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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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Olympic 400m champion, announces pregnancy

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Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo, the two-time reigning Olympic 400m champion, announced she is pregnant with her first child.

“New Year, New Blessing,” she posted on social media with husband Maicel Uibo, the 2019 World Championships silver medalist in the decathlon for Estonia. “We can’t wait to meet our little bundle of joy.”

Miller-Uibo, 28, followed her repeat Olympic title in Tokyo by winning her first world indoor and outdoor titles last year.

Also last year, Miller-Uibo said she planned to drop the 400m and focus on the 200m going into the 2024 Paris Games rather than possibly bid to become the first woman to win the same individual Olympic running event three times.

She has plenty of experience in the 200m, making her world championships debut in that event in 2013 and placing fourth. She earned 200m bronze at the 2017 Worlds, was the world’s fastest woman in the event in 2019 and petitioned for a Tokyo Olympic schedule change to make a 200m-400m double easier. The petition was unsuccessful.

She did both races anyway, finishing last in the 200m final, 1.7 seconds behind the penultimate finisher on the same day of the 400m first round.

She did not race the 200m at last July’s worlds, where the 200m and 400m overlapped.

Notable moms to win individual Olympic sprint titles include American Wilma Rudolph, who swept the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at the 1960 Rome Olympics two years after having daughter Yolanda.

And Dutchwoman Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won four gold medals at the 1948 London Olympics, when the mother of two also held world records in the high jump and long jump, two events in which she didn’t compete at those Games.

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