The code to Katie Ledecky’s goals in Rio

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OMAHA — For Michael Phelps, it was winning eight gold medals in one Olympics. For Missy Franklin, it’s about becoming the most decorated female swimmer of all time.

What are Katie Ledecky’s goals?

Beilke knows.

As expected, Ledecky flirted with her world record en route to winning her first event of the Olympic Swimming Trials on Monday night. She took the 400m freestyle in 3:58.98, the third-fastest time ever. Ledecky owns eight of the nine best 400m frees in history.

“I certainly have goals beyond this meet,” Ledecky, who won five gold medals at the 2015 World Championships, said afterward. “I certainly have goals better than what I did tonight.”

Ledecky keeps the goals secret, but she has them written in some form. On Beilke. What is Beilke?

“You know how some people tape stuff up to mirrors or floors or ceilings to remind themselves?” said her coach, Bruce Gemmell.

It’s kind of like that.

Beilke started in the summer of 2010 or 2011. Ledecky isn’t sure of the exact date. Neither is Yuri Suguiyama, her coach at the time.

But that summer several years ago, Suguiyama wanted Ledecky, then 13 or 14 years old, to start incorporating a pull buoy into her warm-up routine.

Suguiyama didn’t have one handy at the Georgetown Prep pool.

So he dug through the lost and found.

He retrieved a blue-and-white striped pull buoy and handed it to his budding swimmer. It had obviously previously belonged to somebody else. Because a word was written on it.

Beilke.

Ledecky took Beilke to all of her meets. It became a personality, had a life of its own.

“I would sometimes leave Beilke at the pool, and Beilke would be right there for me the next session of the meet, waiting for me,” Ledecky said last fall.

One day, Suguiyama took a Sharpie and wrote on Beilke, “OT12.”

“So every time I would use Beilke at practice or before a meet, I would see on the buoy ‘OT12,’ and I would think, Olympic Trials, that’s the goal,” Ledecky said.

On July 1, 2012, Ledecky qualified for the Olympics by winning the 800m freestyle in Omaha. She would be the youngest member of the entire U.S. Olympic team in London of more than 500 athletes.

And she wrote something new on Beilke.

“OLY12,” Ledecky said. “I had made the Olympic team, and that’s my goal to compete well there.”

In London, Ledecky did Beilke proud. She upset defending Olympic champion and home favorite Rebecca Adlington for gold.

After the Olympics, she decided to retire Beilke. (Suguiyama left for a job at the University of California, and Gemmell stepped in as her coach at Nation’s Capital Swim Club in the D.C. area)

“Beilke was getting a little old,” Ledecky said. “Beilke had just gone to London. It was a big trip. It took a lot out of Beilke.”

Last Suguiyama heard, Beilke held a place of honor on a bookshelf in the Ledecky home.

“With some other mementoes, I’m sure,” he said Monday night.

But that was not the end of Beilke.

Ledecky found a new pull buoy. She named it Beilke 2, and it has traveled around the world. Yes, she has written on it.

“A few things … that remind me of my goals in its own way,” Ledecky said.

You won’t be able to decipher the code unless you’re Gemmell or maybe a close friend or family member — like the 30 or so in green shirts that read “Katie Ledecky Fam Club” with shamrocks in the CenturyLink Center on Monday night.

Ledecky was born on St. Patrick’s Day 1997, and her family is part Irish.

The history that Ledecky can set this summer has been written often in this space.

If she repeats her 2015 Worlds results with four gold medals (minus the 1500m free, which is not on the Olympic program), it will be on a short list of the greatest single Games performances by a U.S. woman.

But it doesn’t sound like Beilke 2 points to that. Ledecky was predictably coy when asked specifically about her goal in the 400m freestyle after Monday night’s victory. A time? A placement?

“It’s kind of a combination of things, but it’s mainly a time,” said Ledecky, who finished third in the 400m free at the 2012 Olympic Trials, where the top two made the London roster. “The time kind of would, hopefully, be the place. I guess that’s the best way to put it.”

Gemmell said Ledecky’s goals in the 400m free are not really related to her world record from 2014.

Maybe that’s because Ledecky is believed to have notes written on Beilke 2 from three years ago. She’s been working toward the goals the majority of this Olympic cycle.

“Beilke’s always there for me,” she said.

MORE: Shirley Babashoff bows to Katie Ledecky

Alina Zagitova wins Rostelecom Cup; Gracie Gold withdraws

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova dominated the Rostelecom Cup, while Gracie Gold withdrew before Saturday’s free skate at her first competition in 22 months, citing emotional stress.

