. Garcetti called it “breathtaking” to see such global diversity on display.

Throughout his several days here, Garcetti played it very low-key, saying repeatedly he was here to listen and learn.

After the failures of Chicago 2016 and New York 2012, it’s abundantly plain that any American bid must walk a fine line between boldness and, probably even more important, humility.

As Garcetti told Associated Press, ”People want us to be assertive and brave about the Olympic movement but not to tip over to being arrogant. It’s like, 'Win it on your merits, be a good team player. We already know how big you are, how many athletes and medals you have. Just be one of us.' "

The USOC has in recent years been oft-criticized for not playing a role commensurate with its standing — or its expected standing — in the movement. To that end, Probst said at a Wednesday night welcome gala, no fewer than 10 world championships have been or will be staged in the United States this year alone.

Upcoming: the international weightlifting championships in Houston next month. Just past: the world road cycling championships in Richmond, Virginia, which attracted 640,000 people over nine days.

The USOC, Probst said, was “delighted” to play host to the ANOC meeting, part of a plan to “become a full partner in the Olympic family and appropriately engage everywhere we thought we could make a positive difference.”

ANOC president Sheik Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait, a major Olympic power-broker, said time and again this week how important it was to gather on American soil.

At a Tuesday dinner, he said, “I just want to [emphasize] that we are back in the United States,” he said. At Wednesday’s gala, he said, referring to the Americans, “You are a main stakeholder in the Olympic movement,” adding, “Come back,” and, “You are most welcome and a big part of this family.”

ANOC president Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah speaks at Wednesday's USOC welcome reception at the National Building Museum // Getty Images

A key ANOC initiative: the development and staging of the so-called Beach Games, a bid to reach out to and more actively engage with teens and 20-somethings, arguably the key demographic in the Olympic sphere. The full ANOC assembly on Friday approved the awarding of a first Beach Games, to be held in 2017, to San Diego, at a projected cost in the range of $150 million; some 20 sports are to be on the program, including surfing, volleyball and triathlon.

Just two hours, maybe less, from Los Angeles?

To avoid conflict with the IOC rule that bars members from visiting bid cities, the San Diego event is due to be held in the days after the 2024 vote.

Like that is going to stop site visits by influence-makers in the Olympic world.

What? If someone is in San Diego, are they going to be fitted with five-ringed ankle-monitors to track them from making the short drive north to LA? Are trips to Disneyland, in Orange County, halfway between San Diego and LA, off-limits?

Silly, and, again, another reason why the no-visits rule ought to be dropped, even acknowledging all IOC paranoia about sport corruption, a topic that IOC president Thomas Bach visited at length from the dais Thursday in remarks about the FIFA scandal in which he did not even once mention the acronym “FIFA.”

“Follow the news,” Bach said, adding, “Think about what it means for you: it means for you that if you do not follow these basic principles of good governance, your credibility is at risk, that the credibility of all you may have done in the past and all the good things you are doing is at risk.”

The FIFA matter, sparked by a criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, clearly poses an uncertainty for any American 2024 effort. What will the status of that matter be by September 2017? And the status of would-be systemic FIFA reconstruction?

The sheikh, who also serves on the FIFA executive committee, sought here to strike a light tone. “FIFA — we believe FIFA needs a lot of reforms,” he said at Tuesday night’s dinner to laughter.

Also a U.S. challenge: how effective can any American delegation prove at lobbying the IOC for the big prize? There are three U.S. IOC members: Probst, Anita DeFrantz, Angela Ruggiero.

USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun and Probst have worked diligently for six years at relationship-building, and Blackmun is likely to assume an ever-wider role as the bid goes on. He struck exactly the right tone at Wednesday’s gala in exceedingly brief remarks: “It’s great to have you here in the United States.”

Meanwhile, the scene at that gala, and indeed for most of the week, highlighted a significant American challenge.

It’s typical at a large-scale Olympic gathering such as an ANOC assembly for a senior federal official from the host country, typically the rank of a president or prime minister, to make -- at the least -- an appearance at which all are welcomed to wherever and wished a good time.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, for instance, opened last week's World Olympians Forum in Moscow, with Bach and Monaco's Prince Albert on hand, calling for the "de-politicization of sports under international law."

Roughly half the 100 or so IOC members were here for the ANOC proceedings -- "almost ... a quorum," as the sheikh quipped. Thus: a major opportunity.

Tuesday? Wednesday? Thursday? No senior U.S. officials.

The mayor of Washington, Muriel Bowser, offered Thursday’s welcoming remarks. Washington and San Francisco were also in the U.S. mix for 2024 along with, of course, Boston.

"As you consider future sports event, please consider Washington, D.C., a worthy option,'' Bowser said, adding later, "See you in 2028."

Talk about off-message.

President Obama, of course, made a trip to the IOC session in Copenhagen in October 2009 to pitch for Chicago, which got booted in the first round of voting. Since then, the Obama White House has played it decidedly cool with the Olympic scene.

Within the IOC, Obama is typically mentioned in discussion either with the security-related logistics of that 2009 Copenhagen visit or his decision to politicize the U.S. delegation to the 2014 Sochi Games opening ceremony as a response to the Russian law banning gay “propaganda” to minors. He selected the tennis star Billie Jean King and two other openly gay athletes for the U.S. effort. (King ultimately made it to the closing ceremony; she was unable to attend the opening ceremony because of her mother’s death.)

In just over two years as IOC president, Bach has met with roughly 100 heads of government or state. Obama? No.

On Wednesday, while ANOC delegates gathered in DC, the First Lady, Michelle Obama, and Jill Biden, the vice president's wife, met with Britain's Prince Harry in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, not far away, to promote the 2016 Invictus Games. The Paralympic-style event, to be held next May in Orlando, Florida, is intended to raise awareness for wounded service members.

“OK, ladies, Prince Harry is here. Don’t act like you don’t notice!” Mrs. Obama said, adding at another point to laughs, “I’d like to apologize for all the gold medals we will win in Orlando.” The prince said in response, “You better bring it, USA!”

Later Wednesday, the prince met President Obama in the Oval Office, again to promote the Invictus project.

Jill Biden, Prince Harry, Michelle Obama Wednesday at Fort Belvoir, Virginia // Getty Images

Prince Harry and President Obama Wednesday at the White House // Getty Images

U.S. vice president Joe Biden on the final day of the ANOC session, with Bach and the sheikh looking on // Getty Images

So -- on Friday morning, while the Rio 2016 delegation was already in the midst of its presentation to the assembly, what was this? A surprise appearance from vice president Joe Biden, the Olympic equivalent of a protocol drive-by.

