For Katie Ledecky, starting college means riding a bike

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NEW YORK — Katie Ledecky returned home from Rio and got on her bike.

Stanford prohibits freshmen from having cars on campus. Ledecky, now a five-time Olympic champion, still doesn’t have a driver’s license anyway.

So the college-bound swimmer took her three weeks between the Olympics and move-in to acquaint with life on land on two wheels.

Ledecky spent two years volunteering for Bikes for the World in high school, assembling bikes, but her riding was apparently not as smooth as her freestyle stroke.

In late August, Ledecky could often be seen wheeling at a park down the street from her family’s house in Bethesda, Md.

“I was practicing,” Ledecky said, “because I had no reason to bike back home.”

Stanford is nearly 13 square miles, one of the 10 largest colleges or universities in the country.

In September, Ledecky spent that first week in Palo Alto studying a campus map on her phone before setting out to bike to her destinations.

The first days of freshman year are flooded with introductions. To roommates (Ledecky shares a space with three women who recognized her at first sight at move-in). To teammates. To coaches and staff.

The who’s who proved the biggest challenge of Ledecky’s transition.

“I would always feel really embarrassed when I couldn’t remember their [names], and they could remember mine,” she said Monday at the Golden Goggle awards in Times Square.

Stanford fifth-year coach Greg Meehan said a goal was for Ledecky to settle into “a little anonymity on campus.” That has happened.

“On a day-to-day basis, like no selfies, no autographs, nothing that you guys probably expect,” Ledecky told media on a red carpet Monday night. “Everybody at Stanford is special.”

But nobody quite like Ledecky in the pool.

She has barely dragged in competition, easily breaking NCAA records in the 500-, 1,000- and 1,650-yard freestyles in her first four meets.

On Saturday, Ledecky lost a freestyle final longer than 100 meters for the first time in nearly three years (to close friend, Stanford teammate and fellow Olympic champion Simone Manuel).

The next day, Ledecky won a 1,650-yard race by one minute, snapping her own American record by 10 seconds.

“She’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime athletes,” Meehan said. “You just never know what she’s going to do.”

Meehan recruited Ledecky, who committed to Stanford back in May 2014, but even he wasn’t privy to Ledecky’s closely guarded goal times for the Rio Olympics that she set back in 2013.

“I kind of had an idea, but she never actually shared them,” Meehan said. “I respect that and appreciate that.”

He started to get to know her on a personal level when she joined the team for a preseason training trip to Hawaii in September.

“She lets you in, little by little,” Meehan said. “The more she does, the more it kind of helps me coach her.”

Ledecky said she and Meehan have “an ever-evolving conversation” about her short- and long-term goals. She wouldn’t reveal much, except that the short-term goals are for the NCAA season and, internationally, her focus remains on freestyle events. For now.

On the team, freshmen have chores like carrying towels at practice. Ledecky is handling her shifts well.

“I definitely give her some mess, every now and then, bug with her,” said Manuel, a redshirt sophomore.

Manuel isn’t alone.

“We joke about the fact that she can’t really put her cap on straight,” Meehan said.

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U.S. beats Japan in Olympic baseball qualifier, may still need help

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The U.S. handed Japan its first loss in the Premier12 global Olympic baseball qualifier, at the Tokyo Dome no less, but now the Americans must root for the host nation.

The Americans, with a roster mostly of Double-A and Triple-A players, won 4-3 over a Japanese team that includes some of its domestic league’s biggest stars like two-time Central League MVP Yoshihiro Maru and veteran shortstop Hayato Sakamoto.

Outfielder Jo Adell, MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked prospect on the U.S. team, starred by reaching base four times with a home run.

Japan is already qualified for baseball’s Olympic return as the host nation.

The U.S., meanwhile, has a sense of urgency at Premier12, the first of a possible three tournaments in which it could clinch an Olympic spot.

At Premier12, the top-ranked nation from North and South America qualifies for the Olympics. The tournament is at the super-round stage of the final six teams, and two are from the Americas: the U.S. and Mexico.

The top four nations after each has played five games advance to gold- and bronze-medal games.

Mexico already beat the U.S. and ran its super-round record to 3-0 on Tuesday, clinching a spot in the medal round.

The U.S. moved to 1-2 in the super round on Tuesday and must at least get into the same medal-round game as Mexico to keep its hope of finishing as the top team from the Americas.

Japan could help, since it plays Mexico on Wednesday. If Mexico beats Japan, the Mexicans clinch a spot in the gold-medal game, which would put more pressure on the U.S. to win its last two games (vs. Australia on Wednesday and Chinese Taipei on Friday). Even then, South Korea would get into the gold-medal game if it wins out.

If the U.S. is not the top team from the Americas at Premier12, it can still earn an Olympic berth in March. But then it faces trying to come up with a roster at the end of MLB’s spring training rather than during the offseason. MLB teams may be less inclined to release minor leaguers.

“That’ll be a delicate dance,” U.S. general manager Eric Campbell said before Premier12.

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College gymnast dies after practice accident

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — An accomplished gymnast at Southern Connecticut State University has died following a serious spinal cord injury suffered in a training accident.

Melanie Coleman, 20, of Milford, Connecticut, was training Friday at New Era Gymnastics in Hamden when she was injured, said her mother, Susan Coleman.

She was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital and died Sunday.

Coleman was a former All State gymnast at Jonathan Law High School in Milford and was captain of the school’s gymnastics team. She was named a Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association Scholastic All-American this year.

Her former club coach, Tom Alberti, said she attained a level 10, the highest level in the USA Junior Olympics Program.

She was a junior studying nursing, following in the footsteps of her two older sisters, her mother said.

“She’s from a very large, loving family; there’s seven of us, we were the Coleman seven,” Susan Coleman said. “We spent every day together for the past 20 years.”

She volunteered at the gym where her accident occurred.

Her coaches and professors described her as a special young woman who excelled in both the classroom and gym, college President Joe Berolino said in a written statement.

“Our deepest sympathies are extended to her family and friends on this tragic loss,” he said.

People the family has met by traveling to gymnastics events around the country are giving support that is “holding us up,” Coleman’s mother said.

She described her children, which also include two sons older than Melanie, as “inseparable.”

“We’re going to leave an empty space in our photos for her” from now on, Susan Coleman said.