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Katie Ledecky returns to Olympic-size pool with greater focus, big question

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Michael Phelps is retired. Ryan Lochte is suspended. Missy Franklin is recovering from shoulder surgeries.

Katie Ledecky is the clear spotlight swimmer at a Grand Prix-level weekend for the first time in more than three years starting Thursday in Mesa, Ariz.

Or, for the first time ever if you believe Ledecky wasn’t a marquee name by January 2014 (Austin Grand Prix).

NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will air Mesa coverage Thursday, Friday and Saturday, including live streaming finals (nightly at 8 Eastern).

Many Olympic champions are in the field this week, including Simone ManuelAnthony Ervin and Dana Vollmer racing 26 weeks pregnant.

But the three-day focus will be on Ledecky, who will race in an Olympic-size 50-meter pool for the first time since bagging five medals (four gold) at the Rio Games.

She just finished her freshman NCAA season at Stanford, competing in 25-yard pools from November through March and earning the Honda Award as the top female swimmer.

Though Ledecky could turn professional at any time and earn lucrative endorsements, she said she plans to stay amateur for at least one more season in Palo Alto, according to the Washington Post.

Ledecky is entered in six events in Mesa: 100m and 400m freestyles on Thursday; 200m freestyle and 400m individual medley on Friday and the 800m freestyle and 200m individual medley on Saturday.

It’s close to a typical Ledecky slate but intriguing nonetheless given the individual medleys. There is reason to believe Ledecky could race the 400m IM at the U.S. Championships in June and, if she qualifies, perhaps the World Championships in Budapest in July. The schedule is favorable at both meets to add it.

Ledecky has never raced the 400m IM at a major international meet and scratched out of the event on the eve of the Olympic Trials eight months ago. She ranked fifth in the U.S. in the event in 2016 but never raced it fully tapered.

She raced the 400-yard individual medley at the Pac-12 Championships in February and broke the American record (Stanford teammate Ella Eastin later went faster at NCAAs, where Ledecky did not race the 400 IM).

Ledecky’s time was faster than the 400-yard IM personal best of Maya DiRado, who took Olympic 400m IM silver in Rio and then retired.

If Ledecky adds the 400m IM to her worlds schedule, and drops no other events from her last worlds slate, she would swim six events in Budapest. If she is on the 4x100m freestyle relay like she did in Rio, she would swim seven events in Budapest. Unlike Rio, the 4x100m free is on the same day as the 400m free at worlds.

No female swimmer has won seven medals at a single Olympics or world championships.

Only two swimmers of either gender have won five individual medals at a single Olympics or world championships — Shane Gould and Michael Phelps.

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MORE: Ledecky laps all but one swimmer to win NCAA title

World silver medalist opts out of figure skating Grand Prix

Elizabet Tursynbaeva
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Elizabet Tursynbayeva, the 2019 World silver medalist, said she will not compete in figure skating’s upcoming Grand Prix Series, according to Kazakhstan’s Olympic Committee.

Tursynbayeva noted in stating her decision that world ranking points will not be awarded in the series, which starts with Skate America from Oct. 23-25.

Fields for the six Grand Prix events, held on consecutive weekends through November, have not been released.

Skaters will be restricted to one Grand Prix start — halved from the usual two — and to the event in their home nations or closest to their training locations.

Tursynbayeva trains in Russia, one of six nations to host Grand Prix events.

Previously, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu announced he would not compete on the Grand Prix due to coronavirus pandemic-related travel risks.

Russian Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova, who announced an indefinite break from competition last December, is also not expected to compete. She is hosting a Russian skating-themed TV show but has not announced her future competition plans.

Tursynbayeva took silver behind Zagitova at the most recent world championships in 2019, a surprise given her 12th-place finish at the PyeongChang Olympics. Tursynbayeva withdrew before her 2019 Grand Prix events, reportedly after suffering an injury.

Last season’s top skaters were all first-year seniors — Russians Alena Kostornaya, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova. The world championships were not held due to the pandemic.

Two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

MORE: Orser reacts to Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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Serena Williams battles, then rolls into French Open second round

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Serena Williams overcame early struggles, sweeping past countrywoman Kristie Ahn 7-6 (2), 6-0 to reach the French Open second round.

Williams, again eyeing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, started out like somebody who went 16 months between clay-court matches. She needed 74 minutes to take the first set from the 102nd-ranked Ahn, recovering twice after having her serve broken.

She dominated the second set in 27 minutes, advancing to play Bulgarian and fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova, a rematch of their three-set U.S. Open quarterfinal three weeks ago.

Williams, in long sleeves and tights, had 15 winners to 28 unforced errors in the first set in cloudy, sub-60-degree weather on Monday.

“I hate the cold. I’m from L.A. and I live in Florida,” Williams said before the tournament, which was postponed from its usual May/June slot due to the coronavirus pandemic. “For half my life I’ve never seen snow. Cold weather and me do not mix.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Williams also noted before the tournament that she was “not at 100 percent physically” and spent most of her time in France “rehabbing” without giving specifics. She took a medical timeout with a left Achilles injury in her last match, a U.S. Open semifinal loss to Victoria Azarenka,

“I wouldn’t be playing if I didn’t think I could perform,” Williams said Saturday. “I don’t know any athlete that ever plays physically when they’re feeling perfect. That’s just something I think as athletes we have to play with.”

Earlier Monday, newly crowned U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem rolled 2014 U.S. Open winner Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Thiem, the 2018 and 2019 French Open runner-up, next gets American Jack Sock, a former top-10 player now ranked No. 310. Sock took out countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 for his first main draw win at the French Open in four years.

Rafael Nadal begins his quest for a record-extending 13th French Open title and male record-tying 20th Grand Slam singles title later Monday.

The French Open first round concludes Tuesday with top-ranked Novak Djokovic in action.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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