The sheikh literally had to ask producers to stop a Rio 2016 beauty video as Biden stepped up to the microphone. There, flanked by the sheikh, Bach and Probst, Biden said he'd had breakfast earlier in the week with Garcetti, who had said it was an "oversight" that "no one from the administration has been here."

"He was right," Biden said. "It was an oversight. For that, I apologize. I am a poor substitute, and I am delighted to be here." He also called the Olympics the "single unifying principle in the world.''

More Biden: "I will be the captain of the U.S. Olympic team. I'm running 100 meters. Don't I wish I could! I bet every one of you here wish you could, too."

And this: "I am not here lobbying for any city. Though I do love Los Angeles. All kidding aside, Garcetti is my friend and he won't let me back in LA unless I say something nice."

Biden closed with a note that he intended to attend the Summer Games and that when he did, "I hope when I come up to you and say, 'Hello,' you won't say, 'Joe who?' "

And then he was gone, out of the big hall.

In all, just over seven minutes.

Did Biden -- like Putin -- say anything substantive? No.

Then again, the vice-president did show up. So, ultimately, the big-picture argument can be made, Probst calling Biden's appearance "incredibly important," adding, "The message is our government at the very highest levels cares about the Olympic movement, and I hope that's a message that will resonate."

Patrick Hickey, the IOC executive board member who is also head of the European Olympic Committees, called Biden's remarks "most charming" and his appearance a "superb move," observing that "lots of people" had remarked about the prior absence of a ranking administration official.

And security? This was not Copenhagen in 2009. No disruptions. The room wasn't suddenly cleared and swept. There were no -- there have not been all week -- airport-style metal detectors.

This, then, is perhaps the ultimate take-away of this week, one likely to emerge as a key talking point for LA24 and the USOC: the United States is different. Yes, there are 206 national Olympic committees. The way stuff gets done in the U.S. can often be different than anywhere else. Not better, not worse. Just different. But, for sure, it gets done.

For emphasis: different does not mean better or worse. It's just -- different.

Come January 2017, meantime, the issue of U.S. federal involvement may prove a minor footnote in the 2024 Olympic story. That's eight months before the IOC election. That's when a new U.S. president takes office. Maybe even sooner -- whenever it will be in 2016 that the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees assume their roles.

For now, Probst said, referring to Garcetti, "We're thrilled this guy is here."

A rousing launch at the beach: good vibrations

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SANTA MONICA, Calif. — They could have held the news conference on Tuesday formally announcing Los Angeles’ entry into the 2024 bid race anywhere. At the LA Memorial Coliseum. At Staples Center. In Hollywood, with the iconic sign as a backdrop, like in so many movies. No.

This event, one of the most intriguing and rousing plays in recent Olympic history, was staged at the beach.

Literally, at the beach.

With twin palms standing tall as frames for the dozens of cameras and television crews. Bicyclists riding by. And, of course, beach volleyball and, beyond, the brilliant blue of the Pacific Ocean sparkling on a spectacular summer afternoon.

The Olympic movement, the Summer Games, the International Olympic Committee — they all, to be candid, need to be cool again.

At the risk of being obvious, the Southern California beachfront is unequivocally one of the coolest places on Planet Earth.

Before it all got underway, the music that was playing from the speakers: “Good Vibrations,” by the Beach Boys.

For sure.

Take a look at this selection of photos from the event, at which U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun declared, “I want to thank Los Angeles for standing up once again as America’s bid city,” and LA mayor Eric Garcetti — speaking first in English, then in Spanish, then in French — said, “This is a great day for Los Angeles and a great day for the Olympic movement.”

The scene at Santa Monica beach, LA mayor Eric Garcetti at the mike // Getty Images

Red, white and blue behind the speakers // Getty Images

In SoCal, the mayor may have things to say but beach volleyball must carry on // Getty Images

What makes Los Angeles different from Paris, Rome, Budapest and Hamburg, Germany, its expected competition in the 2024 campaign?

Which of the five candidates boasts an extraordinary beachfront?

And, along with it, a beach culture known now in far corners of our world, a culture in which surfing and skateboarding — two events that young people, you know, actually really like — feature prominently?

This is why, among other reasons, Los Angeles should have been the USOC’s first choice all along.

But also why that whole months-long adventure elsewhere — someplace in Massachusetts, if memory serves — will quickly become a historical footnote, and no more, as the 2024 campaign develops and hurtles toward the IOC vote in the summer of 2017, in Lima, Peru.

The mayor, who along with the sports executive Casey Wasserman will be the central figures in the LA bid, proved yet again that he is a most compelling public official.

It’s not just that he is a Rhodes Scholar or served as an officer in the United States Naval Reserve. It’s not just that he can speak to others in their language.

It’s what he says.

“Breathe this moment in,” Garcetti told the assembled crowd, which included athletes who had starred at the 1984 Games, such as the diver Greg Louganis and the gymnast Peter Vidmar; 2008 Beijing decathlon winner Bryan Clay; members of the gold-medal winning London 2012 U.S. women's water polo team; and volleyball standouts.

“There are very few moments like this in our lifetime where this place and this space and this time transcend this moment.

“Look at these historic bluffs behind you. In front of you, the endless possibility of the Pacific Ocean. And this moment of the Pacific Rim. And here we are in a city that represents, to all of us, human possibility, ingenuity, creativity and diversity.”

Janet Evans, the gold medal-winning swimmer from the 1988 and 1992 Games, also stole a star turn Tuesday. In 1984, she said, she was 12, breathing in the moments from the seats at the Coliseum. Now, she said, at the outset of this 2024 bid, it must be that this LA effort is not just limited to Southern California. Nor just a bid. More, she said.

“If we are going to win these Games, and I like to win, we need to have every American behind us in this bid,” she said. “So,” turning toward the athletes, assembled on a row of seats nearby, “I am asking my Olympic and Paralympic friends to lead the effort to make the LA24 bid not just an LA bid but a national campaign and a national celebration.”

The Olympics can sometimes get such a bad rap. The two-year bid process can be a slog of numbers, finance, politics. The seven-year build-up to a Games can sometimes seem a protracted exercise in doubt, worry, negativity.

What gets lost, way too often, is the very thing that was showcased Tuesday at the beach: the hope and promise of the Olympics, the possibility of the human experience, the notion that sport has a legitimate role to play in moving the world forward toward a better way.

Earlier Tuesday, the Los Angeles city council voted 15-0 to authorize the mayor to sign an agreement with the USOC over bidding for the Games. In LA, as Garcetti said, “The Olympics is in our DNA.” It is. It’s why eight of 10 people want the Games back in Southern California, according to a recent poll.

