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Katie Ledecky turns pro

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Katie Ledecky is turning professional, forgoing her final two years of eligibility at Stanford ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Ledecky made the announcement Monday at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington, D.C., near her hometown of Bethesda, Md.

“This gives me some time before 2020 to focus in on really getting all the pieces in place,” said Ledecky, adding that she will continue to train and study at Stanford, where she lives with five other swimmers. “It’s a decision that I didn’t make just this last week. It’s something that over the last few months I’ve been discussing.”

The five-time Olympic champion capped her second NCAA Championships with a win by 28 seconds in the 1,650-yard freestyle on her 21st birthday on March 17.

Ledecky said Stanford coach Greg Meehan recommended she turn pro now.

“This is the right time for this transition,” Meehan said in a press release.

Ledecky took a gap year between graduating high school at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in 2015 and the Rio Olympics, where she won the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles and anchored the winning 4x200m free relay.

Ledecky moved to Stanford later in summer 2016 and swam two seasons for the Cardinal, winning eight NCAA titles in nine finals between her freshman and sophomore years.

Ledecky said she was “maybe a little off my goals” at her second NCAAs two weeks ago, when she won the 500- and 1,650-yard freestyles convincingly but did not break her American records.

The major meets this summer are the U.S. Championships in late July in Irvine, Calif., and the Pan Pacific Championships in late August in Tokyo. Those two meets are the qualifiers for the 2019 World Championships in South Korea.

Another five-time Olympic champion, Missy Franklin, also turned pro after two NCAA seasons (at Stanford’s rival California). Franklin did so one year before the Olympics in 2015, while Ledecky has two full seasons before the Tokyo Games.

Ledecky could duplicate her Rio Olympic program while adding a new Olympic event — women’s 1500m free — in 2020.

“Now, every time I get up on the blocks, I’m racing the current world-record holder in that event, because I’m racing myself,” she said.

Ledecky has never swum a non-freestyle event at nationals or a major international meet, but she entered the 400-yard individual medley at NCAAs two weeks ago (and finished second behind a teammate who broke Ledecky’s American record). Ledecky said she does not plan to add the 400m IM to her major-meet schedule as a pro.

“I think I’ll continue to compete in them [at smaller meets] and train IM because it’s good for my freestyle, but I don’t think long-term,” she said. “Who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind and pursue it a little further, but I have my hands full with the freestyle events.”

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Katie Ledecky wins by 28 seconds on 21st birthday to close NCAAs

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Katie Ledecky capped her second NCAA Championships with a win by 28 seconds in the 1,650-yard freestyle on her 21st birthday Saturday.

It may have been her final college meet. Ledecky did not commit to returning for her junior season at Stanford, rather than turning pro, in a press conference after the Cardinal repeated as team champions in Columbus, Ohio.

“I have a final exam on Monday,” Ledecky said. “That’s about as far into the future I’m looking.”

Full meet results are here.

Last year, Ledecky lapped all but one swimmer through 1,000 yards of the 1650 final and won by 21.19 seconds in 15:07.70.

On Saturday, Ledecky clocked 15:07.57. Her American record from earlier this season is 15:03.31 — 21.04 seconds faster than anybody else all-time.

Earlier this week, Ledecky anchored Stanford to an 800 freestyle relay title and won the 500 free by a record margin of more than eight seconds.

Then on Friday, teammate Ella Eastin beat Ledecky by 3.69 seconds in the 400 individual medley, an event that Ledecky never swims on the major international level. Eastin broke Ledecky’s NCAA record by 1.93 seconds.

“I think this is the best birthday party I’ll probably ever have,” Ledecky said on ESPNU. “It’s a long and grueling week. … This is the most fun I’ve ever had at a meet.”

Ledecky said she was “maybe a little off my goals” for the week. She did not break any of her American records in the convincing wins. Still, Ledecky finished the meet with eight NCAA titles in nine career NCAA Championships finals.

“I’m pretty hard on myself,” Ledecky said. “I set some pretty high goals. So if I fall a little short it’s not the end of the world. … I’m never really satisfied. If I was, I should retire.”

Also Saturday, quadruple Rio Olympic medalist Simone Manuel finished her Stanford career by winning the 100 freestyle in the second-fastest time ever — 45.65 and .09 off her American record.

Olympic and world champion Lilly King of Indiana broke her second American record of the meet, winning the 200 breast in 2:02.60 and lowering her mark by .58.

Cal’s Kathleen Baker, the Rio 100m back silver medalist, broke the 200-yard backstroke American record in winning in 1:47.30.

The NCAA Men’s Championships, featuring Caeleb Dressel and Joseph Schooling, are next week.

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Katie Ledecky beaten in NCAA Championships individual medley

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Katie Ledecky lost an NCAA Championships race for the first time in eight career finals, taking second in the 400-yard individual medley on Friday.

Stanford teammate Ella Eastin easily beat Ledecky by 3.69 seconds and grabbed the American and NCAA records from Ledecky, too. Eastin’s 3:54.60 is 1.93 seconds faster than Ledecky’s time from the Pac-12 Championships last month.

How did she do it?

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Eastin said on ESPNU. “I’ve built a lot of endurance this year, and it really showed.”

Eastin is decorated in her own right. She three-peated as NCAA 400-yard IM champion and held the American record in the event before Ledecky lowered it last month.

Eastin would have made the 2017 World Championships team had she not been disqualified for an illegal turn after finishing in second place at nationals.

Ledecky, a sophomore, has never contested the 400m IM at a U.S. Championships, Olympics or world championships, nor did she race the 400-yard IM at 2017 NCAAs. She raced the 400 IM instead of the 200 freestyle on Friday.

All of Ledecky’s races at major meets before Friday were in freestyle events. Her only defeat in a major international meet individual final was the 200m freestyle at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky won five NCAA titles last year and the last two nights anchored the 800-yard freestyle relay and captured the 500-yard freestyle by eight seconds.

Meet results are here.

Later Friday, Lilly King of Indiana three-peated in the 100-yard breaststroke, breaking her American and NCAA records and winning in 56.25 seconds. King is also the Olympic and world champion in the 100m breast, plus the world-record holder.

“Always excited to get the record, but was really hoping to break 56 today,” King said.

Louisville’s Mallory Comerford became the second woman after Missy Franklin to break 1:40 in the 200-yard freestyle, winning in 1:39.80. Co-Olympic 100m free champ Simone Manuel of Stanford was third. Comerford and Ledecky tied for the 2017 NCAA 200 free title.

Stanford’s Ally Howe won the 100-yard backstroke in 49.70, one hundredth shy of her NCAA and American records. Olympic 100m backstroke silver medalist Kathleen Baker of Cal-Berkeley was third.

NCAAs conclude Saturday. Ledecky swims the 1,650-yard freestyle. She is the overwhelming favorite, having gone 35 seconds faster than anyone this season.

Ledecky hasn’t discussed with Stanford whether she will return for her junior season or turn pro, according to the school.

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