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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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing World Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medal in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. all picked up five medals at last week’s Para Alpine Skiing World Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”