Vidmar, who since late 2008 has served as chairman of the U.S. Gymnastics board of directors, explained:

“The fears that many people in Boston had are the same fears that many people had in LA before 1984. Which were: How much is this going to cost us? And what about traffic?

“And we saw in Los Angeles in 1984 that neither of those problems materialized. And I’m very confident that this will happen again the next time the Games come to Los Angeles.”

Garcetti, who keeps a 1984 Olympic torch in his office, never lost faith that it could, should, would be LA: "We do this because we believe since ancient times that human potential is always just in front of us, that the best has never yet been achieved. And that a moment in time, we can taste for a moment,” a reference to the 17 days of a Summer Games, “what it feels like to have a human family come back together.”

He said, noting the 1932 and 1984 Games, that “this is a quest that Los Angeles was made for.”

At the same time, and this must be stressed, while the 2024 bid can link back to a proud history in town, this is a new LA.

Once more: it is.

The city and all of Southern California has become a very different place since long-ago 1984.

In 1984, Eric Garcetti was 13. He came home to LA from sleep-away summer camp to see one of the last days of the Olympic track meet; to see as well the closing ceremony; to see, as he described it Tuesday, “the transformative power of the Games, not just to change my life but to change my city forever.”

He said, “When people said, ‘Oh, you’re from LA,’ after ’84, they knew us. They had already seen our films, our television programs, they had a sense of us. But they got a sense of our soul after 1984.

“Today we are here in a new Los Angeles. This is the face of a new America, a city that reflects the world as it is today and where this country will be tomorrow.”

It is the case, as Wasserman pointed out, that some 85 percent of the venues that would be needed for 2024 are already built or in planning regardless of any Olympic anything.

That said, about 80 percent of the venues that would be needed for 2024? New since 1984.

An $8.5 billion makeover at Los Angeles International Airport? Already underway, Garcetti said.

Some $40 billion in transit improvements, including extensive light-rail capacity throughout Los Angeles County? Voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase via what was called Measure R in 2008, unleashing that $40 billion through 2039.

The one major we’ll-figure-it-out in the bid as it stands now is the projected Olympic Village; if LA wins, the organizing committee would put in $75 million, a developer $925 million. “We have had a lot of interest from the private sector,” the mayor said, understating matters.

The ledger sheet strongly suggests that an LA24 Games would very likely make a lot of money. Even so, city council members were assured that the approval they gave Tuesday is merely the start of discussion and negotiation with Olympic officials; taxpayers are not committed.

"This is the engagement, not the wedding," council president Herb Wesson said.

“We are not changing the face of our city to fit the Olympic Games,” Garcetti said. “Instead, we are adapting an innovative Olympic Games concept to comfortably fit in what the city is doing already.”

As Blackmun said, “When we look at LA and what the mayor and Casey and their team have built, we see a framework for an ideal matchup,” adding a moment later, “We believe in the vision of LA. We believe this city can produce a new kind of Games for a new Olympic era,” one in line with IOC president Thomas Bach’s would-be reform plan, called Agenda 2020.

“We will do this openly. We will do it openly with the press. And we feel strong enough about this bid,” the mayor said, “that there’s nothing we can’t share.”

“Thank you,” Garcetti said at the end of his remarks and a Q&A session, before he, Wasserman, Blackmun and USOC board chairman Larry Probst headed off to Switzerland for meetings at IOC headquarters in Lausanne Wednesday evening and Thursday. The music turned to Randy Newman's "I Love LA."

“Feel free,” the mayor suggested, “to stay at the beach all day.”

An indisputable U.S. swim bright spot: Katie Ledecky

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KAZAN, Russia — For Katie Ledecky, every single race on the big stage becomes an opportunity to make the superbly difficult look so easy.

On Monday, in the preliminary rounds of the women’s 1500 freestyle, the 30-lap race that swimmers call the mile, Ledecky broke her own world record, touching in 15:27.71, 65-hundredths faster than she had gone last August at the Pan Pacific championships in Australia.

That 15:27.71 also obliterated — by almost nine seconds — the former world championships (and then-world record) mark of 15:36.53, which Ledecky set on the way to winning gold in Barcelona in 2013.

Katie Ledecky after setting a new world record -- in the heats --  in the 1500 free // Getty Images

A 1500 world-record in the prelims! Afterward, Ledecky said it came easy.

Asked how she felt on a scale of 1 to 10, she laughed and said, in awesome Spinal Tap-stye, “Eleven.”

She added, “You know, I feel great. It’s pretty — it’s probably one of the coolest world records I have broken. Each one is really unique. But just sort of how relaxed I was, and how calm.”

For the U.S. team, Ledecky’s performance offered a measure of salvation at a meet that is, just two days in, proving true the knowing predictions beforehand behind the scenes.

Not one American swimmer earned so much as a medal Monday night.

There were three finals Monday night in events that also get raced at an Olympics: the women's 200 individual medley, the men's 100 breaststroke and women's 100 butterfly.

In the women's 200 IM, Katinka Hosszu of Hungary charged to a new world record, 2:06.12, three-hundredths of a second faster than the mark Ariana Kukors had set at the Rome 2009 championships. The two Americans in the race finished fourth (Maya Di Rado) and seventh (Melanie Margalis).

The men's 100 breast and women's 100 fly finals? Those went off without any American qualifiers. None. Nada. Zip.

In that 100 fly, Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom, for the second time in two days, set a world record. On Sunday, she went 55.74; Monday, 55.64.

The men's 50 fly final (like the women's 1500 a non-Olympic event)? Again, no U.S. qualifier.

The results Monday night came after the U.S. men’s 4x100 relay team finished 11th in Sunday’s prelims, a stunning turn — inexplicable, really — that left the Americans out of Sunday night’s final, won by France.

Also Sunday, there were two U.S. swimmers in the men's 400 free final, Connor Jaeger and Michael McBroom. Neither made it to the top three.

At the London 2012 Games, U.S. swimmers earned medals in that men's 400 free (Peter Vanderkaay), men's 100 breast (Brendan Hansen), women's 100 fly (Dana Vollmer) and women's 200 IM (Caitlin Leverenz).

Not one of those swimmers -- for various reasons -- is in Kazan.

To be clear, there are six more nights of racing in Kazan, and the U.S. is assuredly in line to take home medals. On Monday night, these U.S. swimmers moved on to Tuesday's finals: Matt Grevers in the 100 backstroke; Ryan Lochte, 200 free; Missy Franklin and Kathleen Baker, 100 back.

At the same time, David Plummer, the Barcelona 2013 world championship silver medalist in the 100 back, did not qualify. Nor did Jessica Hardy in the 100 breast, a race in which in 2009 she set a then-world record; at Barcelona 2013, she took bronze in the event. Nor did Conor Dwyer in the 200 free; in Barcelona, he won silver in the race.

