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Where does Katie Ledecky go from here?

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RIO DE JANEIRO – Katie Ledecky met all of her goals. It’s time to set new ones.

Ledecky, after winning her fourth gold medal and breaking her second world record of these Games in her finale, the 800m freestyle, started looking ahead.

New goals? Not yet decided.

When? She’ll see once she gets settled in at Stanford later this summer. Ledecky has not turned professional and plans to swim at least one NCAA season.

She will leave her coach of the last three years, Bruce Gemmell, and train under Stanford coach Greg Meehan, who guided Simone Manuel and Maya DiRado to golds the last two days.

“I’ll know we’ll set some team goals, which will be probably more important than my individual goals for the next year,” she said.

And those individual goals?

“Whether that’s goals for one year or for the whole four years, we’ll see, but it’s important to take things one step at a time,” she said.

In 2013, Ledecky and her coach, Bruce Gemmell, decided on three goals for the rest of the Rio Olympic cycle – to go 3:56 in the 400m freestyle, 8:05 in the 800m freestyle and simply get her hand on the wall first in the 200m freestyle in Rio. They kept them a secret until this week.

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Ledecky met all of them, completing a dominant quad that has included 18 major international meet gold medals, 13 long-course meters world records and the title of face of the U.S. swim team, now that Michael Phelps is retiring.

Ledecky, true to herself, balked at the idea that she could fill the shoes of Phelps.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 07: Gold medalist Katie Ledecky of the United States poses during the medal ceremony for the Women's 400m Freestyle Final on Day 2 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 7, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
(Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

“Collectively, we’ll try and carry that forward,” she said of a U.S. swim team that has bagged 14 golds and 29 total medals with one day of competition left in the pool.

Two golds in the medley relays Saturday will put the U.S. past its 2012 medal output in the pool. Ledecky will probably be cheering from the stands, thinking about flying home next week.

“I’ll have to get all my stuff for my dorm,” Ledecky said. “I’m excited for the next chapter and what that can hold.”

So are swimming fans.

How can Ledecky possibly get better?

“Does that mean times are faster? I’m not sure it does,” Gemmell said as Ledecky passed by in a hallway, sticking her tongue out at him. “She’s been the most dominant female freestyler probably ever. Maybe the most dominant female swimmer over a four-year period, ever. … There can be new challenges. There can be new doors. There can be new opportunities. I guess I just don’t want to get hung on the faster is necessarily better, and if it’s not faster it’s not better.”

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NCAA swimming will come first. And since collegiate meets are held in 25-yard pools, versus 50 meters at the Olympics and world championships, there will be adjustments.

But once Ledecky is back in international competition, there are a few obvious markers on her horizon.

Ledecky’s personal best in the 200m freestyle is 1:53.73. The American record is 1:53.61. The world record is 1:52.98.

Ledecky could also continue to develop her 100m freestyle. She was seventh at the Olympic Trials but split 52.64 in the 4x100m free relay here, which ranked fifth among all swimmers in prelims and the final.

There are other possibilities beyond the freestyle. Maybe they should be considered, since distance freestyles have long been known to favor teens.

In 2020, Ledecky will be older than any previous Olympic or world champion in the women’s 800m freestyle.

“I hope that what she does is kind of broaden her approach,” U.S. head women’s coach David Marsh said. “She can be a heck of a 400m IMer, 200m flyer. She can be a lot of things.”

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Gemmell said he and Ledecky were never serious about the 400m individual medley, despite dropping 22 seconds off her personal best in the last three years. Ledecky rarely swims it in competition but ranked seventh in the U.S. this year.

“We had the 400m, 800m, 200m [freestyle] goals,” Gemmell said. “The rest of the stuff was just peripheral distraction [he later corrected “distraction” to “variation”], something to do on off-days.”

katie ledecky 400 free
(Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Marsh shared a meal with Ledecky and her parents the other day and stressed one goal Ledecky should have outside the pool in the next several weeks.

“Try to meet people that aren’t swimmers, because Stanford is a school that you’ll meet incredible people who will influence your life,” said Marsh, who formerly coached Auburn. “They won’t all be on the swim team.”

The toughest part of what lies ahead in Palo Alto?

“Not training with boys,” Gemmell said. “I think that will be a huge. Coaches are creative. Greg will figure it out. But that’s what she’s done. That’s what’s challenging. That’s what’s driven her. Somebody said to me, maybe at Olympic Trials. They said Katie’s secret weapon is Andrew, my son [a 2012 Olympian]. There’s a lot of truth to that.”

