Katie Ledecky turns pro

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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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Noah Lyles runs personal best and is coming for Usain Bolt’s world record

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Noah Lyles ran a personal-best time in the 60m on Saturday, then reaffirmed record-breaking intentions for the 100m and, especially, the 200m, where Usain Bolt holds the fastest times in history.

Lyles, the world 200m champion, won the 60m sprint in 6.51 seconds at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, clipping Trayvon Bromell by two thousandths in his first top-level meet of the year. Bromell, the world 100m bronze medalist, is a past world indoor 60m champion and has a better start than Lyles, which is crucial in a six-second race.

But on Saturday, Lyles ran down Bromell and shaved four hundredths off his personal best. It bodes well for Lyles’ prospects come the spring and summer outdoor season in his better distances — the 100m and 200m.

“This is the moment I’ve been working, like, seven years for,” he said. “We’re not just coming for the 200m world record. We’re coming for all the world records.”

Last July, Lyles broke Michael Johnson‘s 26-year-old American record in the 200m, winning the world title in 19.31 seconds. Only Bolt (19.19) and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake (19.26) have run faster.

Lyles has since spoken openly about targeting Bolt’s world record from 2009.

How does an indoor 60m time play into that? Well, Lyles said that his success last year sprung from a strong indoor season, when he lowered his personal best in the 60m from 6.57 to 6.56 and then 6.55. He followed that by lowering his personal best in the 200m from 19.50 to 19.31.

He believes that slicing an even greater chunk off his 60m best on Saturday means special things are on the horizon come the major summer meets — the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July (on the same Oregon track where he ran the American 200m record) and the world championships in Budapest in August.

After focusing on the 200m last year, Lyles plans to race both the 100m and the 200m this year. He has a bye into the 200m at world championships, so expect him to race the 100m at USATF Outdoors, where the top three are in line to join world champ Fred Kerley on the world team.

Lyles’ personal best in the 100m is 9.86, a tenth off the best times from Kerley, Bromell and 2019 World 100m champ Christian Coleman. Bolt is in his own tier at 9.58.

Also Saturday, Grant Holloway extended a near-nine-year, 50-plus-race win streak in the 60m hurdles, clocking 7.38 seconds, nine hundredths off his world record. Olympic teammate Daniel Roberts was second in 7.46. Trey Cunningham, who took silver behind Holloway in the 110m hurdles at last July’s world outdoor championships, was fifth in 7.67.

Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 60m in 7.02 seconds, one week after clocking a personal-best 6.98 to become the third-fastest American in history after Gail Devers and Marion Jones (both 6.95). Hobbs, 26, placed sixth in the 100m at last July’s world championships.

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the Olympic and world 400m hurdles champion competing for the first time since August, and Jamaican Shericka Jackson, the world 200m champion, were ninth and 10th in the 60m heats, just missing the eight-woman final.

In the women’s pole vault, Bridget Williams, seventh at last year’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, upset the last two Olympic champions — American Katie Moon and Greek Katerina Stefanidi. Williams won with a 4.63-meter clearance (and then cleared 4.71 and a personal-best 4.77). Stefanidi missed three attempts at 4.63, while Moon went out at 4.55.

The indoor track and field season continues with the Millrose Games in New York City next Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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