It has been so long on the world and Olympic stage since the since the U.S. team came up empty-handed like it did in Monday's finals that experienced hands could not recall the last time it happened — evidence not only that the Americans need to step up their efforts aiming toward Rio 2016 but that the rest of the world has gotten a lot more capable.

The U.S. team has been so good for so long that it seems almost heresy to acknowledge there might be vulnerability if not weakness. But, aiming toward Rio 2016, concern would appear to be justified.

In prior years, the worlds the year before an Olympics has proven a solid gauge of U.S. swim performance at the forthcoming Games. For instance, in Shanghai in 2011, U.S. swimmers won 29 medals, 16 gold; in London in 2012, 31 and 16.

In the lead-up to Kazan 2015, however, it had become evident the U.S. team was not going to be at its best at these championships. For one, Michael Phelps is not here. For another, this team was picked a year ago, a strategy that may now deserve extensive review.

By “not at its best,” let’s be clear — that’s relative to the high standards traditionally set by U.S. swimming.

That would be tolerable, in a sense, if there weren't warning signs for a year from now. Going down the line: where are the results that would suggest bright U.S. prospects for medals in Rio in events such as the women’s 200 breaststroke and 100 butterfly? The men’s 100 breast? And more.

The question ought to be posed now, with 12 months to go before Rio: what — if anything — is the plan?

This needs to be asked, too, because it is just as much part of the package: what expectation is there for being part of a U.S. national team?

Too, as the sport has grown, it’s evident that many American swimmers are keen to be considered eminently “professional” athletes. That's all well and good. But in the context of preparing for world and Olympic meets: what does that mean? Finances are one thing but this takes work, and a lot. Whose job is it to get them to produce when the time is right?

Amid all this, there is Ledecky.

Three years ago, at the London 2012 Games, she won the 800.

Two years ago to the day, August 3, she broke the world record in the 800 at the Barcelona 2013 world championships.

All in, before Monday, Ledecky had set seven world records — two in the 400, two in the 800, three in the 1500.

On Sunday here, she won the 400 — just shy of world-record pace but in a new world championships time, 3:59.13.

When she woke up Monday morning, looking out at her plan for the week, Ledecky could see the 1500, the 800 and, as well, the 200 free — with the complication that the 1500 final and the rounds of the 200 are about 20 minutes apart on Tuesday.

And, probably, the 4x200 relay, too.

Her coach, Bruce Gemmel, laid out the plan for the 1500 heat Monday morning: the first 900 meters easy, the next 300 building speed, the final 300 Ledecky’s choice — however she felt, fast or not.

The idea was to take the race as something of a building block for the rest of the week.

“I was, like, barely even focusing on this morning’s swim,” she would say later. “I was just so relaxed. Like all my teammates knew I was going 900 easy, 300 build, 300 choice. So I think they’re probably in the most shock.”

The numbers verge on the surreal:

— Her first 400 meters: 4:06.41. Her last 400: 4:05.87.

— That 4:06.41? That would have put her sixth in the 400 she won Sunday night.

— At 800, she was at 8:15.29. That’s 1. second-best in the world in 2015, behind only the 8:11.21 that Ledecky herself put up, 2. in the top-10 all-time if had itself been an 800 free and 3. faster than Janet Evans ever swam in the 800. That would be the same Janet Evans who held the world record in the 800 for 19 years, from 1989 until 2008.

— Ledecky's last lap? 29.47. That was her second-fastest lap of the race; she opened the first 50 with a 28.56.

— Ledecky won the heat by 28.81 seconds over Jessica Ashwood of Australia. All Ashwood did in the race was lower her own Australian record, to 15:56.52 from 15:56.86, which she had put down at a grand prix meet in Townsville, Australia, on June 20.

-- Swimvortex.com, an authority on the sport, pointed out that Ledecky's 15:27.71 is eight-hundredths of a second faster than the time in which Australia's Steven Holland set the world record to win the Commonwealth Games men's 1500 in 1975.

-- Nick Zaccardi of NBCOlympics.com took to his Twitter feed to point out: Ledecky, age 18, 15.27.71. Lochte, age 19 in the 1500 at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials, 15:28.37.

— American Katy Campbell finished eighth in the same heat Monday morning, in 16:39.98, three lanes over from Ledecky. That Katy Campbell is here belies the obvious: she is a world-class swimmer. There’s no way to say this delicately, so here goes: Katie Ledecky lapped Katy Campbell.

Asked afterward if it is hard to race someone who is obviously so much better, Campbell said, “I think for everyone it is,” quickly adding that Ledecky is “such a lovely and warm person” and “if you can get close to her,” meaning time-wise in the pool, “you’re one of the best, too.”

Here is what is truly scary about Ledecky’s swim: she not only made it look easy, she said it was easy.

“To be honest,” she said, “it did feel pretty easy. I wasn’t kicking much. I think breaking that record is just a testament to the work I have put in, the shape that I’m in right now that, you know, I was able to do that.

“I’m in quite a bit of shock right now,” she said.

Once more, she wasn’t kicking that much!

“My pulling has improved a lot,” she said, which is swim talk for moving the body in the water with your arms.

“You know, shout out to Andrew Gemmel,” a leading U.S. open-water swimmer who is also the son of her coach, Bruce. “He’s the fastest puller in the world. And I think, you know, having Bruce as a coach, you do a little bit more pulling.

“You know,” she said, “I do kick a lot for a distance swimmer, and I think I did kind of decide to rest my legs a little bit and see what I could do just pulling.”

See what I could do just pulling! Only a world record.

Asked when she knew she was on record pace, Ledecky said, “I realized kind of toward the end because I could see people, you know, waving. I could see where my parents and brother and uncle were sitting, and I could see them waving as well. It didn’t even like spur me on it all.

“I was just — I didn’t want to get up and race even harder, because I felt like if I just maintained the same pace I was holding that maybe I would still get under it. If I didn’t, I wasn’t really expecting it.”

Someone asked if, now that she had broken the world record, Ledecky planned to take it easier in Tuesday night’s final, concentrating on just winning the race.

“Not necessarily,” she said, adding that the plan is to “swim it pretty similar to how I swam it this morning, maybe a little faster. Again, I didn’t put much focus on this, this morning — so maybe I shouldn’t do that tomorrow, either.”

A minute or two later, she said the 20 minutes between the 1500 and the 200 “should be plenty of time” to “get a good warm-down in between,” emphasizing, “So I’ll be fine.”

