Katie Ledecky, after 3rd win at nationals, readies for teen tests

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IRVINE, Calif. — Not too long ago, Katie Ledecky was the teen phenom in the pool. Now, after finishing her nationals slate with a third convincing win, her threats ahead are all younger than she is.

Ledecky prevailed by 3.12 seconds in the 400m freestyle on Saturday night and scratched out of her last event, Sunday’s 1500m freestyle. Don’t worry, she is still eligible to swim the 1500m free at this year’s major international meet, the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo in two weeks.

Ledecky, who holds the 11 fastest 400m free times ever, added the victory in 3:59.09 to her 200m and 800m free titles earlier this week. While Kathleen Baker broke the 100m backstroke world record later Saturday night, Ledecky was under world-record pace through 200 meters.

“I wanted to put myself through some pain tonight,” Ledecky said, “and I’m happy with getting under four minutes.”

The 21-year-old rolls into Pan Pacs, still unchallenged in the U.S.

“Haven’t really had an off-swim [since turning pro in March],” Ledecky said. “I feel like I’m in a really good spot.”

New chasers from around the globe emerged since Rio, namely a pair of teenagers who will be at Pan Pacs.

Pan Pacs are for non-European nations, which means Ledecky will not face older 200m free rivals Federica Pellegrini (Italy) and Sarah Sjöström (Sweden).

Australian distance phenom Ariarne Titmus, 17, will be there. The Tasmania native lowered her personal bests in the 200m, 400m and 800m frees by more than three seconds each since 2017 Worlds (but is still two seconds slower than Ledecky in the 400m free this year, and 12 seconds slower in the 800m free).

Taylor Ruck will also be in Tokyo. The 18-year-old Canadian ranks second to Ledecky in the 200m free this year, just .25 behind (followed by Titmus, .29 behind).

Ruck has taken more than three seconds off her 200m free personal best in the last year. She will join Ledecky at Stanford in the fall (though Ledecky has turned pro and won’t compete for the Cardinal).

Ledecky has never lost a major international meet final to a younger swimmer. It doesn’t look likely to happen in two weeks, but she may never be the youngest woman on the podium again.

“I guess it’s a little different, but I think I have the benefit of knowing … what it’s like to have somebody in mind that you’re chasing,” said Ledecky, who notably beat reigning Olympic 800m free champion Rebecca Adlington at her first Games as a 15-year-old in 2012. “I know that there are a lot of great swimmers out there that are chasing me. That motivates me just as much as chasing someone motivated me when I was 15.”

Nationals conclude Sunday, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA at 9 p.m. ET.

In other events Saturday, Olympic and world champion Lilly King won the 100m breaststroke in 1:05.36, a time that trails only Russian rival Yulia Efimova this year.

Olympic champions Ryan Murphy and Matt Grevers went one-two in the men’s 100m back in 52.51 and 52.55, the two fastest times in the world this year. They shared the podium at 2017 Worlds behind Chinese winner Xu Jiayu.

Michael Andrew, who turned pro at 14 in 2013, won his first national title in an Olympic event, taking the men’s 100m breast in 59.38 seconds. Olympic bronze medalist Cody Miller was sixth and will not swim at Pan Pacs or the 2019 Worlds.

Zane Grothe repeated as U.S. men’s 400m free champion. The 26-year-old clocked 3:46.53, edging Grant Shoults by .37. Grothe was seventh at the 2017 World Championships and ranks 10th in the world this year.

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Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

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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.

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

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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.

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TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping