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Katie Ledecky swims to AP Female Athlete of the Year honors

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Katie Ledecky got her start in swimming because she just wanted to make friends. Her brother was eager to join a team at a pool near their house and as a 6-year-old, she tagged along.

By summer’s end, the Ledecky siblings had made 100 friends ranging in age from 6 to 18. Some of them remain good friends with Katie, who went on to become the world’s best swimmer in the post-Michael Phelps era.

She earned five golds and a silver at this year’s world championships in Budapest, maintaining the upward trajectory she first established as a surprise gold medalist at the 2012 London Olympics.

Her dominant performance in Hungary earned Ledecky Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year honors.

In balloting by U.S. editors and news directors announced Tuesday, Ledecky received 351 points, edging out Serena Williams with 343. Williams won the Australian Open for her Open era-record 23rd Grand Slam tennis title. Olympic track star Allyson Felix finished third in voting, with 248 points.

Last year, Ledecky was second to gymnast Simone Biles in the balloting.

The AP Male Athlete of the Year will be announced Wednesday.

MORE: Ledecky earns USOC’s Athlete of the Year honors

Ledecky is the eighth female swimmer to win and the first since Amy Van Dyken in 1996. Among the others is 1969 winner Debbie Meyer. At last year’s Rio de Janeiro Games, Ledecky equaled Meyer’s feat of sweeping the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles in a single Olympics.

“It’s a really great history of women swimmers and freestylers,” Ledecky said of the AP honor roll. “I really look up to a lot of those women.”

She is the first active college athlete to win since UConn basketball player Rebecca Lobo in 1995.

Ledecky is a sophomore at Stanford, still debating whether to major in psychology or political science, and enjoying life in the dorms, where she lives with five other swimmers.

“Just being in the college environment has kind of added another layer of fun,” she said. “Being with teammates and working toward NCAA championships and having that team goal, that’s another thing that is fun.”

Ledecky heads to Colorado Springs, Colorado, for high-altitude training with her Stanford team this week. Her focus is on the collegiate season through the NCAAs in March.

MORE: Rising star says she’s getting closer to Ledecky

In moving cross-country from her home in Bethesda, Maryland, to attend college in California, Ledecky left behind longtime coach Bruce Gemmell. But like some of those old summer league teammates, Ledecky has stayed in touch. She trains with Gemmell when she returns to visit her family.

She was a star to them in 2012 but a little-known 15-year-old to the rest of the world when she won the 800-meter freestyle in world-record time in London.

In 2013, Ledecky won four golds at the worlds in Barcelona, setting a pair of world records. Two years later in Kazan, she swept every freestyle from 200 to 1,500 meters, setting two more world records. Another two world records fell last year in Rio.

In her typically understated way, Ledecky said: “I really pride myself on the consistency I’ve had over the past couple years. Just being able to compete at the international level and come away with some gold medals each year.”

Ledecky didn’t set any personal bests or world records in Budapest, something she’s done with such frequency that people expect to witness something spectacular anytime she dives in the pool.

Her loss in the 200 free in Hungary was considered an upset.

“If they’re disappointed with me not breaking a world record, it’s an honor because it’s representative of what I’ve done in the past and a benchmark for myself,” she said. “I don’t focus on what anyone thinks of my goals or wants to see me do.”

Not yet halfway toward the 2020 Tokyo Games, Ledecky already is thinking ahead. Like Phelps, she never publicly reveals her target times or placements.

“I set big goals for myself and that’s always what has motivated me,” she said.

Despite living in a results-focused world, Ledecky enjoys the journey, something she learned between London and Rio.

“Trying to find those little things to improve on and the process of getting better,” she said. “Doing everything in practice to set yourself up well each year.”

Her sunny smile and friendly demeanor belie the competitor who is always plotting ahead and moving forward ever faster.

“I know the four years goes by very quickly,” Ledecky said, “and I want to do everything I can to prepare.”