Even the long-term future was discussed separately by Ledecky and Gemmell on Friday, after they shared tears in their first meeting following the 800m free.

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Ledecky was asked if she could fathom what 35-year-old teammate Anthony Ervin did, winning 50m free gold medals 16 years apart.

“That’s like winning an individual gold medal in 2028, that’s insane to think about,” said Ledecky, who won her first gold in the 800m free at London 2012 as the youngest member of the entire U.S. delegation. “I’ll be happy if I’m even still swimming at that point.”

Gemmell thought ahead to the 2030s.

“I hope 20 years from now somebody else is doing something close and somebody’s picking up the phone and calling me,” he said. “They’re jogging my memory about 20 years ago, and I’m trying to recall and say what I remember because some little girl who probably wasn’t born yet is watching it on TV or something and is wanting to be Katie Ledecky.”

As Cullen Jones leaves Olympic-level competition, his mission is amplified

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Cullen Jones‘ impact on his sport shone again in late May, despite competition being shut down since March and swimmers at all levels kept out of pools due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Jones, motivated by a message from 2012 Olympic teammate Lia Neal, created a group text chat among 10 to 20 Black swimmers sparked by the killing of George Floyd. The topic: How can we make our voices heard?

That kind of get-together was impossible during Jones’ ascent more than a decade ago. He was the first Black swimmer to hold a world record and the only Black swimmer on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team.

The U.S. swim team at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 could include multiple Black swimmers for both genders for the first time.

Jones, a 36-year-old Olympic gold and silver medalist (two of each color), will not be one of them. He recently announced retirement from the highest level of swimming. The last member of the epic Beijing 4x100m freestyle relay to bow out.

His legacy includes not only records and medals, but also role model status for countless young swimmers. And the face of USA Swimming’s “Make a Splash” program, barnstorming the last 12 years to help teach kids how to swim, particularly in underserved communities.

Jones is not finished working toward equality outside of the competition pool.

“George Floyd’s death is a catalyst for me,” Jones said in a June interview. “Just emboldens me to do more.”

Jones decided to speak out about discrimination, sharing stories of racism that he’s faced since becoming a swimmer after nearly drowning as a child. He filmed social media videos, joined a webinar series started by Jacob Pebley and Neal and contacted longtime sponsor Speedo.

“I always kept it very corporate,” Jones said. “I was always very neutral. You would never see me hanging out with my friends drinking, because I worked with kids. That wasn’t the image that I really wanted to put out there. When it came to my political ideals, I never really put it out there because I wanted my platform to be very straightforward, clean cut so that when companies want to align with me they know they’re aligning with a safe brand.

“But, after George Floyd’s death, I was of course enraged and upset.”

Jones and other Black swimmers helped USA Swimming recraft a June 1 statement condemning racism. On June 12, USA Swimming published a new statement, acknowledging that the sport, like society, fostered systemic racism. It detailed four short-term steps the organization would take.

Jones said “Make a Splash” was already in the process of restructuring before the pandemic. Now, he wants to be sure the tour hits the neighborhoods that most need it, such as the South Side of Chicago and Memphis.

More than 30 U.S. Olympic, Paralympic and national teamers came together to educate the swimming community on what Black Lives Matter means and to raise money for charities that support Black communities. Jones urged contributions to the Innocence Project to help exonerate the wrongfully convicted and reform the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.

“Many times we’re expected to be athlete first, and then Black second,” Jones said on a webinar with Neal and two-time Olympic 50m freestyle gold medalist Anthony Ervin titled “Swimmers for Change.” (Neal and Ervin each have one African-American parent. Ervin’s dad is three quarters African American and one quarter Native American.)

We need to keep our mouths open about things that are going on because we are the faces of what USA Swimming is in diversity,” Jones continued. “We need to make sure that these young people, as they’re coming up, they understand that they can look to us.”

Jones was born in the Bronx and moved to Irvington, N.J., as a kid. “Crips and the Bloods, gun shots, everything, that’s what I grew up around,” he said. “I leave my house, and I don’t wear certain colors because I don’t want one side to get upset.”

Jones, at “Make a Splash” stops, told families his swimming story. At age 5, he nearly drowned coming off a slide at Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom in Allentown, Pa.

“It can take as little as 20 seconds for a kid to drown,” Jones, whose best event, the 50m freestyle, is a 21-second splash and dash without taking a breath, wrote in The Players’ Tribune in 2015. “I was under water for 30 seconds.”

Jones was rescued by a lifeguard and resuscitated with CPR. “The first thing out of my mouth was, ‘What’s the next ride we’re getting on?'” Jones wrote. “My mom’s first words were, ‘We’re gonna get you swim lessons.'”

