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Katie Ledecky swims fastest 400m free of 2017, plans world champs schedule

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Katie Ledecky is using this week’s meet to start building toward the Tokyo Olympics in three years. And to prepare for the pain coming at the world championships in three months.

In her first meet in an Olympic-size pool since the Rio Games, Ledecky won the 400m freestyle in 4:01.01, the fastest time in the world this year by 1.51 seconds, on Thursday.

Full results from the USA Swimming Pro Series at Mesa are here.

It’s the fastest time ever swum in the month of April — and Ledecky’s been coming to this April meet for five years. That’s a strong indicator that Ledecky is on track for the U.S. Championships in June and the world championships in July. She doesn’t seem tired at all from her first NCAA season at Stanford.

“Looking at some technical things, not really worried about time at this meet,” Ledecky said afterward. “Start building those things up for the next four years.”

And for worlds in Budapest.

Ledecky, whose media obligations at Stanford were kept to a minimum, discussed her world championships plans in a nine-minute media session Thursday.

Specifically, Ledecky eyes repeating the same daunting double that made so many headlines at the last worlds in 2015. That would be swimming the 1500m freestyle final, and then the 200m free semifinals somewhere around 30 minutes later.

To prepare for that, Ledecky is swimming the 200m freestyle and the 400m individual medley in Mesa on Friday. Those finals should be separated by about an hour on Friday evening (streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app at 8 ET).

The 400m IM is the most grueling event in swimming outside of the 800m and 1500m frees.

“It’s just to practice,” Ledecky said. “Practice the pain of it.”

Ledecky added that she isn’t really taking the 400m IM seriously as a potential event at the U.S. Championships, the qualifying meet for worlds. Even though Ledecky broke the American record in the 400-yard IM two months ago (it was later re-broken by a Stanford teammate at NCAAs in March, where Ledecky didn’t swim the 400 IM).

So, it appears Ledecky will probably swim the same four individual events at worlds as in 2015. Two years ago, she became the first male or female swimmer to sweep the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees at a single worlds.

Ledecky could try to qualify in the 100m freestyle, but the 100m free and 800m free finals are on the same night at the U.S. Championships in June. Ledecky would have to finish in the top two in the 100m free at nationals, and it is not a strong event for her.

Ledecky finished fourth in the 100m free in Mesa on Thursday, 1.12 seconds behind co-Olympic champion Simone Manuel, a Stanford teammate.

Ledecky and Manuel dueled several times this past season at Stanford. Neither got much of a break after NCAAs last month.

NCAAs finished on a Saturday in Indianapolis, they traveled back to Palo Alto the next day and then trained while taking finals that week. After finals, the Stanford stars traveled to Colorado Springs for 10 days of altitude training before coming to Mesa.

Ledecky reportedly plans to race at least one more season at Stanford, passing up lucrative endorsement opportunities to be eligible for NCAA competition.

She’s enjoying life on campus, from re-learning how to ride a bike to dorm life with three roommates. Ledecky said two of her favorite classes were spirit of democracy and Greek art history. The professor of the latter class follows her swimming and emails her almost daily.

Stanford uses the quarter system, so Ledecky has eight more weeks of classes before her next break.

Ledecky also commented on FINA’s proposal to add many more events for the 2020 Olympics. Of all of the events, Ledecky would most like to see the women’s 1500m free. It’s part of the world championships — Ledecky won it in 2013 and 2015 — but not the Olympic program.

But Ledecky hopes an addition of the 1500m free would not mean a subtraction of another event.

“I don’t think the 800 [free] should be eliminated,” she said. “I think there’s such a great history of the 800m free. To just kind of scratch that, and there have been so many people that have obviously swum the 800m free at the Olympics, I think they deserve the recognition moving forward and looking at the history of it whenever you get in and race that event.”

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Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

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