MORE: Ledecky, Dressel lead Golden Goggles winners

Matthew Centrowitz redeems, Jenny Simpson upset at USATF Outdoors

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Matthew Centrowitz never doubted — and, based on post-race comments, other top American milers didn’t, either — but after a dreadful year that followed his Olympic breakthrough, and moving across the country, his fifth national title had unique significance.

“Satisfaction out there,” Centrowitz told Lewis Johnson on NBC after winning the 1500m at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. “A little sense of relief, get back on top.

“I wouldn’t say it was my best race since the Olympics, but it was a step in the right direction.”

Centrowitz regained best American miler status 55 minutes after Jenny Simpson‘s run of four straight 1500m titles ended in Des Moines on Saturday.

Centrowitz, who in Rio became the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champion in 108 years, won in typical fashion, moving toward the front on a 57-second penultimate lap and outkicking the field on the home stretch.

He crossed in 3:43.37, just .04 faster than his runner-up time a year ago and a comfortable .26 ahead of Izaik Yorks. Centrowitz, whose past celebrations included odes to Cam Newton and J.R. Smith, this time held his right hand to his ear to mimic a phone.

“I was calling 911,” Centrowitz said, “report a murder.”

It marked Centrowitz’s first win on this kind of stage since Rio. Last year, Centrowitz was unable to get more than two straight weeks of healthy training all season due in part to adductor issues and an ER visit with a viral infection. It showed at nationals, where Olympic teammate Robby Andrews beat him. It was clearer at worlds, where a listless Centrowitz finished last in his first-round heat.

Centrowitz announced in January he relocated from Portland, Ore., to work with his dad, a former competitive runner, in the D.C. area but would still be coached from long distance by Alberto Salazar. Then at the Pre Classic last month, Centrowitz was not the top finishing American in the Bowerman Mile for the first time since 2013 (though he missed the meet in 2016 and 2017).

Didn’t matter Saturday. Other U.S. milers still deferred.

“When you get into these big races with Matt, it’s like when you get into a big race with [four-time Olympic gold medalist] Mo [Farah], these guys, you kind of let them do things that you wouldn’t let someone you know you’re better than get away with,” third-place finisher and Nike Oregon Project teammate Eric Jenkins said. “They do what they want. They get into position. They take what they want. It comes with being as good as they are.”

Andrews, bounced in the first round Thursday, texted Centrowitz congratulations. Centrowitz is now one U.S. title shy of Steve Scott‘s post-World War II record. That’s on his mind.

“At this point in my career, I want to keep checking off boxes to leave my mark in the 1500m in the U.S,” said Centrowitz, who personal best from 2015 of 3:30.40 makes him the third-fastest American all time behind Bernard Lagat and Sydney Maree.

With no world championships or Olympics this season, Centrowitz still has motivation. He would like to win a Diamond League race (no U.S. man has done so in the 1500m) and finish the year ranked No. 1 in the country.

“My dad always calls it the three Hs,” Centrowitz said. “I’ve got to be happy, healthy and hungry. …. Relatively speaking, I’ve been healthy since Jan. 1, and I was hungrier than ever today.”

USATF Outdoors conclude Sunday on NBC (4-6 p.m. ET) and NBC Sports Gold (12:30-6 p.m.), highlighted by 200m, 5000m and 110m hurdles finals.

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Results | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

Simpson, the Olympic bronze medalist, was beaten by Olympic 5000m runner Shelby Houlihan for the second time this season. The Sioux City native Houlihan surged past Simpson on the final straight, just as she did at the Pre Classic last month.

“I’m totally bummed, but I guess I have a lot of practice at losing as well as winning,” Simpson told media in Des Moines. “It felt a little weird being at U.S. Championships and getting outkicked.”

Houlihan won in 4:05.48, .73 ahead of runner-up Simpson.

“I feel like she’s way ahead of me,” Houlihan said of Simpson. “She’s someone I’ve looked up to since high school.”

In other events, Deanna Price took the American record back from Gwen Berry with a 78.12-meter hammer throw, the best in the world this year.

