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Katie Ledecky returns to Olympic-size pool with greater focus, big question

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Michael Phelps is retired. Ryan Lochte is suspended. Missy Franklin is recovering from shoulder surgeries.

Katie Ledecky is the clear spotlight swimmer at a Grand Prix-level weekend for the first time in more than three years starting Thursday in Mesa, Ariz.

Or, for the first time ever if you believe Ledecky wasn’t a marquee name by January 2014 (Austin Grand Prix).

NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will air Mesa coverage Thursday, Friday and Saturday, including live streaming finals (nightly at 8 Eastern).

Many Olympic champions are in the field this week, including Simone ManuelAnthony Ervin and Dana Vollmer racing 26 weeks pregnant.

But the three-day focus will be on Ledecky, who will race in an Olympic-size 50-meter pool for the first time since bagging five medals (four gold) at the Rio Games.

She just finished her freshman NCAA season at Stanford, competing in 25-yard pools from November through March and earning the Honda Award as the top female swimmer.

Though Ledecky could turn professional at any time and earn lucrative endorsements, she said she plans to stay amateur for at least one more season in Palo Alto, according ot the Washington Post.

Ledecky is entered in six events in Mesa: 100m and 400m freestyles on Thursday; 200m freestyle and 400m individual medley on Friday and the 800m freestyle and 200m individual medley on Saturday.

It’s close to a typical Ledecky slate but intriguing nonetheless given the individual medleys. There is reason to believe Ledecky could race the 400m IM at the U.S. Championships in June and, if she qualifies, perhaps the World Championships in Budapest in July. The schedule is favorable at both meets to add it.

Ledecky has never raced the 400m IM at a major international meet and scratched out of the event on the eve of the Olympic Trials eight months ago. She ranked fifth in the U.S. in the event in 2016 but never raced it fully tapered.

She raced the 400-yard individual medley at the Pac-12 Championships in February and broke the American record (Stanford teammate Ella Eastin later went faster at NCAAs, where Ledecky did not race the 400 IM).

Ledecky’s time was faster than the 400-yard IM personal best of Maya DiRado, who took Olympic 400m IM silver in Rio and then retired.

If Ledecky adds the 400m IM to her worlds schedule, and drops no other events from her last worlds slate, she would swim six events in Budapest. If she is on the 4x100m freestyle relay like she did in Rio, she would swim seven events in Budapest. Unlike Rio, the 4x100m free is on the same day as the 400m free at worlds.

No female swimmer has won seven medals at a single Olympics or world championships.

Only two swimmers of either gender have won five individual medals at a single Olympics or world championships — Shane Gould and Michael Phelps.

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MORE: Ledecky laps all but one swimmer to win NCAA title

IOC expects decisions on Russian doping cases next month

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Investigators at the International Olympic Committee expect to have “a number” of doping cases involving Russians at the Sochi Olympics resolved by the end of November, but they have no plans to dictate the eligibility of these athletes for next year’s Winter Games in PyeongChang.

The leader of an IOC delegation in charge of reviewing 28 cases involving athletes at Sochi wrote to the head of the IOC Athletes Commission this week to update the timeline of cases stemming from a report detailing a Russian doping scheme at the 2014 Olympics and beforehand.

Denis Oswald said that of the cases his committee is reviewing, priority has been given to those involving athletes looking to compete in PyeongChang. Top priority goes to six cross-country skiers whose provisional suspensions expire Oct. 31.

Oswald also said his committee would rule on these athletes’ results for Sochi, but will not determine their eligibility for PyeongChang, instead handing over evidence to their respective sports federations to decide.

The IOC also appointed a task force to look at the Russian doping scandal as a whole, the results of which could have wider repercussions on the country’s eligibility at next year’s Olympics.

In a separate letter sent to worldwide sports leaders, IOC President Thomas Bach said only that the Schmid Commission is continuing its evaluation and that “I hope that the IOC Executive Board will still be able to take a decision this year because none of us want this serious issue to overshadow” the upcoming Olympics.

The updates come amid a growing chorus of calls for a timely decision and for Russia’s ouster from PyeongChang.

The IOC commissions are operating off information from the McLaren Report, the first part of which was released in July 2016.

In explaining the timeline, Oswald wrote that because the Russian scheme involved exchanging dirty urine samples with clean ones, it took time to adopt methods to verify that samples had been tampered with — in part by finding evidence of scratch marks on collection bottles that had been opened and re-sealed.

“The task has not been easy in both establishing a methodology in an area in which there are no established protocols,” he wrote, “and then moving through the necessary scientific analysis of each individual sample in a way which would withstand legal challenge.”

MORE: USOC boss calls for immediate action on Russian doping

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Two-time Olympian becomes first woman to lead U.S. national swim team

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Two-time Olympian Lindsay Mintenko has been picked to lead the U.S. national swimming team. She is the first woman to hold the title.

USA Swimming made the announcement Wednesday.

Mintenko replaces Frank Busch, who retired Oct. 1 as managing director. She has been a member of the national team staff since 2006.

During her swimming career, Mintenko won gold medals as a U.S. team captain at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics 800m freestyle relay and added a silver in 2004 on the 400m freestyle relay.

USA Swimming also announced an organizational restructuring that will place all technical divisions, including the national team, under the oversight of chief operating officer Mike Unger.

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