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Ibtihaj Muhammad discusses election, her future

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LOS ANGELES—After failing to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, Ibtihaj Muhammad was singularly focused on qualifying for the 2016 Olympics. Now she has a new date circled on her calendar: November 8.

“I am really looking forward to the [presidential] election,” Muhammad said. “We need a reprieve from all of this trauma.”

This summer Muhammad became the first American to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab, the traditional headscarf worn by Muslim women. The distinction earned significant media attention for Muhammad, who won a fencing team sabre bronze medal in Rio. She appeared on “The Ellen Show,” and was named one of the 100 most influential people for 2016 by TIME Magazine.

She is often asked about Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee who has proposed barring all Muslims from entering the United States. Muhammad famously responded “Who?” when reporters peppered her with questions about Trump during the Olympics.

Now that the Rio Games are over, Muhammad is more willing to express her political opinions.

“This is a moment in time where we can reject hate and take a stand as Americans to say this candidate doesn’t represent us,” Muhammad said.

Muhammad was vague when asked if she planned on endorsing a specific presidential candidate, instead encouraging everyone to remember to vote. When pressed, Muhammad revealed that she plans on voting for Hillary Clinton.

“To me, it is very clear which presidential candidate feels more in line with supporting minority communities in this country,” Muhammad said.

Clinton’s campaign sent a congratulatory tweet to Muhammad during the Olympics.

“Having Hillary Clinton, hopefully our next president, acknowledge Muslim women on the United States Olympic team is a wonderful moment not just for me, but for all of us,” Muhammad said. “It shows that we are a country of inclusion, acceptance and diversity.”

Muhammad has maintained a whirlwind travel schedule since the Rio Games, making speaking appearances and promoting her clothing line, Louella, which she describes as “modest, fashion-forward clothing.”

She recently returned to training in preparation for the Grand Prix season, which begins this December in Cancun, and eventually the 2017 World Championships. But she has not committed to attempting to compete at the 2020 Olympics, or even future world championships.

“I’m a firm believer in taking things day by day,” Muhammad said. “I don’t even know my plans for tomorrow.”

Muhammad, who studied international relations at Duke University, has considered eventually running for elected office. She served on the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls Through Sport Initiative, received a shout-out in a February speech from President Barack Obama, and even taught First Lady Michelle Obama how to fence.

“If I can use politics as an avenue to encourage and inspire our youth, why not?” Muhammad said.

Muhammad spoke on a panel at the LA84 Foundation Summit last week. Emcee Julie Foudy, a three-time U.S. Olympic soccer medalist, made Muhammad promise that she would consider running for president one day.

“I can’t wait for Donald Trump to be around to see that,” Foudy said.

MORE: First Lady ‘fences’ with Ibtihaj Muhammad

Katie Ledecky swims fastest at U.S. Open from B final

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For what must have been the first time in seven years, Katie Ledecky failed to qualify for an A final in one of her primary events on Friday morning. No matter, she swam the fastest 200m freestyle at the U.S. Open from the B final at night.

Ledecky, owner of 20 combined Olympic and world titles, clocked 1:56.24 to win the B final by nearly three seconds in Atlanta. In the very next race, American record holder Allison Schmitt touched first in the A final in 1:56.47.

Full results are here. The final day of the meet airs live on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Ledecky has rarely lost domestically in freestyles from 200m through 1500m since she made her first Olympic team at age 15 in 2012.

She kept the streak intact, giving her a sweep of the 200m, 400m and 800m frees in the first three days of the U.S. Open, what could be the deepest domestic meet before the Olympic trials in June.

Internationally, Ledecky faced challengers in the 200m free in this Olympic cycle, unlike the last one. Italian veteran and world-record holder Federica Pellegrini won the last two world titles, with Ledecky missing the event this summer due to her mid-meet illness.

Ledecky ranks seventh in the world in the 200m free this year but likely would have been faster if she was able to race at her best at world champs.

Domestically, Simone Manuel has crept up, clocking 1:56.09 to lead off the 4x200m free relay at worlds to rank second among Americans in 2019. Manuel was the third-fastest American on Friday, recording 1:57.21, her fastest time ever outside of a major summer meet.

In other events Friday, Phoebe Bacon upset world-record holder Regan Smith in the 100m backstroke. Bacon, who like Smith is 17 years old, overtook Smith in the last 25 meters and prevailed by .05 in 58.63. Bacon, while shy of Smith’s world record 57.57, took .39 off her personal best to become the fifth-fastest in the world this year.

Olympic and world champion Lilly King dominated the 100m breaststroke, beating a strong field by .62 of a second in 1:05.65.

Chase Kalisz won a potential Olympic trials preview in the 400m individual medley in 4:13.07. Kalisz, the Rio silver medalist, held off 18-year-old Carson Foster by 1.69 seconds. Ryan Lochte, the 2012 Olympic champion in the event, was fifth, 6.65 seconds behind.

Rio Olympian Townley Haas won the men’s 200m free in 1:45.92, his fastest time since August 2018. Haas, the 2017 World silver medalist, improved to the second-fastest American in the event this year behind Andrew Seliskar.

Torri Huske won the 100m butterfly on the eve of her 17th birthday. Huske clocked 57.48, taking .23 off her personal best to move from sixth fastest to third fastest in the U.S. this year.

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Ester Ledecka stuns again, wins World Cup downhill from bib No. 26

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Consider 26 a lucky number for Ester Ledecka.

Ledecka, the snowboard champion who stunningly captured the PyeongChang Olympic super-G from bib No. 26, won her first World Cup ski race on Friday — also from bib No. 26.

Ledecka was fastest in a downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta.

She kept Swiss Corinne Suter from her first World Cup win by .35 of a second. Austrian Stephanie Venier was third. Mikaela Shiffrin was 10th in her weakest discipline. Full results are here.

“I am for sure more shocked than everybody here,” Ledecka said. “I was a little bit, not disappointed about the run, but I was not super satisfied. Then I was really surprised about the time.”

Ledecka, an Olympic and world champion in Alpine snowboarding from the Czech Republic, had a previous best Alpine skiing World Cup finish of seventh. The top-ranked racers all go in the top 20 of the start list.

Last season, Ledecka raced more World Cup skiing events than snowboarding events for the first time. She was forced to choose between world championships in skiing and in snowboarding due to schedules and picked the former with a top finish of 15th.

She’s undecided about her upcoming schedule. She could continue on the Alpine skiing tour with a super-G in Switzerland next weekend, or she could fly to Italy for a snowboarding event.

The women race another downhill and a super-G in Lake Louise the next two days. A full TV and live stream schedule for the weekend races is here.

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