She also said, “In finals, there’s always a little bit more energy and excitement. I have never been somebody who swims slower at finals. So hopefully I can be right on that or a little better.

“You never know.”

No Michael Phelps but Katie Ledecky is so good

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KAZAN, Russia — No Michael Phelps but when you have Katie Ledecky, you get records. So maybe the only ones happier than Ledecky after she set a world championships record Sunday night in the 400-meter freestyle was, well, everyone who  wondered, exactly, what this meet would be like without Phelps, the one and only. All sports need big stars, and in the absence of Phelps, beyond doubt the biggest name in swim history, Ledecky showed Sunday — again — why she is one of the most gifted, truly thrilling athletes in the Olympic scene.

Moreover, and perhaps just in time for a world turned too-skeptical about Olympic sports because of story after story of athletes caught using performance-enhancing drugs, track and field again engulfed over the weekend in a potentially wide-ranging scandal, with Katie Ledecky there’s never a doping worry. Take it to the bank: she is 110 percent racing clean.

Ledecky raced to victory in 3:59.13, breaking the world championships record by two-hundredths of a second. Her time, the third-fastest ever, was just a beat or two shy of her own world record, 3:58.37.

Katie Ledecky with her 400 free gold // Getty Images

Her race marked the much-anticipated highlight of the first of eight nights of racing from Kazan 2015. Also Sunday night:

— In the semifinals of the women’s 100 butterfly, Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom did set a world-record, going 55.74, breaking the mark of 55.98 that American Dana Vollmer set at the London 2012 Olympics.

— In the second semifinal of the men’s 50 breaststroke, Britain’s Adam Peaty also set a championship mark, 58.18, just moments after South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh had set the mark at 58.49 in semifinal one. Peaty holds the world record, 57.92, set in April at the British nationals.

— In the men’s 400 free, China’s Sun Yang — who last year served a three-month doping ban — reclaimed his place on the world stage, winning emphatically in 3:42.58. After touching first, he bellowed in exultation and wagged his index finger to remind one and all who, in men’s distance, is No. 1.

At the 2013 worlds in Barcelona, Sun won the 400, 800 and 1500 frees.

For swim geeks, this freaky note: Sun’s time was precisely the same, to the second, that Ian Thorpe hit to win the 400 free at the 2003 world championships.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Sun first played it supremely cool:

“First of all, I would like to offer congratulations to my country. They just won the bid for 2022. I would like to take this opportunity to promote these Olympic Games and to jog attention from media worldwide.”

Then, asked about his doping matter, he delivered a mini-soliloquy — but only after asking first what country the journalist asking the question was from (Switzerland).

Sun Yang leaves no doubt: he is No. 1 in the 400 // Getty Images

“I don’t understand,” he said, “why the media pays this much attention to this. The world always thinks that whenever a Chinese athlete gets a good result, we have used some drugs. For Chinese athletes, we are training very hard, as are athletes in other countries.

“There is absolutely no doubt that … doping cases are happening in other countries as well, for example the Australia team. But I don’t understand why the media pay so much attention and over-promote this story. I think,” he said, “it’s a lack of respect.”

A moment later, he added, “I hope media all over the world can have a fair attitude toward Chinese athletes. Don’t treat us as the enemy. Treat us fairly.”

— As Sunday night’s racing wound to a close, the Australian women’s 4x100 relay team — no allegation of anything amiss — set another championship mark, winning big in 3:31.48, 24-hundredths under the old mark, set by the Netherlands at the 2009 Rome championships. Here the Dutch took second, in 3:33.67. The Americans, with Missy Franklin swimming leadoff, took third, in 3:34.61.

As for Phelps, with 22 Olympic medals, 18 gold:

You think the U.S. effort missed him Sunday? The U.S. men’s 4x100 relay team — a perennial medal contender in an event that is for Phelps virtually a crusade for red, white and blue pride, one in which he typically swims lead-off — finished 11th in Sunday morning’s prelims, in 3:16.01, nowhere near good enough to make the top-eight for the nighttime finals.

That marked the first time, dating to 1973, the American men missed the world championship final of a 4x100 free. Indeed, with one exception, 2001 in Fukuoka, Japan, the Americans had made the 4x100 podium; in that 2001 race, the Americans  finished third but ended up getting disqualified for using a swimmer whose name was not on the entry list.

Meanwhile, the Australian men also got shut out; the Aussies finished 13th in Sunday’s qualifying, at 3:16.34.

So another first: Kazan 2015 made for the first worlds at which neither the Americans nor Australians would medal in the men’s 4x100 relay.

To underscore the import of Sunday’s subpar relay performance and the challenge ahead for the U.S. men’s 4x100 relay:

Taking out the 2001 DQ: that 3:16.01 made for the slowest by a U.S. 4x100 relay team at a world championships since 1998, 3:16.69.

It ought to be abundantly clear now to USA Swimming officials that there needs to be, for the relay, this strategy: an A team, the one that swims in the night finals, and an A-minus squad for the morning prelims, the one that at least gets you top-eight. In addition, there needs to be A-plus training and preparation — qualities that clearly were not Sunday in evidence.

Relying on anything else — you need four guys who can swim 48 seconds, consistently — simply won’t do, given the way the rest of the world has caught up.

Consider the eight teams in Sunday’s final: Poland, Japan, Italy, Russia, Brazil, France, Canada and China.

France won, just as in London 2012 and Barcelona 2013, here in 3:10.74. Russia, pushed by a screaming home crowd, grabbed second, in 3:11.19. Italy took third, in 3:12.53, its first 4x100 worlds medal since 2007.

It's like Christmas in August for the third-place  Italian relay team: Luca Dotto, Marco Orsi, Michele Santucci and Filippo Magnini // Getty Images

Moreover, the wisdom of keeping Phelps home seriously has to — once again — be questioned. He has done his out-of-the-pool time, part of the deal sparked by his drunk-driving suspension. The value of not having him here, months later and after he has undergone weeks of isolation and reflection that seem life-changing, is — what? Particularly when Phelps, given his import in world-class relays, will be swimming this very same week at the U.S. championships in San Antonio?

Where is the logic? How does not having Phelps here further serve him? Or U.S. interests, swim and Olympic?

There had been great hopes from many in influential swim circles that Phelps and USA Swimming would be able to find a way to get him here to Kazan 2015. Again, all sports need stars. It’s that elemental. And he assuredly would have loved to have been here. In the midst of his self-proclaimed retirement, he sat out the 2013 worlds, in Barcelona — though he was there, at the meet, texting in real time to longtime coach Bob Bowman thoughts on the U.S. relay 4x100 relay as it finished second.

No compromise could be reached, however.

