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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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Russia to finish Youth Olympics with most medals

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Russia clinched the top spot in the Youth Olympic medal standings, two days before the Closing Ceremony in Buenos Aires and eight months after it was excluded from the PyeongChang Winter Games for its doping problems.

The Russians have 52 medals with 25 golds so far, distancing the rest of the world.

1. Russia — 52 total, 25 gold
2. China — 36 total, 18 gold
3. Mixed NOCs — 36 total, 12 gold
4. Japan — 34 total, 14 gold
5. Italy — 31 total, 10 gold
10. U.S. — 15 total, 4 gold

China and Russia went one-two in total medals at the first two Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010 and Nanjing, China in 2014. The U.S. has never topped a Youth Olympic total medal table, be it Summer or Winter Games.

The U.S. has, however, earned the most total medals at the last six Summer Olympics, beginning with the 1996 Atlanta Games.

The Youth Olympics, for athletes ages 14 to 18, do not emphasize medal counts (plus have many medal events where athletes from different nations compete on the same team). The Games include many Olympic events and some that are not on the Olympic program, including break dancing, where a Russian who goes by Bumblebee earned gold last week.

The next Youth Olympics are the winter version in the IOC base of Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2020, followed by the summer version in 2022 in Dakar, Senegal, the first Olympic Games of any kind to be held in Africa.

The Youth Olympics conclude with the last full day of medal competition on Wednesday and the Closing Ceremony on Thursday.

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Aliya Mustafina returns to gymnastics worlds, year after giving birth

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Aliya Mustafina, an all-around medalist at the last two Olympics, made Russia’s team for next week’s world gymnastics championships, 16 months after giving birth to daughter Alisa.

Mustafina, 24, is joined by one Rio Olympic teammate, Angelina Melnikova, and three world championships rookies (plus Olympian Daria Spiridonova as an alternate), according to Russia’s gymnastics federation.

Mustafina is the last non-American woman to win an Olympic or world championships all-around, back in 2010 in her first year as a senior gymnast. A series of injuries followed, including surgeries on both knees and her left ankle.

She missed the 2015 Worlds with back pain but rebounded for a medal of every color in Rio (uneven bars gold, team silver and all-around bronze, just as she had done at London 2012).

Her seven total Olympic medals are tied for the most by a Russian woman since the fall of the Soviet Union with retired gymnast Svetlana Khorkina.

Viktoria Komova, the 2012 Olympic all-around silver medalist who has also struggled with injuries, is not on Russia’s team for worlds in Doha. She last competed at a global championship in 2015, sharing the uneven bars title with three other gymnasts.

Mustafina joins a list of distinguished moms to return to the top level of gymnastics, including Oksana Chusovitina, who began competing in the Soviet Union in the 1980s and, seven Olympics later, is still competing at age 43 (for Uzbekistan).

The most decorated Olympic gymnast, Soviet Larisa Latynina, earned 12 of her 18 medals after becoming a mom.

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