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Katie Ledecky, the two-time Olympian and six-time medalist, is forgoing her final two years of eligibility at Stanford to become a professional swimmer. Her announcement on Monday came less than two weeks after she dominated the distance freestyle events and led Stanford to its second consecutive team title at the N.C.A.A. Division I swimming and diving championships.
Ledecky, who won five medals (four gold) at the 2016 Rio Games, will continue to train at Stanford with the women’s coach, Greg Meehan, as she pursues an undergraduate degree in psychology and prepares for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Ledecky, 21, said in an email that she had been mulling the decision since August. In multiple discussions with Meehan, she said, they came to the conclusion that this was the best time to make the transition to the pro ranks “in order to set myself up to try to achieve my best performance leading to the 2020 Olympic Trials.”
A major factor in Ledecky’s decision was that the major international competitions before the Olympics, as well as the Olympics themselves, are contested in long-course meters, while the college season is conducted in short-course yards. To excel in a 25-yard course requires a different kind of training, with an emphasis on turns and a faster stroke turnover. In long course, where the number of turns is cut in half, the emphasis is on endurance and maintaining one’s stroke. (In long course, Ledecky holds world records in the 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyle events.)
Katie Ledecky crushed the field and broke her own world record in the 800-meter freestyle, winning by more than 11 seconds.
There also was little left for Ledecky to accomplish on the N.C.A.A. level — other than perhaps becoming the first woman to break the 15-minute barrier in the 500 freestyle. This month in Columbus, Ohio, she won her second straight 500 freestyle title by a more than eight seconds, a record margin, and also successfully defended her 1,650 freestyle title with a 28-second margin of victory. Her American record at that distance, which she set earlier this season, was 21 seconds faster than any other woman’s time.
As a freshman last season, Ledecky led the Stanford women to their first N.C.A.A. team championship in 19 years. This season she helped the Cardinal successfully defend that crown, with a 220-point margin of victory. In two seasons, Ledecky won eight N.C.A.A. titles and broke 11 American and 15 N.C.A.A. records — all while maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average.