By 8, Jones began a competitive swim career that lasted nearly three decades.

At 15 years old, the mom of a swimmer that he finally defeated said, “Shouldn’t he be playing basketball?”

“I was not instructed to speak out at the time,” Jones said. “I was instructed to work harder and not let anyone get in my way. That determination is what led me to the podium at the Olympic Games.”

Jones carried that memory through college at NC State, where he regularly heard boos after winning races at dual meets in his senior season in 2006.

Then a few years ago, as an Olympic champion professional, Jones was pulled over by a police officer. He was told to pop the trunk. The officer didn’t have a warrant, but Jones complied. Inside of it were some fins, paddles, a kickboard, swimsuits and copies of Jones’ autographed card that he distributes.

“The guy looks, and he goes, oh, you’re that Black swimmer that went to the Olympics. OK, well you have a good day. Took off,” Jones said. “There’s so many different ways that this still happens today.”

The night after Floyd’s death, Jones was walking Vinny, his family’s French Bulldog, around 10 p.m. outside his South Carolina house in what he describes as a nice neighborhood.

He saw a police car go past, stop at an intersection, turn around and drive up to him. The officer rolled down his window and asked Jones if everything was OK. Yes, Jones told him. The officer asked how old Vinny was (six years). They made small talk about each owning dogs. Then the officer told him once more he wanted to make sure everything was OK and drove away.

“If I wasn’t 6-foot-5, muscular and Black, I don’t know that you would have necessarily turned around. You definitely wouldn’t have asked me twice if everything was OK by me walking my dog,” Jones said in recalling the interaction. “I had to verbally disarm him by telling my vast — not so vast — knowledge of dogs so that he would feel comfortable with me, even though he’s the one with the gun. And I’m going to have to teach my child [11-month-old Ayvn] how to do that.”

Jones became visible to the nation as part of the 2008 U.S. Olympic 4x100m freestyle relay that won in Beijing, anchored by Jason Lezak‘s fastest split in history to overtake the French.

Jones earned the fourth and final spot on the team with the fastest split in the preliminary heat the night before. (That same night was one of Jones’ favorite memories: meeting the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team and LeBron James quipping, “Oh, snap, you got a brother on the team?”).

After Jones completed the third leg of the morning final, he was so exhausted that he said he “was blacking out.” Jones made what he called “an idiot move” and swam to the side of the pool to exit — traditionally done after individual races — rather than lift himself out right there at the wall.

When Lezak out-touched Alain Bernard, Jones was still on his way back to join the first two U.S. swimmers, Michael Phelps and Garrett Weber-Gale, behind the starting block. So Jones wasn’t in the immediate celebration photos and video that spread across the world.

But he was the only one to make the media rounds throughout the rest of the day because he didn’t have any more races left at the Games.

He estimated he did 13 hours of media that day. Jones returned to the Athletes’ village around 2 the next morning. He never cooled down after his swim. He was speechless after so many interviews when he entered his room, which he shared with close friend Ryan Lochte. (Lochte greeted Jones by jumping on his back, and even crying a little bit.)

Soon after, Jones received two phone calls that also changed his life. One, from a friend who told Jones, “Do you know what you just did? Tiger. Venus and Serena. That’s what you just did.”

Another, from the USA Swimming Foundation. Jones was told that drowning was the second-leading cause of accidental death in America. That 70 percent of African-American children can’t swim. That swim lessons could reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent for children ages 1-4.

He became a leader for “Make a Splash,” which started in 2007. The tour took off after his involvement following the Beijing Olympics. Four millions kids have received swim lessons through the program and its local partners.

“I don’t think there’s any question, at least up to date now, that Cullen has certainly made the biggest impact on the African-American community and the Black community in general in the sport of swimming,” said Olympic champion and NBC Sports analyst Rowdy Gaines, who estimated he has traveled with Jones for more than 50 “Make a Splash” stops. “There are trailblazers, but nobody has made the overall impact of Cullen.

“We’ll look back on this — hopefully 20 or 30 years from now — he’ll be sort of our Jesse Owens and have had that kind of impact.”

Jones’ peers can attest.

Simone Manuel became the first Black female swimmer to win an Olympic title for the U.S. in Rio. In her famous, tearful interview after the 100m freestyle, Manuel said the gold medal was not just for her, but for those who inspired her. She named Maritza Correia, the first Black woman on a U.S. Olympic swim team in 2004, and Jones.

Jack LeVant, a rising Stanford junior and 2019 World Championships team member, remembers sitting around the TV with his family back in 2008 to watch the relay. He was 8 years old.

