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Katie Ledecky now 6-for-6 at NCAA Champs with opening relay win

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Stanford sophomore Katie Ledecky remained unblemished in her NCAA Championships career, opening this year’s meet by anchoring the Cardinal to an 800-yard freestyle relay title in Columbus, Ohio, on Wednesday.

The five-time Olympic champion had the second-fastest split of the event as Stanford clocked 6:46.93 to beat runner-up Michigan by 3.1 seconds.

Katie DrabotElla Eastin and Brooke Forde were the first three legs, handing a lead to Ledecky.

Meet results are here.

For the second straight year, Ledecky was outsplit by Louisville’s Mallory Comerford.

Ledecky
2017 NCAA Champs: 1:40.46
2018 NCAA Champs: 1:39.87
Comerford
2017 NCAA Champs: 1:40.21
2018 NCAA Champs: 1:39.14

Ledecky and Comerford went on to race to a tie in the individual 200-yard freestyle last year. That won’t happen this week. Ledecky is entered in the 400-yard individual medley on Friday rather than the 200 free.

Stanford, which last season won its first women’s team title since 1998, is favored to repeat thanks in part to having two of the most decorated female swimmers in NCAA history.

Simone Manuel, a four-time Rio Olympic medalist, reportedly said she will forgo her last year of eligibility next season, making NCAAs her last college meet. This is Manuel’s fourth year at Stanford, but she redshirted the 2015-16 season in preparation for the Olympics.

She went nearly six months between meets from the July 2017 World Championships until mid-January, missing the first three months of the college season due to a hip injury.

No matter, Manuel repeated as Pac-12 champion in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles last month and can repeat as NCAA champion in those events on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

Though Manuel did not swim Wednesday’s relay, she is also the top seed in Friday’s 200 free field with Ledecky’s absence.

Ledecky hasn’t discussed with Stanford whether she will return for her junior season or turn pro, according to the school. Next up for her are individual finals each of the next three days — 500 free, 400 IM and the 1,650 free on Saturday, her 21st birthday.

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Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

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