Shakima Wimbley and Kahmari Montgomery won their first U.S. titles in the 400m.

Wimbley prevailed in 49.52, lowering her personal best by .66, tying the fastest time in the world this year and torching a field lacking the last two world champions, Phyllis Francis and Allyson Felix. Wimbley showed promise at the Pre Classic last month, finishing third behind Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Francis.

Montgomery clocked 44.58 to win, two weeks after finishing seventh at the NCAA Championships for the University of Houston. The men’s field lacked 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt and Michael Norman, the fastest man in the world this year who opted to race the 200m this week.

World-record holder Kendra Harrison repeated as 100m hurdles champion. Harrison clocked 12.46, off of her world record of 12.20. Olympic champion Brianna McNeal, who beat Harrison in Shanghai on May 12, was not in the field.

World gold and silver medalists Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs went one-two in the 3000m steeplechase. Coburn, the Olympic bronze medalist, earned her seventh national title in eight years by clocking 9:17.70. She pulled away from Frerichs on the last lap to win by .99. Nobody else finished within 15 seconds.

“[Frerichs] gave me a run for my money,” Coburn, who has been beaten by a countrywoman once in eight years, said on NBC. “This is going to be a battle that’s worth watching for years to come.”

In the pole vault, Olympic bronze medalist and world champion Sam Kendricks cleared 5.85 meters for his fifth straight U.S. title.

Vashti Cunningham repeated as high jump champion by clearing 1.95 meters. Cunningham, whose father and coach is retired NFL All-Pro quarterback Randall Cunningham, was 13th at the Olympics and 10th at the world championships.

Darrell Hill upset Olympic champion Ryan Crouser in the shot put, winning with a 21.57-meter throw. Hill improved to 3-17 against Crouser. Crouser came to Des Moines with the top 23 throws by an American this year out of his 24 total legal throws, according to Tilastopaja.org. But on Saturday he had five fouls in six throws. His only legal throw was 20.99 meters for second place.

NCAA runner-up Kenny Selmon won the 400m hurdles from lane eight against a field that lacked Olympic champion Kerron Clement. Selmon clocked 48.21 seconds, three tenths ahead of TJ Holmes, who was fifth at 2017 Worlds.

The favorites advanced to Sunday’s semifinals in the 200m and 110m hurdles, including 400m indoor world-record holder Michael Norman and Olympian Ameer Webb in the 200m and world-record holder Aries Merritt, Olympian Devon Allen and NCAA champion Grant Holloway in the hurdles.

MORE: Lyles, Norman, green teens at Olympic Trials, now stars at USATF Champs

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U.S. Open changes seeding policy for pregnancies

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Serena Williams will learn Wednesday if she is seeded at Wimbledon, while a top U.S. Open official is already reportedly saying its seeds will be revised if a return from pregnancy comes into play, though not naming Williams specifically.

The U.S. Open, the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament of the year in September, would “revise the seedings if pregnancy is a factor in the current rankings of a player,” USTA president and chairwoman Katrina Adams said, according to The New York Times.

Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, was not given one of 32 seeds at the French Open in May, her first Grand Slam since coming back from having daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jron Sept. 1.

Her ranking had fallen to No. 453 due to maternity leave. She could enter the major tournament due to the WTA’s protected ranking rule, but it was up to Grand Slam organizers whether to give her a seed.

Williams reached the semifinals of her last eight U.S. Opens, missing the New York event in 2010 and 2017. She has won it six times. Her current ranking is No. 183.

If Williams neither makes a deep Wimbledon run nor plays plenty of summer hard-court matches, it’s likely the U.S. Open will have to decide whether to give her a seed. It sounds like organizers are prepared to.

“It’s the right thing to do for these mothers that are coming back,” Adams said, according to the report, adding that players should not be “penalized” for starting a family.

Williams reached the fourth round of the French Open in her first Grand Slam since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant (but before the world learned). She withdrew before a round of 16 showdown with Maria Sharapova due to a pectoral muscle injury and has not played in a tournament since.

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