Getty Images

Katie Ledecky, from scavenger hunt to spotlight at swim nationals, with 2020 goals on horizon

Leave a comment

IRVINE, Calif. — After five Olympic gold medals and 14 world records, Katie Ledecky can still tell stories like this.

Last Wednesday, the Stanford sophomore was going to Tresidder Memorial Union in the heart of campus to pick up a FedEx package from her new swimwear sponsor, Tyr.

The package was too big to carry on her bike (Ledecky does not drive a car on campus and has no plans to as she starts her pro career), so she ordered an Uber and waited. Two women approached Ledecky and asked if she was a Stanford student. They needed a picture with one for a scavenger hunt.

Ledecky asked if they got bonus points for getting a picture with an Olympian. The women got their photo, and Ledecky started off to her Uber but stopped herself.

“I’ve kind of been in similar situations in the past, and sometimes I just go along with it,” she said. “Sometimes it’s an Uber driver that asks me what sport I play, and I say swimming. And that’s the end of the conversation. But this time, I don’t know, this day I was just feeling like making these kids’ day or trying to make them smile. So I thought they would get a kick out of it.

“I said, my name is Katie Ledecky, by the way, and they were, ah, thanks,” Ledecky recalled before getting in the Uber. “I think they Googled me or something. And I heard these laughs and screaming, and then I did the tweet.”

The two women replied to her tweet with apologies and praise: “I look up to you so much as I once was a competitive swimmer. We love you so much!”

Ledecky will of course be one of the most recognizable people at Irvine High School this week. She headlines the U.S. Championships from Wednesday through Sunday, a qualifier for the two biggest international meets before the 2020 Olympics — August’s Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo and the 2019 World Championships in South Korea.

MORE: U.S. Champs TV Schedule | 10 Swimmers to Watch

Ledecky is not the only star. There are seven-time 2017 World champion Caeleb Dressel and fellow individual Olympic gold medalists Simone Manuel and Lilly King. But Ledecky is the most electrifying athlete, with a chance to break one of her own world records at any meet.

“That’s always what people ask,” her coach, Greg Meehan, said. “She’s got some good goals for the summer, and she’s going to pursue those. I think it falls within the bigger scope of what she’s thinking about for 2020, but as you know, she won’t talk about those goals.”

But there are hints. It’s believed that Ledecky began writing her 2016 goals in code on a pull buoy in 2013.

Meehan said she and Ledecky have already discussed goals for the Tokyo Games, which open two years from Tuesday. They talked about the 200m freestyle world record, 1:52.98, set by Italian Federica Pellegrini in 2009 and the longest-standing women’s mark in the books. Ledecky ranks third all time at 1:53.73.

“We’ve talked about some things,” said Meehan, who holds three formal goal-setting sessions per year with his Stanford swimmers, the most recent in March. “We’ve mostly talked about this summer. Coming out of last year, taking a breath after 2016 and not being really goal-driven in 2017, I think, was the right approach.”

In 2017, Ledecky did not set a personal best in her main events in a calendar year for the first time. She still earned five golds and a silver at worlds following her freshman season for the Cardinal.

In her first post-college race this season, Ledecky took five seconds off her 1500m freestyle world record. An astonishing feat even for her, to do it at a May meet when swimmers can be tired from heavy training. They work to peak in August, not the spring.

“It’s not any easier being me and having the times that I have to go best times,” Ledecky, whose 14 world records are nearly half Michael Phelps‘ total, said Tuesday. “It only gets harder as you get faster.”

That 1500m free was so impressive that Meehan would still consider it a successful 2018 if Ledecky does not set a personal best this week or at Pan Pacs.

“Pardon the language, but shit yes!” he said. “Those records are outrageous.”

Ledecky is scheduled to race Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, but any swimmer who makes the Pan Pacs team in one event can swim any event at Pan Pacs. The pressure is multiple notches lower than an Olympic Trials.

“I want to be my best this summer at Pan Pacs,” Ledecky said of the meet for the world’s top swim nations outside of Europe. “If some of my best swims are at this meet and some are at Pan Pacs, I’ll take that, too.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Ryan Lochte banned 14 months for social media blunder

Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

Getty Images
2 Comments

Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Roger Federer minted on Swiss coin

Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

AP
4 Comments

Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping