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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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”