The good news for the Americans: 11th is good enough to make the Rio 2016 relay line-up (top 12).

The not good: U.S. prospects for the 2016 Games in the 4x100 relay can now best be described as a — in a word — situation.

Without Phelps, it was always clear coming into Kazan that expectations would fall on Ledecky, Franklin and Ryan Lochte to command the spotlight for the U.S. team.

Every time Ledecky swims, the world record is at risk, and in races where such marks had been standards for many years, in particular the 400, 800 and 1500. She is due to swim the 200 free here as well.

For anyone else, this would be crazy talk; a world-record possibility in every swim.

Ledecky, though, is so crazy good that she turns races that are something like four, eight or 14 minutes long into incredible theater.

With Ledecky on the blocks, it’s not whether she’s going to win. She’s a near lock to win. The issue now is by how much, and will there be a meet or world record?

In Sunday morning’s prelims, she flirted with the world record through 200 meters, then eased off, treating the final 200 like a training swim. She touched first in her heat in the prelim in 4:01.73, the morning’s fastest time. Jessica Ashwood of Australia turned in the morning’s second-best: it was 2.74 seconds behind Ledecky.

Going into Sunday night, the 400 world record stood at 3:58.37. Ledecky set that mark last Aug. 23, at the Pan Pacific championships in Gold Coast, Australia. Before that, the world record had stood at 3:58.86; Ledecky did that at the U.S. championships just 14 days beforehand.

In case the numbers all get to be too much: last year, Ledecky set the world record, then lowered it again by about a half-second, all within two weeks.

Some more big-picture context:

Camille Muffat of France won the 400 at the London 2012 Olympics. Muffat was among 10 people killed in a helicopter crash in March in Argentina; her death lent additional poignancy to Sunday’s race.

Before Ledecky went off last year, the 400 mark had stood for five years — Federica Pellegrini, 3:59.15, at the Rome 2009 championships, the first women’s 400 sub-4 swim in history. Before that, it had been lowered only five times in the years since Janet Evans went 4:03.85 in September, 1988, at the Seoul Olympics.

Ledecky won the 800 at London 2012.

In Barcelona in 2013, she won the 400, 800 and 1500. She and Sun were named female and male athletes of the meet.

At last year’s Pan Pacs, she won four freestyle events — 200, 400, 800 and 1500 — and added gold in the 4x200 relay.

That’s one way to measure her progression, how ridiculously good she has become.

Here’s another:

Her 400 prelim times at major meets over the past three years: Barcelona, 4:03.05. PanPacs: 4:03.09. Kazan: 4:01.73.

Or how about this:

Going into Sunday's race, of the all-time top-10 performances in the 400, Ledecky held six of them, including five of the top six. All five are under 4 minutes.

On Sunday night, she put herself in position for another world mark. She was a second under world record pace at 200 meters, 18-hundredths under at 300.

On the seventh lap, she slipped just a little bit — 31-flat, her only lap in 31. Coming home, she reached out for a 29.57, good enough for that world championships record, just shy of the world mark.

Ashwood finished third, at 4:03.34. Sharon Van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands took second, in 4:03.02.

It’s a testament to Ledecky’s excellence that when she “only” breaks the world championships record but not the world record itself, she gets asked if she’s disappointed — and if it’s annoying or, in its way, flattering to be asked if she gets disappointed.

“It is very flattering,” she said late Sunday. “You know, it’s a great honor for me that you expect or hope for a world record each time I swim. Because, I guess, that’s based on what I have done in the past.

“That is a pretty neat thing for me. I won’t get annoyed at any of you. You keep doing what you do and I will keep doing what I do.”

Which is race super-fast — 3:59.13, Ledecky said, is “a swim I can be really happy with.”

Katie Ledecky version 2014

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The wall-to-wall coverage of the soccer World Cup has tended to obscure what the American swimmer Katie Ledecky did at a low-key meet that concluded Sunday near Houston. It shouldn’t. It isn’t just that Ledecky set two world records in the 1500 and 800, the two women’s freestyle races that for decades featured records impervious to change. She won across the board — 1500, 800, 400, 200, 100. It has been more than 40 years since Australia’s Shane Gould held every women’s freestyle record, from the 100 up to the 1500. (The 50 didn't come until later.) That is borderline preposterous. Then again, so is what Ledecky did this weekend.

Katie Ledecky, right, with a fan at the Mesa Grand Prix earlier this year // photo Getty Images

Granted, many of America’s top swimmers were racing elsewhere, at the Grand Prix event in Santa Clara, California. Even so, her times in Texas were almost unbelievable.

If she didn’t get airtime on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” because it was being hogged up by the U.S. men’s soccer team’s 2-2 tie with Portugal, or even because golfer Michelle Wie won the women’s U.S. Open, you can bet that everyone in swim circles snapped to when they saw what Katie Ledecky did near Houston.

Because — as amazing as she was in 2012, when at 15 she won Olympic gold in the 800 free, or as dominating as she was in 2013, when she won four golds in Barcelona at the world championships amid two world records — the 2014 version of Katie Ledecky appears to be just as ruthlessly competitive but far more versatile.

When she is not swimming, Ledecky is, by all accounts, a delightful young woman. She is modest. She is a team player. She has announced she intends to attend Stanford when she finishes high school. She is still — let’s remember — only 17.

“She has unbelievable work ethics and work habits,” said Jon Urbanchek, the former University of Michigan coach who has for years been affiliated with the U.S. national team and worked with Ledecky in London in 2012, adding, “She was pushing the boys in practice a lot.”

When she is racing, however, she is a killer, and that is meant to be a high compliment. Simply, Ledecky goes out and means to break you by the force of her incredibly intense competitive will.

Afterward, she smiles, and sweetly.

Just like Missy Franklin.

The idea of the two of them — and Allison Schmitt — racing the 200 free is pretty unreal.

Schmitt is the London 2012 Olympic 200 free gold medalist. Franklin is the Barcelona 2013 world champion in the 200 free. Schmitt didn’t swim in Barcelona. Franklin and Ledecky together swam on the winning U.S. 4x200 freestyle relay team.

“She is unreal,” Franklin said at a news conference Thursday in Santa Clara.

Here is how unreal Ledecky is, starting with the 1500, which in swimming lingo is called the mile:

— Janet Evans swam the 1500 in 15:52.10, on March 26, 1988, at the USA spring nationals in Orlando, Florida. No one broke that record for nearly 20 years.

Finally, on June 17, 2007, Kate Ziegler did it, going 15:42.54, at a meet in Mission Viejo, California. That is not quite eight seconds.

At that meet, Ziegler had just come down to California from attitude training. She is what Urbanchek calls a “responder” — that is, someone whose body responds immediately to the effects of altitude training, designed to increase oxygen-carrying capacity.

