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Katie Ledecky swims fastest 400m free of 2017, plans world champs schedule

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Katie Ledecky is using this week’s meet to start building toward the Tokyo Olympics in three years. And to prepare for the pain coming at the world championships in three months.

In her first meet in an Olympic-size pool since the Rio Games, Ledecky won the 400m freestyle in 4:01.01, the fastest time in the world this year by 1.51 seconds, on Thursday.

Full results from the USA Swimming Pro Series at Mesa are here.

It’s the fastest time ever swum in the month of April — and Ledecky’s been coming to this April meet for five years. That’s a strong indicator that Ledecky is on track for the U.S. Championships in June and the world championships in July. She doesn’t seem tired at all from her first NCAA season at Stanford.

“Looking at some technical things, not really worried about time at this meet,” Ledecky said afterward. “Start building those things up for the next four years.”

And for worlds in Budapest.

Ledecky, whose media obligations at Stanford were kept to a minimum, discussed her world championships plans in a nine-minute media session Thursday.

Specifically, Ledecky eyes repeating the same daunting double that made so many headlines at the last worlds in 2015. That would be swimming the 1500m freestyle final, and then the 200m free semifinals somewhere around 30 minutes later.

To prepare for that, Ledecky is swimming the 200m freestyle and the 400m individual medley in Mesa on Friday. Those finals should be separated by about an hour on Friday evening (streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app at 8 ET).

The 400m IM is the most grueling event in swimming outside of the 800m and 1500m frees.

“It’s just to practice,” Ledecky said. “Practice the pain of it.”

Ledecky added that she isn’t really taking the 400m IM seriously as a potential event at the U.S. Championships, the qualifying meet for worlds. Even though Ledecky broke the American record in the 400-yard IM two months ago (it was later re-broken by a Stanford teammate at NCAAs in March, where Ledecky didn’t swim the 400 IM).

So, it appears Ledecky will probably swim the same four individual events at worlds as in 2015. Two years ago, she became the first male or female swimmer to sweep the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees at a single worlds.

Ledecky could try to qualify in the 100m freestyle, but the 100m free and 800m free finals are on the same night at the U.S. Championships in June. Ledecky would have to finish in the top two in the 100m free at nationals, and it is not a strong event for her.

Ledecky finished fourth in the 100m free in Mesa on Thursday, 1.12 seconds behind co-Olympic champion Simone Manuel, a Stanford teammate.

Ledecky and Manuel dueled several times this past season at Stanford. Neither got much of a break after NCAAs last month.

NCAAs finished on a Saturday in Indianapolis, they traveled back to Palo Alto the next day and then trained while taking finals that week. After finals, the Stanford stars traveled to Colorado Springs for 10 days of altitude training before coming to Mesa.

Ledecky reportedly plans to race at least one more season at Stanford, passing up lucrative endorsement opportunities to be eligible for NCAA competition.

She’s enjoying life on campus, from re-learning how to ride a bike to dorm life with three roommates. Ledecky said two of her favorite classes were spirit of democracy and Greek art history. The professor of the latter class follows her swimming and emails her almost daily.

Stanford uses the quarter system, so Ledecky has eight more weeks of classes before her next break.

Ledecky also commented on FINA’s proposal to add many more events for the 2020 Olympics. Of all of the events, Ledecky would most like to see the women’s 1500m free. It’s part of the world championships — Ledecky won it in 2013 and 2015 — but not the Olympic program.

But Ledecky hopes an addition of the 1500m free would not mean a subtraction of another event.

“I don’t think the 800 [free] should be eliminated,” she said. “I think there’s such a great history of the 800m free. To just kind of scratch that, and there have been so many people that have obviously swum the 800m free at the Olympics, I think they deserve the recognition moving forward and looking at the history of it whenever you get in and race that event.”

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MORE: Olympic champion, 6 months pregnant, enters swim meet

Paralympian Blake Leeper advances in 400m at USATF Outdoors (video)

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Paralympic medalist Blake Leeper, believed to be the first double amputee to race at a USATF Outdoor Championships, advanced out of the 400m heats in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday.

