Katie Ledecky
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Katie Ledecky preps to conquer fresh Olympic challenges in new suit

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The swimsuit Katie Ledecky plans to wear in races through the 2020 Olympics is called the Venzo.

“It means ‘I conquer’ in Spanish,” Ledecky said.

Fitting. Ledecky, one of the world’s most dominant athletes, discussed the new suit from her sponsor, Tyr, in a recent phone interview and reflected on her performance at August’s Pan Pacific Championships, her first major international meet as a pro.

Ledecky earned three golds, a silver and a bronze at Pan Pacs in Tokyo. But at the meet she expressed dissatisfaction with her times and acclimation to the 16-hour time difference after arriving in Japan four days beforehand.

Ledecky said last week that it marked the most difficult circumstances under which she has raced at a major international meet.

She was beaten by younger swimmers for the first time (Canadian Taylor Ruck and Japanese Rikako Ikee in the 200m freestyle) and, also for the first time, failed to clock her fastest time for the year in any individual event at a major international meet (Olympics, worlds, Pan Pacs).

“I was really happy with how I swam under those circumstances,” Ledecky said, noting her 4x200m free relay split of 1:53.84, faster than Ruck and Ikee and her second-fastest ever after a 1:53.74 in Rio, and her fifth-fastest 800m free. “A lot of good takeaways. The biggest one is the challenge we had in front of us and what we experienced. In some ways I’m happy we experienced that. Hopefully, I’ll learn from it.”

Ledecky continues to live at Stanford after turning pro following her sophomore season for the Cardinal. She still trains with Stanford team swimmers, though she is no longer eligible to compete collegiately. That means she’s sharing the pool with one of her new rivals, Ruck, a freshman on the team.

“We don’t overlap too much, thus far at least,” Ledecky said. Ruck swims the 100m and 200m frees and the 100m and 200m backstrokes. “She kind of comes up to the 200m [in training], and I kind of come down to it from the mile. It provides me some extra motivation having her next to me, and I would hope it does the same for her.”

The 200m free has been the most competitive of Ledecky’s four primary events (400m, 800m, 1500m frees, too). It should only get more interesting as the Olympics near with Ruck in the same training pool and Ikee looking like one of the host nation’s biggest stars. Both are 18 years old, three years younger than Ledecky.

“They’re only going to get faster,” said Ledecky, whose personal best of 1:53.73 from Rio is .71 faster than Ruck’s and 1.12 seconds clear of Ikee. “I really feel like I have a good future in that event. I know that because I have a 1:53 under my belt in an individual race, and I’ve been 1:53 on a relay at Pan Pacs [one day after the individual 200m free].”

When Ledecky took that 200m free bronze at Pan Pacs (just her second defeat in a major international individual final), it came 85 minutes after she won the 800m free. And what she called “a challenging” first day of the meet, when she was still adjusting to the time difference.

“I was feeling a lot of fatigue by the time 8 p.m. rolled around, but that’s not an excuse,” she said. “I don’t think I need an excuse for that race. Taylor and Rikako Ikee had great races, and I need to be ready to compete against them.”

The Olympic swimming schedule released last month has the women’s 200m and 1500m freestyle finals in the same session. It creates for Ledecky one of the toughest potential doubles in Olympic swimming history in the first Games with a women’s 1500m free.

Ledecky conquered a similar double before, winning the 1500m free and then advancing out of the 200m free semis less than an hour later at the 2015 and 2017 Worlds.

But Ledecky first pointed out an earlier day on the Olympic program, where the 400m free final is in the morning followed by the 200m and 1500m free heats that night.

“That one day will be a lot of racing, but I feel very confident that I can prepare for that,” she said. “I’m happy the 200m final is before the 1500m final. I kind of like that pairing a little better than the other way around.”

As for the Venzo, expect to see Ledecky wear it in competition for the first time in January. She expects her next meet to be Winter Nationals in late November. Everything is about preparing for the world championships in South Korea in July.

Ledecky, who signed with Tyr in June, said the company has been working on this suit since the Rio Olympics, gathering input from its pro swimmer roster.

“When I was figuring out who to sign with, I had the opportunity to meet with Tyr and try the suit on day one,” she said. “That was a big factor in signing with Tyr. It’s all about feel. There’s no magical formula that I can tell you this is what I would want to feel, but I got in the water with it on and got comfortable and felt like it was fast and advanced the technology of the suit.”

MORE: Ledecky ties Michael Phelps record for USA Swimming award

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Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

MORE: Simona Halep, Nadia Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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