“You train up there at altitude, you come down and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can breathe,’ “ Evans said. “It’s awesome. It’s amazing.”

In warmups, Ziegler recalled of that race, she was off. But when the gun went off, something clicked:

“It was as easy as a mile could be. Lap after lap, I felt so consistent, so strong. I didn’t know how fast I was going. I saw people going alongside and cheering me along. I didn’t have that many teammates there so I knew something must be going on — I saw so many people cheering!”

Last summer in Barcelona, Ledecky lowered the mile mark almost six seconds, to 15:36.53.

In Texas this weekend, Ledecky, too, had just come down from altitude. She, too, is a “responder.”

In the mile, she went 15:34.23 — lowering the record by two and a half seconds.

As an indicator of how good Ledecky’s performance is, Lotte Friis of Denmark, who is maybe one of two or three women in the world right now who might be able to give Ledecky a race in the mile, swam the same event Thursday in Santa Clara. Friis won convincingly, by 10 seconds. Friis’ time: 16:00.35.

Math: Ledecky’s time is better by 26 seconds. 26 seconds!

— It was Aug. 20, 1989, when Evans, again, set the world record in the 800 free, 8:16.22, swimming in Tokyo at the Pan Pacific championships.

It took 19 years until someone broke that record — Rebecca Adlington of Great Britain, on Aug. 16, 2008, at the Beijing Games, going 8:14.10.

In Barcelona last year, Ledecky went 8:13.86.

In Texas on Sunday, Ledecky went 8:11 flat. Again, she took more than two seconds off her own record.

In Santa Clara, Cierra Runge of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, swimming Sunday, won the 800 free in a lifetime-best 8:26.71.

Math: Ledecky’s time is 15 seconds-plus better.

At that Texas meet, beyond the two world records, Ledecky also won three other freestyle races, the 400, in the fastest time so far this year in the world; the 200, in a time a tenth away from what she did at the 2013 world championships; and the 100, just off her season- and personal-best.

“I think she is in a really sweet spot,” Evans said. “There are a lot of eyes on Michael, a lot of eyes on Missy,” referring to Phelps and Franklin. “As well as she did in London,” meaning Ledecky, “she’s still going to college. There’s not a lot of adulation on her yet. There’s not a lot of pressure. That’s how I felt. Not a lot of pressure. It’s all fun. You just go.”

One of Urbanchek’s former Michigan swimmers, Bruce Gemmel, is now Ledecky’s coach, and Urbanchek said, “She is like Janet. She has the range across the continuum — except for maybe the 50. She is extremely talented. She is extremely hard-working. She is a racer, an attacker. And she is learning to control her races.”

Ledecky’s London 800 is already the stuff of swim legend — she went out super-fast, so fast that almost no one thought she could hold on. Of course she did.

The Barcelona 1500 — she and Friis dueled throughout the race until Ledecky dropped the hammer late — proved that Ledecky had developed great closing speed. Now, Ziegler said, “The more speed she develops — and she has speed — she also has finishing endurance and she has guts. That is an incredible, unstoppable combination. I wouldn’t begin to predict what we will see from her. She keeps raising that bar. I would not set a limit on her.

“Whatever she she sets her sights on is within her realm,” Ziegler said, adding, “It’s very exciting.”

 

15:36.53 to make a change

BARCELONA -- It is 29 years since Joan Benoit ran the marathon at the Los Angeles Summer Games. Women now compete at the Summer Games in wrestling and boxing. At the 2012 London Games, every national Olympic committee in the world -- finally -- sent female competitors. The U.S. team was more than 50 percent female.

And yet there remains a curious anachronism. In swimming, one of the most progressive of sports, men -- only men -- race the Olympic 1500 meters. The longest distance in the pool on the Olympic program for women is 800 meters, as it has been since 1968.

There are moments in sports when you know you are bearing witness to something special -- to a moment that may change the way things are because, simply, frankly, that change is the right thing to do. On Tuesday night at the Palau Sant Jordi, American Katie Ledecky, Denmark's Lotte Friis and New Zealand's Lauren Boyle put on a performance that was, unequivocally, the best women's distance swim race of all-time and ought to immediately spur the addition of the women's 1500 to the Olympic program.

Lotte Friis of Denmark, Katie Ledecky of the United States and Lauren Boyle of New Zealand with their 1500-meter medals // Getty Images

Like, right now. Without question or hesitation. There can be no doubt.

The women's 1500 is -- obviously -- on the world championships program. It has been since 2001. Friis, 25, won the event at the 2011 worlds in Shanghai. Ledecky, 16, won the Olympic 800 in London. Boyle, 25, is a Cal-Berkeley grad who finished fourth in London in both the 400 and 800.

Friis swam Tuesday in Lane 4, Ledecky in 5.

Boyle raced two lanes over, in Lane 7.

Before the race, many here suspected the world record -- set by American Kate Ziegler in Mission Viejo, California, on June 6, 2007 -- was going down.

As Jessica Hardy, who would later in the evening win a bronze medal in the women's 100-meter breaststroke, would say, swimmers can tell when a pool "feels" fast, and she said, "This pool definitely 'feels' fast."

Ledecky, in winning the 400 on Sunday in 3:59.82, became the first female in history to go under four minutes in a textile suit. Boyle took third in that race, in 4:03.89.

That Ledecky didn't break the 400 world record is something of a footnote. Italy's Federica Pellegrini holds the record, 3:59.15, but set that mark at the world championships in Rome in 2009, at the height of the plastic-suit era. To go under four minutes was a signal something truly remarkable was at hand.

That's because the 400 is arguably Ledecky's third-best event -- there being the 800 and the 1500 yet to come here in Barcelona.

With apologies to Brooke Bennett, not since Janet Evans -- and this goes back to the late 1980s and early 1990s -- has women's distance swimming seen anyone quite like Katie Ledecky.

Evans -- who was also a teen-age phenomenon -- said Tuesday by telephone it's obvious Ledecky, who projects quiet humility and decency, has extraordinary confidence. Evans said she had that same confidence at that age as well.

"As an athlete, you know every time and race it's not a question of if you're going to win a medal, it's how much you're going to win a medal by," Evans said. "She has three years to get ready for Rio," meaning the 2016 Summer Games. "It's the greatest sweet spot there is."

Evans added a moment later, "The hard part about this .. is that she now has a target on her back. I mean that in the most positive way. Great champions deal with that pressure. And she is a great champion. How much faster is she going to get? I mean, it is awesome."

Which is the word for the race that went down. Just -- awesome.