“Cullen, undoubtedly, has been my biggest role model in the sport,” LeVant said. “It was so awesome to see someone who looked like me doing the things that I wanted to do one day.”

Which made an interaction between LeVant and Jones in 2017 so meaningful. Jones, in what turned out to be his last major meet, missed the world championships team by .02 of a second in the 50m free. LeVant, then 17, saw his idol on the pool deck.

“I was devastated for him,” LeVant said. “As he was walking by, I was like, yo, great job, Cullen, we all love you man. He stopped and he shook my hand. He looked me right in the eye and thanked me for saying that.”

Reece Whitley, a rising junior at Cal, remembered his first time meeting Olympians at a childhood swim meet. He was not there to compete. But his mom thought it would be a great idea for Whitley to see two Olympians who were there: Brendan Hansen (a Pennsylvania breaststroker like Whitley) and Jones. A decade later, Whitley, as a high school senior, was an instructor at a “Make a Splash” stop with Missy Franklin, Gaines and Jones.

“A lot of professional swimmers, once they get to their later 30s and early 40s, and once they have a kid and start a family, they kind of leave the sport, but Cullen clearly has a mission that I stand behind, and he’s going to stick with it until everything is right,” Whitley said.

Jones’ devotion to “Make a Splash” was so ardent that Neal believes it cost him in competition.

“He was traveling so much for ‘Make A Splash’ one year leading up to trials,” she said. “He wasn’t able to reach his potential that summer of making whatever team that was because he also dedicated so much of himself to advocating for water safety.”

In a way, the coronavirus pandemic is affecting Jones’ original mission.

“This kind of puts a halt on all the kids that could have learned how to swim this summer because these public pools are being shut down,” Neal said, “but then when you have private pools still opening, that attracts more predominantly white families and kids, and they’re still on track to learn how to swim.”

Jones said that, at last check a few years ago, the amount of African-American children who couldn’t swim dropped to 64 percent, from 70 percent when he partnered with “Make a Splash” in 2008.

There were similar improvements for Latin American and white children. Jones attributed the success at least partially to swimming’s popularity — “the Michael Phelps phenomenon.”

“At the same time, you had this water safety prevention initiative that was there, screaming, i.e. me, that it’s important to get kids to learn how to swim,” he said. “So to see those numbers drop in my lifetime, I did not even expect that, let alone to see it in about eight years.”

The USA Swimming Foundation told a story from 2010, when “Make a Splash” stopped in Shreveport, La., three months after six Black teenagers drowned in the Red River.

The foundation reported that six kids total showed up for the swim clinic with Jones, all terrified.

“I got out of the pool,” Jones said after eventually getting all six into the water, according to the foundation. “I went into the bathroom, and I just started crying. I thought, ‘I get it. This is what I need to be doing.'”

MORE: Jason Lezak’s memories of Beijing Olympic relay

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World Alpine Skiing Championships on for 2021 after request to delay rejected

Alpine Skiing World Championships
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GENEVA (AP) — A request by the organizers of next year’s skiing world championships in Italy to postpone the event by one year was rejected Thursday by the International Ski Federation.

FIS ruled that the event will go ahead from Feb. 9-21, 2021, in Cortina d’Ampezzo — the highlight of an Alpine season that faces challenges to find safe protocols for international travel and attending races in Europe, North America and China.

The Veneto region of northern Italy was hit hard by the coronavirus and the season-ending World Cup races in Cortina in mid-March were canceled. That week-long event was to be a test for the 2021 worlds.

“The last month of efforts to come to this solution demonstrates the strong collaborative spirit of the ski family and stakeholders.” FIS president Gian-Franco Kasper said.

Organizers in Italy have said they expect losses of about 30 million euros ($34 million) if the worlds are also canceled. They asked for a postponement to March 2022, which would be only weeks after the Beijing Olympics.

“But we will be ready in any case and we will show that these world championships can change the history of a region despite the current difficulties,” Alessandro Benetton, president of the Cortina organizing committee, said in a statement.

Italian racer Sofia Goggia, the 2018 Olympic downhill champion, said she was “happy for Cortina because it will host the first major international event after the coronavirus epidemic.”

Cortina, which hosted the 1956 Olympics, will co-host the 2026 Winter Games with Milan and use the worlds as a showcase for the resort.

The women’s World Cup downhill on the Olympia delle Tofane course each January is one of the most scenic in the sport with a signature jump between tall outcrops of jagged rock.

The Dolomites venue was awarded the 2021 worlds by FIS after missing out as a candidate four straight times from 2013-19.

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