Katie Ledecky wins by 13 seconds, seals Olympic Trials spot

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There was already zero doubt that Katie Ledecky would qualify for the June 2020 Olympic Trials, but she did it officially on the first day of the 18-month window on Wednesday night.

The five-time Olympic champion comfortably won her trademark event, the 800m freestyle, by 13.76 seconds in 8:14.40 at USA Swimming’s Winter Nationals in Greensboro, N.C. At the 200-meter mark, Ledecky became the first of who will be hundreds of swimmers to qualify for the Olympic Trials.

That’s because she split 2:01.46 for the opening 200m, just under the 200m free trials entry standard of 2:01.69. The women’s 800m free entry standard is 8:48.09, which is 43.3 seconds slower than Ledecky’s world record.

The third-year Stanford student now owns 22 of the 23 fastest times ever in the 800m free, according to USA Swimming’s times database. Her time Wednesday was her 20th fastest, just ahead of her 2012 Olympic-winning effort.

“I was happy with it,” Ledecky told media in Greensboro after her first race in three and a half months, the longest break of her career. “I wasn’t really focused on time.”

Eight more women joined Ledecky in swimming under the trials qualifying time on Wednesday, including Ashley Twichell, the open-water 5km world champion.

Later, Rio Olympian Jordan Wilimovsky qualified for trials by taking the men’s 800m free in 7:56.88, well under the trials qualifying standard of 8:12.99. Ledecky should easily beat the men’s qualifying standard in 2019. Her time Wednesday would have placed eighth in the men’s event of 24 swimmers.

NBC Sports and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA air winter nationals coverage all weekend, highlighted by Ledecky, Simone ManuelDana Vollmer and Nathan Adrian. A broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: U.S. breaststroke hope tasked with ending 28-year Olympic drought

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Asbel Kiprop, Olympic 1500m champ, banned 4 years

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Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, the 2008 Olympic 1500m champion and a three-time world champ, was banned four years after testing positive for EPO in November 2017, according to track and field’s doping watchdog organization.

The ban is backdated to Feb. 3, 2018, when the 29-year-old was provisionally suspended after the failed test.

Kiprop repeatedly denied doping since last May, when he first acknowledged the positive test. Most recently, a 3,000-word defense from his lawyer was posted on Kiprop’s Facebook page.

Kiprop’s defenses included saying he was a victim of extortion and that he was offered “a reward” of becoming an anti-doping ambassador if he admitted guilt. The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), the IAAF’s independent organization to monitor doping and corruption, denied the latter last May.

A disciplinary panel dismissed six defenses from exonerating him, including the possibility his sample was spiked, in handing out the four-year ban.

Kiprop, the pre-eminent 1500m runner of the last decade, can appeal the ban.

At 19, he finished second in the Beijing Olympic 1500m but was upgraded to gold a year later after Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi failed a drug test. He is the youngest Olympic 1500m medalist of all time, according to the OlyMADMen.

Kiprop went on to earn three straight world titles in the 1500m in 2011, 2013 and 2015, matching the feats of retired legends Noureddine Morceli and Hicham El Guerrouj.

He struggled in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, finishing last in the London final with a hamstring injury and sixth in the Rio final won by American rival Matthew Centrowitz.

Kiprop has targeted El Guerrouj’s world record of 3:26:00, missing the mark by .69 of a second in 2015.

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Maggie Nichols is second woman in 20 years to repeat as NCAA all-around champ

Maggie Nichols
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Oklahoma junior and world champion gymnast Maggie Nichols became the first woman to repeat as NCAA all-around champion in 12 years, returning from a heel injury to compete on all four events for the first time since January on Friday.

Nichols, a Rio Olympic hopeful before being beset by a torn meniscus in 2016, joined 2004 Olympic silver medalist Courtney Kupets as the only women to win back-to-back NCAA all-arounds in the 2000s.

A junior, Nichols can next year join Jenny Hansen as the only women to three-peat in NCAA history.

Oklahoma goes for a third team title in four years on Saturday night against UCLA (featuring Olympic champions Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross), LSU and Denver.

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NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships Individual Results
All-Around
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma) — 39.7125
2. Lexy Ramler (Minnesota) — 39.6625
2. Kyla Ross (UCLA) — 39.6625
4. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 39.65
5. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 39.6

Vault
1. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 9.95
1. Derrian Gobourne (Auburn)
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)

Uneven Bars
1. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 9.95

Balance Beam
1. Natalie Wojcik (Michigan) — 9.95

Floor Exercise
1. Alicia Boren (Florida) — 9.95
1. Lynnzee Brown (Denver)
1. Brenna Dowell (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)