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.

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.”

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U.S. women’s basketball team scores most points in FIBA World Cup history

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SYDNEY — A’ja Wilson and the U.S. put on quite a show, breaking the World Cup scoring mark in a record rout of South Korea.

Brionna Jones scored 24 points and Wilson added 20 to help the U.S. beat South Korea 145-69 on Monday. Shakira Austin’s layup with 9 seconds left helped the Americans break Brazil’s record of 143 points set in 1990.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a team that can score the basketball like this,” Wilson said. “This is crazy, we put up 145 points. I think when you look at us and just knowing how talented we are, we just came together and we play together very, very well.”

The U.S. always has the most talented and deepest roster of any team in the World Cup with 12 WNBA stars on the roster. Still, the Americans had never come close to that sort of offensive output during it’s storied World Cup history. The previous team record was 119 points against Angola in 2014 and China in 2006. The scoring margin was also the biggest in U.S. history as well surpassing the 75-point win over Angola in 2014.

The win was also the 26th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals when they fell to Russia. The U.S. also won 26 in a row from 1994-2006. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-1986.

MORE: FIBA World Cup Results

What started with Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles has now been passed on to Breanna Stewart and Wilson. A legacy of excellence that doesn’t look like it’s ending anytime soon.

The U.S. (4-0), which has been playing stellar defense, was challenged by South Korea early. The teams were trading baskets for the first 8 minutes and it was tied at 21 before the Americans took control, scoring the final 11 points of the period.

Kahleah Copper came off the bench for the first time of the tournament and scored six points during that spurt. The Americans kept the streak going to start the second quarter, scoring nine of the first 11 points to put the game away.

By the time the game reached the half the U.S. was up 68-40, including scoring 44 points in the paint against the undersized Koreans.

“We were trying to get the ball inside,” Jones said. “We had an advantage there.”

The only suspense in the second half was how many records the Americans could break. They took down their own scoring mark on Sabrina Ionescu’s 3-pointer with 6:15 left in the game and kept putting up points with Austin’s layup capping off the contest.

Other records broken on Monday included the 62 field goals made, 36 assists and 94 points in the paint.

“Our size was a problem for them and I thought we shared the ball,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said.

The Americans were well rested for the game after having their first day off of the tournament on Sunday.

Despite the rout, South Korea (1-3) can still advance to the quarterfinals with a win over Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

Leeseul Kang, who had 37 points in a win over Bosnia and Herzegovina, scored 10 points. Hyejin Park had 17 to lead the team.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China vs. Puerto Rico Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Canada Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. South Korea Group A
11:30 p.m. Belgium vs. China Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
2 a.m. Canada vs. Mali Group B
3:30 a.m. France vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Japan Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. Quarterfinal
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
4 a.m. Quarterfinal
6:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
Fri., Sept. 30 3 .m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final