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Ledecky wrapping up freshman year at Stanford, worlds next

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ATLANTA (AP) — Katie Ledecky’s life has changed so much over the past year.

She’s living on her own for the first time, on the opposite side of the country from her tight-knit family. She’s got a new coach and new teammates. She’s a full-fledged college student now – stimulated by her studies, excited about meeting different people, fully embracing the idea of being all grown up.

“The year’s gone by fast,” Ledecky said.

She’s used to going fast in the pool.

Nothing’s changed there.

After leading Stanford to its first NCAA women’s national title since 1998, capturing three individual events and taking a turn on two winning relays, Ledecky has turned her attention to this summer’s world championships in Budapest, Hungary.

“There have kind of been phases throughout the year, different things to look forward to, that I’ve kind of kept my eye on, which has kept me very motivated,” the 20-year-old Ledecky said during a recent interview in Atlanta, where she won three events at a grand prix meet.

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Now that Michael Phelps has retired again, Ryan Lochte is serving a suspension for his antics in Rio de Janeiro and Missy Franklin faces the daunting challenge of bouncing back from a disappointing Olympics, Ledecky is the undisputed star of the mighty U.S. program.

She doesn’t seem the least bit burdened by the prospect of having the swimming spotlight all to herself heading into the 2020 Tokyo Games.

“I don’t really think of it in those terms at all,” Ledecky said. “Just taking things step by step, focusing on my own goals, and not letting anything else get to me has always been what I’ve done a good job of and what I need to continue to do moving forward.”

College life certainly agrees with her.

Ledecky has just a few weeks left in her freshman year at Stanford, a move that took her away from her home in the Washington suburbs.

She hasn’t decided on a major, signing up for classes ranging from psychology (“How Beliefs Create Reality,” which seems especially relevant in today’s world) to Greek art history to a course on sleep and dreams taught by renowned researcher William Dement.

“I’ve loved it,” Ledecky said. “I’ve had a great first year, taken some really great classes, met some pretty amazing people, and it’s been a great environment in the pool, in my dorm and in school.”

After a stellar performance at the Rio Olympics last summer, where she won four gold medals and a silver while obliterating a pair of world records, Ledecky was home for about three weeks.

Then she headed off to college.

The timing of the move worked out perfectly, according to Stanford coach Greg Meehan.

“Oftentimes after the games, there will be a lull for these athletes coming out of the Olympics,” he explained. “Sometimes, during that down time, they can have that post-Olympic depression. But I think moving into a new environment, being excited about some new challenges, that really helped with the transition. That kept things moving, kept things fresh and exciting.”

NCAA: Katie Ledecky wins first individual NCAA title with American record 

For many athletes, a coaching change can be rather jarring.

Not so for Ledecky, who’d already been through it once before. After Ledecky won a surprising gold at the 2012 London Games, her coach, Yuri Suguiyama, left for a job on the West Coast. Ledecky switched the Bruce Gemmell and soared to even greater heights in Rio.

From all indications, the transition to Meehan has gone just as smoothly.

He’s worked to tweak a few things in her technique, training and race strategy, but there’s certainly no need for a major overhaul.

“She’s already achieved levels in this sport that, outside of Michael, no one else has gotten to,” Meehan said. “Michael was more dominant in the spread of events he could cover. He’s the most amazing swimmer I’ve ever seen. But I think Katie is much more dominant in her (freestyle) events. So there is a little bit of a sense of what’s next, if she’s already doing the things she’s doing?”

This new partnership has required them both to be open-minded.

“This is only year one,” Meehan said. “We’re continuing to learn each other and push the envelope in some ways. We’ll get through this year and next year, then we’ll start looking at big-picture goals.”

The freestyle will certainly remain her focus, with an eye toward getting faster in the 100 meters. Ledecky isn’t sure she’ll ever be able to compete for an individual gold in that event, but she wants to remain a part of the 4x100m relay team that took the silver in Rio with her swimming the anchor leg.

While Ledecky must still go through the formality of qualifying for the world championship team next month in Indianapolis, she will surely be a favorite to repeat her victories in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m free, in addition to competing on a pair of relay teams.

“I don’t focus on outdoing myself,” Ledecky said. “I’ve just got to focus on what I want to achieve and not let anything else stand in my way.”

Seems her approach to swimming hasn’t changed a bit.

Something else sounds familiar, too.

Ledecky still doesn’t have a driver’s license.

“Maybe this summer,” she said with a smile, not sounding all that persuasive.

MORE: Katie Ledecky swims fastest 800m free of 2017

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Alina Zagitova eyes more gold at worlds; women’s preview

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Alina Zagitova hasn’t lost internationally in 18 months, and that doesn’t figure to change this week at the world championships in Milan.

The 15-year-old Russian is favored to become the youngest world gold medalist since Tara Lipinski (duplicating her feat from the Olympics) and make it five straight Olympic or world titles for Russian women, the longest streak for one country since American Carol Heiss won six straight Olympic/world titles from 1956 through 1960.

Zagitova would also become the first Olympic women’s champion to win worlds the following month since Kristi Yamaguchi in 1992. That’s largely because Olympic champions usually skip worlds in Olympic years. Since Yamaguchi, the only one to compete was Yuna Kim, who grabbed silver in 2010.

Zagitova may be young, but she may not have the longevity of Kim to make it to a second Olympics. Russia turns over a new class of elite women’s skaters every year.

Two weeks ago, 13-year-old Alexandra Trusova won the world junior title as the first woman to land two different quadruple jumps in one program. Trusova isn’t old enough to compete at the senior worlds until 2020.

Zagitova’s current rival and training partner, Olympic silver medalist and 2016 and 2017 World champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, withdrew from worlds due to injury.

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Which leaves the last two Olympic bronze medalists, Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada and Carolina Kostner of Italy, plus PyeongChang fourth-place finisher Satoko Miyahara of Japan as the top challengers this week.

None finished within seven points of Zagitova at any competition this season, the Russian’s first on the senior international level.

Zagitova set herself apart at the Olympics by putting all of her jumps in the second half of her programs for 10 percent bonuses and landing them all with positive grades of execution.

The U.S. contingent includes national champion Bradie Tennell, two-time Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Mariah Bell (replacement for 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen).

It is the end of a challenging season for U.S. women. In the autumn, none qualified for the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year (after at least one had done so each of the previous seven seasons).

In PyeongChang, no U.S. woman finished in the top six for the first time in Winter Games history. Tennell, who emerged this season after placing ninth at 2017 Nationals, was the top U.S. Olympic finisher in ninth.

Tennell goes into worlds as the top seeded American — seventh — by best international scores this season.

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Olympic golf qualifying, format largely unchanged for 2020

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The Tokyo 2020 Olympic golf tournaments qualifying and format will remain largely the same as they were for the sport’s return to the Games in 2016, according to Golf Channel, citing a memo sent to PGA Tour players.

The format will again be four rounds of stroke play with 60 men and 60 women taken from the world rankings, according to the report.

The qualifying window to determine the rankings will be July 1, 2018 to June 22, 2020 for men and July 8, 2018 to June 29, 2020 for women. That’s a slight change, as for 2016 the dates were the same for men and women.

The 2016 process saw a maximum of two men and two women per country, or up to four if they were ranked in the top 15.

Then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said one month after the Rio Games that he hoped the Olympic golf format would be changed to have more medals awarded.

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