Katie Ledecky is turning professional, forgoing her final two years of eligibility at Stanford ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Ledecky made the announcement Monday at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington, D.C., near her hometown of Bethesda, Md.
“This gives me some time before 2020 to focus in on really getting all the pieces in place,” said Ledecky, adding that she will continue to train and study at Stanford, where she lives with five other swimmers. “It’s a decision that I didn’t make just this last week. It’s something that over the last few months I’ve been discussing.”
The five-time Olympic champion capped her second NCAA Championships with a win by 28 seconds in the 1,650-yard freestyle on her 21st birthday on March 17.
Ledecky said Stanford coach Greg Meehan recommended she turn pro now.
“This is the right time for this transition,” Meehan said in a press release.
Ledecky took a gap year between graduating high school at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in 2015 and the Rio Olympics, where she won the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles and anchored the winning 4x200m free relay.
Ledecky moved to Stanford later in summer 2016 and swam two seasons for the Cardinal, winning eight NCAA titles in nine finals between her freshman and sophomore years.
Ledecky said she was “maybe a little off my goals” at her second NCAAs two weeks ago, when she won the 500- and 1,650-yard freestyles convincingly but did not break her American records.
The major meets this summer are the U.S. Championships in late July in Irvine, Calif., and the Pan Pacific Championships in late August in Tokyo. Those two meets are the qualifiers for the 2019 World Championships in South Korea.
Another five-time Olympic champion, Missy Franklin, also turned pro after two NCAA seasons (at Stanford’s rival California). Franklin did so one year before the Olympics in 2015, while Ledecky has two full seasons before the Tokyo Games.
Ledecky could duplicate her Rio Olympic program while adding a new Olympic event — women’s 1500m free — in 2020.
“Now, every time I get up on the blocks, I’m racing the current world-record holder in that event, because I’m racing myself,” she said.
Ledecky has never swum a non-freestyle event at nationals or a major international meet, but she entered the 400-yard individual medley at NCAAs two weeks ago (and finished second behind a teammate who broke Ledecky’s American record). Ledecky said she does not plan to add the 400m IM to her major-meet schedule as a pro.
“I think I’ll continue to compete in them [at smaller meets] and train IM because it’s good for my freestyle, but I don’t think long-term,” she said. “Who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind and pursue it a little further, but I have my hands full with the freestyle events.”
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