How Katie Ledecky can be an underdog at the Rio Olympics

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Katie Ledecky has entered 10 Olympic and World Championships races and won all of them, but her perfection could be put to the test like never before at the 2016 Olympics.

In Rio, Ledecky may have to deal with the addition to the 200m freestyle of the world’s fastest swimmer in the event each of the last two years. Swede Sarah Sjostrom sat out the 200m free last week at the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, where Ledecky won by .16 over Italian world-record holder Federica Pellegrini.

Pellegrini is 27 and debuted at the Olympics in 2004, meaning the veteran could have a tough time keeping pace with Ledecky, nine years her junior, going into 2016.

However, Sjostrom is just 21 and closer to peak age.

The Swede led off the 4x200m free relay in Kazan in a personal-best 1:54.31, which was .85 faster than Ledecky’s winning time in the individual 200m free.

Sjostrom won as many medals as Ledecky in Kazan (five) but sat out the individual 200m free because it could have harmed her fitness for her “main events,” the 50m and 100m freestyles and butterflies.

While in Kazan, Sjostrom said she will most likely enter the 200m free at the Rio Olympics. That makes sense, given the 200m free in Rio takes place on the two days Sjostrom has off from her main events.

“I bet that she’ll swim that event in Rio,” Ledecky said of Sjostrom and the 200m free on Eurosport on Sunday. “I’ve never had the opportunity to race her yet, so, hopefully, I’ll get that chance.”

That could create a female version of the Race of the Century from the 2004 Olympics, when Ian ThorpePieter van den Hoogenband, Michael Phelps and Grant Hackett lined up in the 200m free final.

In Rio, a women’s 200m free final could include the world-record holder Pellegrini, the 2013 World champion Missy Franklin, the 2015 World champion Ledecky, the world’s greatest all-around swimmer Katinka Hosszu and the fastest woman in the event the last two years, Sjostrom.

Regardless of Sjostrom, Ledecky could seek a greater challenge by adding another event — the 100m freestyle. Ledecky could earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic 4x100m free relay team by clocking a top-six time at the Olympic trials either June 30 or July 1.

The Rio Olympic 4x100m free relay takes place on the first day of competition, when Ledecky has no other events.

“You know she’s going to get faster to swim a world-class 200, and with that comes a pretty good 100,” her coach, Bruce Gemmell, said in November.

Ledecky was asked what her 100m free personal best was in Sunday’s Eurosport interview.

“54.5, which is OK,” she said. “It’s not very competitive at this stage yet. Hopefully I can get that time down a little bit.”

Ledecky is right. The 54.55 she swam on Jan. 15 ranks her No. 42 in the world and No. 9 among Americans. However, that 54.55 came at a time of the year when swimmers aren’t peaked. There’s reason to believe she would have been much faster in a 100m free in Kazan.

Even if Ledecky made it onto the U.S. 4x100m relay in Rio — likely with Franklin and Simone Manuel leading the group — the U.S. would be decided underdogs.

An Australian quartet anchored by sisters Bronte and Cate Campbell broke the 4x100m free relay world record at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Australia then routed the U.S. by 1.77 seconds at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships. At Worlds, the U.S. was 3.13 seconds behind Australia and .94 behind the Netherlands.

After Ledecky won five golds in five events in Kazan, her coach said there were “many ways” his 18-year-old pupil can get better after her impending break to have her wisdom teeth removed.

“Her turns are still not particularly good,” Gemmell told media in Kazan. “She of course can get stronger.”

That might be required for perfection at the Rio Olympics.

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U.S. Olympic 3×3 basketball qualifying teams named with former NBA player, WNBA stars

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Former NBA player Robbie Hummel and WNBA stars lead U.S. Olympic qualifying teams in the new Olympic event of 3×3 basketball.

The four-man and four-woman teams will compete in a global qualifier in India in March, each favored to grab one of three available Olympic berths per gender for the U.S.

Hummel, who unretired to become world champion in 3×3, is joined on the U.S. Olympic men’s qualifying team by Team Princeton teammates Canyon Barry and Kareem Maddox, plus Dominique Jones, who has played with Team Harlem. Team Princeton is guided by an investment firm CEO who once beat Michael Jordan one-on-one.

Last year, Hummel, Maddox and Barry (one of Rick Barry‘s sons) were part of a team that won the world title.

The U.S. women’s 3×3 qualifying roster is made up of WNBA stars Napheesa Collier, Stefanie DolsonAllisha Gray and Kelsey Plum. The U.S.’ top-ranked 3×3 player, as of last month, is Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu, who can’t play internationally this spring as she is in the thick of the NCAA season.

Olympic teams will not necessarily be made up of players from the qualifying tournament.

If the U.S. qualifies for Tokyo, it will then choose its roster(s) in a similar fashion to its traditional basketball teams — via selection committee. It’s unlikely active NBA players will be eligible.

Like with the qualifying tournament, two of the four Olympic players must be ranked in the top 10 among Americans in FIBA 3×3 rankings (as of a May 22 cutoff).

In 3×3, games last 10 minutes, or until one team reaches 21 points. Games are played on a half-court with a 12-second shot clock, and offense immediately turns to defense after a team scores.

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First U.S. sailors qualify for Olympics; gold medalist misses on tiebreak

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The first five members of the U.S. Olympic sailing team were finalized this past weekend. The last American sailor to win an Olympic title missed on a tiebreaker.

Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea (49er FX), Anna Weis and Riley Gibbs (Nacra 17) and Charlie Buckingham (Laser) qualified after world championships competition concluded in Australia. The U.S. Olympic roster across all sports is now at 43 qualified athletes.

The closest race for a U.S. Olympic spot came in 49er FX. Roble and Shea edged Paris Henken and 2008 Olympic champion Anna Tobias on a tiebreak. Roble and Shea, both first-time Olympic qualifiers, won Saturday’s medal race and earned an overall bronze medal.

That put the two U.S. duos in a tie in Olympic qualifying — combining placements from the 2019 and 2020 Championships, according to TeamUSA.org. The tiebreak went to Roble and Shea for having the better finish at this year’s worlds.

Tobias, a 37-year-old who won the individual 2008 Olympic Laser Radial as Anna Tunnicliffe, came out of retirement in a bid for a third Olympics. She left competitive sailing in 2014, took up CrossFit competitions and returned to crew for Henken more than two years ago.

“We are very sad and upset,” was posted on Tobias’ Instagram, “but we wish them [Roble and Shea] the best of luck.”

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