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Katie Ledecky mixes up schedule for her second NCAA Championships

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Katie Ledecky swims in her second NCAA Championships this week. Could it be her last college meet?

Ledecky, a Stanford sophomore, is expected to race in a relay Wednesday and three individual events starting Thursday in Columbus, Ohio. Whether Ledecky turns pro after the NCAA season-ending meet has not been discussed, according to Stanford.

“I don’t have a strong feeling about it [whether she should turn pro] one way or the other,” said NBC Olympics analyst Rowdy Gaines, who will call the meet on Friday and Saturday for ESPNU and ESPN3. “I’m not one of those saying she has to stay in school, that it’s ridiculous to turn pro. But I’m not the one that says she should turn pro, and it’s not going to be a bad thing. She’s going to be great no matter what.”

Ledecky did no interviews leading into NCAAs, according to Stanford. The Cardinal are favored to repeat as team champion.

Missy Franklin, after winning four gold medals at the 2012 Olympics and six at the 2013 Worlds, turned pro after her sophomore season at Cal-Berkeley. But Franklin’s sophomore campaign ended one year before the Rio Olympics, while Ledecky has two years until the Tokyo Games.

Ledecky is one of a host of stars at this week’s meet, joined by co-Olympic 100m free champion Simone Manuel (Stanford), Olympic 100m breaststroke champ Lilly King (Indiana) and Olympic 100m backstroke silver medalist Kathleen Baker (Cal-Berkeley).

OhioStateBuckeyes.com will live stream finals Wednesday and Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. ESPNU and ESPN3 have coverage Friday and Saturday. A full schedule is here.

Ledecky is expected to race the 800-yard freestyle relay on Wednesday before starting her individual slate with the 500-yard free on Thursday, the 400-yard individual medley on Friday and the 1,650-yard freestyle on Saturday.

NCAA meets are contested in 25-yard pools versus 50-meter pools at major international meets like the Olympics and world championships.

As a freshman, Ledecky swept the 200-, 500-, and 1,650-yard frees, albeit tying for the title in the 200 with Mallory Comerford.

Ledecky’s schedule is different this week, swapping the 200 free for the 400 IM as her Friday event.

Ledecky swept the pair in the same evening at the Pac-12 Championships last month, clocking the fastest time this season in the 200 free and the fastest time ever in the 400 IM. Franklin’s record in the 200 free from 2015 — 1:39.10 — is more than a second faster than anyone else in history.

Swimmers can enter no more than three individual events at championship meets. Ledecky didn’t contest the 1,650 free at Pac-12s, so when she added it for NCAAs (as she did last year) it meant she had to drop one of the 200 free and 400 IM.

“If I know [Stanford coach] Greg [Meehan], he probably would have left that [decision] up to Katie, especially after Pac-12s,” Gaines said. “Why not do something that she’s the best in history?”

Gaines doesn’t believe the decision could lead to Ledecky focusing any more on the 400m IM on the international level. Ledecky has never contested it at a U.S. Championships or an Olympics, worlds or at the Pan Pacific Championships, which is this year’s major meet in Tokyo in late August.

“I think this is kind of a yards thing, a little bit of variety,” for college swimming, Gaines said.

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Jessie Diggins, inspired by Body Issue, shares eating disorder battle

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Jessie Diggins hopes to open a conversation about body image after appearing in ESPN the Magazine‘s “Body Issue.” The Olympic gold medalist detailed her own experience with an eating disorder as a teenager in what she called “the most important blog I’ll ever write.”

“When I was 18-19 years old, I had everything in the world going for me, but I struggled with confidence and didn’t love myself,” Diggins, now 26, wrote on her website. “I suffered from an eating disorder, and eventually sought help at a treatment center, checking in for a summer program that saved my life. So when I was approached about the ESPN issue, I thought “is this REALLY something I want to do? Will it bring back old memories? Will I be ok with everyone seeing my body exactly as it is?”

Diggins is remembered for winning the first U.S. Olympic cross-country skiing title with Kikkan Randall in PyeongChang (Here comes Diggins!). In the cross-country world, she’s also reputed for her bubbly presence, spreading glitter across her face and sharing it with fellow skiers before races.

She wants to be associated with much more.

“I want to be known not for going through an eating disorder, but for helping other women and men speak up when they need help and not feel judged for needing a friend to talk it through with,” Diggins wrote. “Statistically speaking, at least 6% of you reading this right now are struggling with disordered eating in some way. So to those of you for whom it feels like the end of the world, I can say this: it can, and it does, get better. I know, because I lived it. It will take more courage than most anything else in your life, but you can get better. And it’s worth it.”

Years before becoming a medal-winning athlete, Diggins checked into The Emily Program, a national leader for eating disorder treatment.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but also the most important,” she wrote. “Because it saved my life, in every way that a life can be saved. I learned that I was struggling with this so much because I needed an outlet for stress, and that it was ok to feel a range of emotions – that I could survive feeling pressured, stressed, unhappy, sad, or angry as well as feeling happy-go-lucky.”

Diggins called posing for the Body Issue “a full-circle moment.” ESPN says the Body Issue celebrates every shape and size of athletes in artful fashion.

“[It’s] a chance for me to use a large stage to waltz right up to the microphone and share a message that I think is extremely important, and long overdue,” Diggins wrote. “We need to open up the conversation about body image, self confidence, and disordered eating. It should not be a shameful thing, or a taboo topic. It’s more prevalent than people think, and perhaps making help easier to find and less difficult to ask for could save some lives.”

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Darya Domracheva, triple Olympic gold medalist in Sochi, retires

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Darya Domracheva, a triple 2014 Olympic gold medalist and Belarus’ most decorated Olympian, has retired from biathlon at age 31.

Domracheva is leaving the sport because she could not continue in biathlon while raising daughter Xenia with husband Ole Einar Bjørndalen, the 13-time Olympic medalist biathlete for Norway.

“All the time after the season, I was trying to find a compromise which would allow me to raise a child and combine with a professional career at the same time,” Domracheva said, according to the International Biathlon Union (IBU). “Unfortunately I did not find an optimal solution which would allow me to combine those two important life parts. This decision is well weighted and very tough, but I finish my sports career.”

Domracheva was one of the biggest stars of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games as the only athlete to claim three individual gold medals, four years after being put on a Belarus postage stamp for earning an individual bronze. Domracheva could have competed for Russia, having been born in Minsk but raised in the remote western Siberia oil boom town of Nyagan, the birthplace of Maria Sharapova.

She became Belarus’ first female Olympic champion, saying she was “the hope of” Belarus, then was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, “Hero of Belarus.”

After winning her only World Cup overall title in 2015, Domracheva missed the 2015-16 campaign with glandular fever, then in April 2016 announced she and Bjørndalen were in a relationship and having a child.

Domracheva returned to take a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships, then entered PyeongChang ranked fifth in the world. Domracheva struggled early in PyeongChang with finishes of ninth, 37th and 27th before earning mass start silver and relay gold.

Her six career Olympic medals are two more than anybody else from Belarus, and her four golds are double anybody else’s total from her country.

Belarus has only competed independently since the 1994 Lillehammer Games, having previously been part of the Soviet Union. Its top athletes who competed under other flags included gymnasts Olga Korbut (six medals, four golds for the Soviets) and Vitaly Scherbo (six golds in 1992 for the Unified Team; four bronzes in 1996 for Belarus).

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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