Ledecky and Friis raced, as the authoritative website swimvortex.com would later recite, through swim history:

-- At 100 meters, Ledecky was at 58.75, Friis at 59.15. This was the 100-meter world-record pace in 1971 of Australian Shane Gould.

-- At 200 meters, Ledecky was 66-hundredths of a second ahead. Now they were racing at the 200-meter pace set by East German Kornelia Ender in the mid-1970s.

From 300 to 1200 meters, Ledecky let Friis set the pace. Always, though, Ledecky stayed close.

-- At 400 meters, Friis held a 63-hundredths lead. She turned in 4:05.26. This was at Evans' 400-meter pace in 1987.

-- At 800 meters, Friis was up by just 17-hundredths. She flipped in 8:17.16. Both were now inside British racer Rebecca Adlington's world title pace in 2011.

For most of the race, meanwhile, both Friis and Ledecky cruised along about five seconds inside Ziegler's split times. Then, at 1300 meters, Ledecky brought the hammer. She turned first for the first time since 250.

By 1450, Ledecky had -- this is almost outrageous -- built a 1.07-second lead.

She then delivered -- even more outrageous -- a final lap of 29.47 seconds.

Her winning time: 15:36.53.

The executive summary: Ledecky crushed the world-record -- which had stood for more than six years, and withstood the insanity of the plastic suits -- by six seconds.

Also, she beat her prior personal best, 15:47.15, by nearly 11 seconds.

Friis also beat Ziegler's world-record, and by nearly four seconds. She touched in 15:38.88.

"It's just really nice to be part of the big races, really exciting, nail-biting races," Friis would say afterward.

Boyle, meanwhile, finished in 15:44.71. That would have been the best swim of 2012, and by 21 seconds. Until Tuesday, it would have been the best swim of 2013, by two-plus seconds. As it is, it set an area record -- an "Oceania championship" mark.

"I was quite surprised I could see [only] Katie's and Lotte's feet the last 500 meters," Boyle said, smiling, adding, "It's really an honor to race those girls."

Bob Bowman, Michael Phelps' longtime mentor, said afterward that Ledecky's 1500 was "as good as any swim Michael ever did -- ever."

Missy Franklin, who won the 100 backstroke Tuesday in 58.42 seconds, her second gold medal here, watched the 1500 from the ready room while readying for another race, the 200 free semifinals, and said, "I knew that world record was definitely going down tonight. But six seconds was absolutely incredible," adding, "All of us were totally in awe of the six seconds."

Ledecky herself, asked at a news conference by the moderator if she was prepared to be the "queen or prince of these championships," quickly demurred, as she typically does.

She said, "I am just really honored to be here and to be a part of the great swimming that is going on here."

Excellence, friendship, respect -- those are the Olympic values, and they were on display in every regard Tuesday, punctuated by a spectacular world record. Put the women's 1500 on the Olympic program.

Janet Evans: no compromise, no limits, all courage

OMAHA -- Janet Evans came out of the water after swimming her preliminary heat in the 400 meters and said, with a big smile, albeit perhaps a little ruefully, "Janet just got 80th with a 4:21!" This was after the sixth heat of 12. Janet, who had just finished seventh in her bunch of nine, had no idea what place she would ultimately finish. All she knew at that instant was that she was for sure not going to make the U.S. Olympic Team in the 400 and yet the crowd was cheering for her like crazy.

It took about a half-hour for the six remaining heats to finish. When they were all done, Janet Evans, 40 years young, mother of two, an inspiration to swimmers, athletes of all sorts, moms, dads, everyone, had finished in exactly 80th place -- out of 113 -- with a time of 4:21.49.

Go figure.

If you were expecting Janet to make the U.S. team for the London 2012 Olympics, either in the 400 or in the 800, which she'll swim later in the week, you're likely to be disappointed.

The thing is, that's not her drop-dead expectation.

"I realized a long time ago I didn't think I was going to get to the Olympics," she said, relaxing after the 400 swim with a small group of reporters who have known her a long time.

This was always way more about the journey than the destination.

This from a woman who has five Olympic medals -- four gold and one silver, and is widely considered the greatest female long-distance swimmer of all time.

"The end goal was to be here," she said, meaning the Trials, adding a moment later, "That's the first time in my life, for me, I have ever been at that point. Because it has always been, like, you make it to the Trials, you make it to the Olympics, you win a gold medal, you take two weeks off and you start all over again. It was a very different concept …"

This was always about not accepting compromise or limits.

A year or so ago, Janet had a so-so swim at a meet. Her coach, Mark Schubert, asked if she wanted to keep going. The choice, he said, was all hers. She said, I am not a quitter.

Janet Evans' children are 5 and 2. That's a full-time job. She has another full-time job, as a motivational speaker. Swimming became a third full-time job.

Yet she said Tuesday, "I think for me the hardest part was finding the courage. Do you know what I mean?"

A moment or two later she explained: "I could have stayed home … the hardest part was the courage to actually put myself on the line and put myself in front of people that could criticize you if they wanted to, or not."

Some people, let's face it, will not -- and will never -- understand what Janet did here Tuesday. For them, it's make the Olympic team or bust.

She gets that.

"I think the people who get it will get it and the people who don't get it won't get it. Not everyone gets my silver medal from Barcelona," in 1992 in the 400, "which I think was one of my greatest victories, because it taught me so much, right?"

Allison Schmitt, who is coached by Bob Bowman -- Michael Phelps' coach, too -- finished first in Tuesday's prelims, in 4:05.60, almost 16 seconds faster than Janet's time.

"It is what it is," Janet said.

Later in the evening, Allison won the 400 final, in 4:02.84. Chloe Sutton took second, in 4:04.18.

Kylie Stewart raced in the same heat that Janet Evans did Tuesday morning. Kylie Stewart is 16. That's way closer in age to Janet's daughter, Syd, than to Janet. Janet laughed about that.

There was a lot of sweet, appreciative laughter from Janet here Tuesday.

She said, "I got a text from two of my best friends this morning. They're like, OK, I hope you go 4:02." Janet's best is 4:03.85, which she swam when was 17, at the Olympics in Seoul, in September, 1988. "I'm like, OK, are you kidding me? You're my best friends! Hello!"

Janet said she intended to re-group for the 800 prelims, on Saturday. Another friend e-mailed her husband, Billy Willson, to say, "Can Janet drop 25 seconds in her 800?" For the uninitiated, that's improbable if not impossible.

She laughed some more.

Janet said, "I'm certainly disappointed with my time. But I"m not going to let it taint the experience," adding, "I would love to have gone faster. But at the end of the day, is it defining?"

That's a rhetorical question, of course.

But here's the answer: Absolutely not.