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

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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.

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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.”

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Svetlana Romashina, seven-time Olympic champion artistic swimmer, retires

Svetlana Romashina
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Russian Svetlana Romashina, the most decorated artistic swimmer in Olympic history with seven gold medals, announced her retirement at age 33.

Romashina entered seven Olympic artistic swimming events and won all of them, starting in 2008. She won four Olympic titles in the team event and three in the duet (two with Nataliya Ishchenko and one with Svetlana Kolesnichenko).

The Tokyo Games marked her last major competition.

Romashina is the only woman to go undefeated in her Olympic career while entering seven or more events. The only man to do so was American track and field athlete Ray Ewry, who won all eight of his Olympic starts from 1900-08, according to Olympedia.org.

Romashina also won 21 world championships medals — all gold, second in aquatics history behind Michael Phelps‘ 26.

She took nearly two years off after giving birth to daughter Alexandra in November 2017, then came back to win three golds at her last world championships in 2019 and two golds at her last Olympics in 2021.

Romashina is now an artistic swimming coach, according to Russian media.

Russian swimmers swept the Olympic duet and team titles at each of the last six Olympics.

Russians have been banned from international competition since March due to the war in Ukraine.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, three gates from gold, skis out of world championships combined

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Mikaela Shiffrin was three gates from a record-tying seventh world championships gold medal when she lost her balance and straddled a gate, skiing out of the first race of worlds on Monday.

Italian Federica Brignone won the women’s combined instead, prevailing by 1.62 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener, the largest Olympic or world championships men’s or women’s margin of victory in the event since it switched from three runs to two in 2007.

Austrian Ricarda Haaser took bronze in an event that is one run of super-G followed by one run of slalom.

At 32, Brignone, the 2020 World Cup overall champion, won her first global title and became the oldest female world champion in any event.

“What was missing in my career was a gold medal,” she said. “So I’m old. No, I’m just kidding.”

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Shiffrin was sixth fastest in the opening super-G run, 96 hundredths behind Brignone. She skied aggressively in the slalom in a bid to beat Brignone. Shiffrin cut the gap to eight hundredths by the last intermediate split with about 10 seconds left on the course in Meribel, France.

Shiffrin looked set to overtake Brignone until tripping up slightly with five gates left. It compounded, and Shiffrin couldn’t save the run, losing control, straddling the third-to-last gate and skiing out. The timing system still registered her finish — 34 hundredths faster than Brignone — but it was quickly corrected to the obvious disqualification.

Asked on French TV if she lost focus, Shiffrin said, “People are going to say that no matter what.”

“The surface changed a little bit on these last gates, so [on pre-race] inspection I saw it’s a bit more unstable on the snow,” she added. “I tried to be aware of that, but I knew that if I had a chance to make up nine tenths on Federica, or more than that, like one second, I had to push like crazy. So I did, and I had a very good run. I’m really happy with my skiing.”

It marked Shiffrin’s first time skiing out since she did so in three races at last February’s Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth in five races. At the Olympics, she skied out within the first 13 seconds in each instance. On Monday, she was more than 40 seconds into her run.

“I was thinking, now I’m going to go through the mixed zone. and everyone’s going to ask, ‘Oh, is this Beijing again?'” Shiffrin said. “I didn’t really think about that for myself, but more for the people asking. But I also said before, coming into this world champs multiple times, I’m not afraid if it happens again. What if I don’t finish every run? What happened last year, and I survived. And then I’ve had some pretty amazing races this season. So I would take the season that I’ve had with no medals at the world championships. If it’s either/or, then I would take that. I’m happy with it. But I’m going to be pushing for medals, because that’s what you do at world champs. You wear your heart on your sleeve, and you go for it. I’m not afraid of the consequences, as long as I have that mentality, which I had today.”

NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said what happened Monday was “completely different” from the Olympics, calling it “an error of aggression.”

“It certainly wasn’t nerves that sent her out,” Porino said on the Peacock broadcast. “This was Shiffrin knowing that she had to have a huge run to get the gold medal.

“The way she went out this time, I think she can brush that one off.”

Shiffrin was bidding to tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12). Coming into Monday, she earned a medal in her last 10 world championships races dating to 2015.

Her next chance to match those records comes in Wednesday’s super-G, where she is a medal contender. Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel is the world’s top-ranked super-G skier through five races on the World Cup this season, though she was 71 hundredths behind Brignone in Monday’s super-G run.

Shiffrin has raced two super-Gs this season with a win and a seventh place.

She is expected to race three more times over the two-week worlds, which is separate from the World Cup circuit that she has torn up this season.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup wins in 23 starts across all disciplines since November, moving her one shy of the career victories record of 86 accumulated by Swede Ingemar Stenmark in the 1970s and ’80s. Again, world championships races do not count toward the World Cup, which picks back up after worlds end in late February.

Worlds continue Tuesday with the men’s combined.

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