Leeper ran 45.52, third in his heat, to grab the 16th and last spot in the 400m semifinals Friday (10:34 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold).

It marked a personal best by .58 of a second for Leeper, who was racing one day after his ban for testing positive for cocaine in 2015 ended.

“I wanted to advance, but if I don’t I have won already,” Leeper said before he learned he made the semis, according to USA Track and Field. “Just being here and showing everybody what you can truly do with a disability.”

Leeper ran faster than Olympians David VerburgKyle ClemonsArman Hall and Manteo Mitchell, who were all eliminated.

It’s likely that the top five or six in Saturday’s final will make the 4x400m team for the world championships in London in August.

USATF OUTDOORS: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview
Broadcast Schedule | Full Results

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Alysia Montano races pregnant again at USATF Outdoor Championships (video)

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U.S. Olympic 800m runner Alysia Montaño raced five months pregnant in 100-degree heat at the USATF Outdoor Championships (Summer Champions Series) in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday.

Montaño, who raced eight months pregnant at the 2014 USATF Outdoors also in Sacramento, finished last in her 800m first-round heat in 2:21.40. She was 10 seconds faster than her time three years ago.

“People were like, oh, you’re going to run faster than you did last time because you’re less pregnant,” Montaño told media in Sacramento, standing next to 2-year-old daughter Linnea. “I was like, I’m still pregnant.”

Athletes are looking for top-three finishes to qualify for the world championships in London in August. Finals are later this weekend.

USATF OUTDOORS: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview
Broadcast Schedule | Full Results

In a Wonder Woman top, Montaño gritted her teeth on the final straightaway and raised her arms crossing the finish line.

“[In 2014] women let me know that my journey and my story had inspired them in so many different ways,” Montaño said. “I think there’s something about coming out to any venue, not really expecting to win, but just going along with the journey and seeing what comes out of it. And that’s the most beautiful part for me, being a track and field athlete, the platform that I have, I feel so responsible to be a representative of people who don’t have the same platform, don’t have the same voice that I do.

“I represent so many different people. I represent women. I represent black women. I represent pregnant women. Not everybody has the same platform that I do. I think it’s my responsibility to make sure I’m a voice and advocate for them.”

Montaño said she was inspired when she learned Gal Gadot, who played the title role in the movie “Wonder Woman,” filmed half of it while five months pregnant.

“I saw Wonder Woman, and I was like, I for sure am signing up for USA Nationals,” Montaño said. “I already was thinking I was going to do it.”

Montaño said it wasn’t easier or harder racing Thursday versus three years ago, when she had a bigger baby bump.

“The weird part about five months is you’re still growing and like shifting a lot,” she said. “So every week you have to readjust.”

Linnea has seen enough photos of her mom’s famous race in 2014 to know what was going on.

“I go, mom is going to run with your sibling in her belly,” Montaño recalled. “I did that with you, too. And [Linnea] was like, ‘Yeah, it was sticking out!'”

Montaño raced outdoors for the first time since falling in the Olympic Trials 800m final on July 4. Montaño had won the previous Olympic Trials (and finished fourth in London) and the 2015 U.S. title coming back from pregnancy.

She ran without an apparel sponsor Thursday, frustrated that Asics waited until December to say they were not interested in retaining her for 2017. Montaño said that left her no time to try and find a different sponsor, even though she was already planning to have her second child.

“You need to let an athlete know in September, October,” she said. “I’ve been calling [Asics] since September to be like, hey, I didn’t make the Olympic team, I’m 30, I’m going to have another baby.”

In the men’s 800m Thursday, two-time Olympian and 2013 World silver medalist Nick Symmonds was eliminated, 32nd-fastest of 33 runners in the first round.

Symmonds, in his final season, said he has one more race left — the Honolulu Marathon on Dec. 10.

MORE: Montaño finds little joy after Russian stripped of medals

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