Zagitova skated a flawed free, but still totaled 222.95 points and prevailed by 24.94 over countrywoman Sofia Samodurova. Zagitova qualified for December’s Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international competition, which takes the top six skaters from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Gold, coming back from treatment for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder, was in last place of 10 skaters after struggling with jumps in Friday’s short program.

Gold, a Sochi Olympian and two-time U.S. champion, later tweeted that she withdrew because competing in the free skate would be damaging to her mental health and confidence.

“It was a difficult decision to make, but ultimately I need to put my mental health first and focus on the big picture,” was tweeted from Gold’s account. “Looking forward, I need to keep improving both my physical and mental condition. I thought checking into treatment last fall was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but skating my short program last night might have topped it. I do not want to undo the tremendous progress I’ve made in these last few months.”

The Grand Prix season continues next week with Nathan Chen headlining Internationaux de France, the last event before the Grand Prix Final.

ROSTELECOM CUP: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Zagitova, 16, is undefeated in three events this season and owns the world’s top overall score (238.43) by a whopping 14.12 points. However, Japanese 16-year-old Rika Kihira has the highest total on the Grand Prix of 224.31.

Zagitova struggled Saturday with the difficult triple Lutz-triple loop combination and doubled a flip at the end of her free skate.

Her primary rival last season, countrywoman Yevgenia Medvedeva, has finished second or third in her four competitions in the last year and likely must reach the podium next week in France for a chance at the Grand Prix Final and her first matchup with Zagitova since PyeongChang.

It’s likely that no U.S. woman makes the Grand Prix Final for a third straight year, after never previously going back-to-back years without a qualifier. U.S. champion Bradie Tennell likely must win in France to reach the Final.

Earlier Saturday, double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu won the men’s event, hours after twisting his right ankle in a hard practice fall. Hanyu hopped on a crutch backstage and said he is uncertain for the Grand Prix Final and Japanese Nationals later in December. More here on Hanyu’s day.

Russian favorites Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin won the pairs’ and ice dance titles, respectively, qualifying for the Grand Prix Final.

Tarasova and Morozov, two-time world medalists, posted 220.25 points, moving up to No. 2 in the world behind French Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, who were not in the Rostelecom field. None of the Olympic pairs’ medalists are competing this fall. Earlier Saturday, Tarasova received five stitches after cutting her chin in a practice crash into the boards.

In dance, Stepanova and Bukin tallied 199.43, keeping them close to U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue in the world rankings. Those two couples face off for the first time this season at the Grand Prix Final.

The top returning couple this season, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, competes next week at the top international level for the first time since winning a third world title in March. They are not eligible for the Grand Prix Final after withdrawing from last week’s NHK Trophy due to Cizeron’s back injury.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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MORE: Ashley Wagner on her competitive future, coaching

Yuzuru Hanyu wins Rostelecom Cup, hops on crutch to press conference

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Yuzuru Hanyu won Rostelecom Cup by nearly 30 points, then hopped on a crutch backstage.

The double Olympic champion twisted his right ankle in a hard practice fall Saturday morning, then several hours later had the highest-scoring free skate with three quadruple jumps.

Hanyu said he is uncertain for the Grand Prix Final in three weeks — and a showdown with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno and, likely, world champion Nathan Chen according to The Associated Press.

“It really hurts,” Hanyu said, according to Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “This injury made me change my program, and sadly I couldn’t perform the way I wanted. I could have done better.”

ROSTELECOM CUP: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Hanyu apologized to a TV camera following his free skate, after falling and popping an Axel on his last two jumps.

Last November, Hanyu damaged right ankle ligaments in a practice fall, forcing him off the ice for more than a month. He said this injury is not as bad. Still, coach Brian Orser said “it was a big question” whether Hanyu would withdraw before the free skate, according to Olympic Channel.

Hanyu endured, taking out the quadruple loop that he fell on in practice but still adding 10 points to his lead from Friday’s short program. For the first time in nine seasons, Hanyu won his two Grand Prix Series qualifying events, cruising into December’s exclusive, six-skater Grand Prix Final.

Georgian Morisi Kvitelashvili took second, followed by Japanese Kazuki Tomono.

Two other men who came to Moscow with Grand Prix Final hopes — Russian Mikhail Kolyada and Canadian Keegan Messing — struggled in Friday’s short program and could not get onto the podium, placing fourth and fifth. They won’t be at the Final, assuming Chen finishes in the top six at next week’s event in France.

Rostelecom Cup continues later Saturday with the free programs for ice dance, pairs and women, streaming live on NBC Sports Gold.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Ashley Wagner on her future, role as coach