- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Katie Ledecky is turning pro.

The five-time Olympic swimming gold medalist gave up her final two years of eligibility at Stanford, allowing her to concentrate on training for the 2020 Olympics while cashing in on sponsorship and endorsement deals that wouldn’t have been available to her as a college athlete.

Other than the financial windfall, Ledecky isn’t planning any big changes. She will continue training on the West Coast under coach Greg Meeham while working toward her degree at Stanford, where she’s been focused on psychology and political science.

According to Ledecky, Meehan felt this was the best time for her to join the professional ranks.

“It’s a decision that I didn’t make just in this last week. It’s something that over the last few months I’ve been discussing,” Ledecky said at the Washington Press Club, where she made the announcement Monday while home on spring break. “It’s something I could’ve done in two years once I completed my eligibility, but this gives me some time before 2020 to really focus in on getting all the pieces in place so I can really train hard and focus on my training leading up to 2020.”

The 21-year-old Ledecky helped Stanford capture two women’s national championships, the school’s first back-to-back titles since winning five straight from 1992-96. She won five individual titles at the NCAA championships, the most recent of which was held two weekends ago in Columbus, Ohio. While winning her second straight championship in the 1,650-yard free, Ledecky lapped the field and finished nearly 30 seconds ahead of the runner-up.

“I’m excited to become a professional athlete while training at Stanford and finishing my degree,” she wrote on Twitter. “Thank you Stanford Women’s Swimming & Diving for two amazing seasons, and many thanks to my family, friends and fans for the continued support.”

As a college athlete, Ledecky wasn’t allowed to sign with sponsors or take endorsement deals that provide the bulk of the income for top swimmers, which would have cost her potentially millions of dollars ahead of next year’s world championships in South Korea and the 2020 Tokyo Games, where she is again expected to be one of the biggest stars.

Ledecky won four golds and a relay silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She currently holds world records in three freestyle events covering 400, 800 and 1,500-meters.

Last summer, Ledecky competed in six events at the world championships in Budapest, Hungary — winning five golds and a silver — and she will likely hope to duplicate that grueling schedule in Tokyo now that the 1,500 free has been added to the program as a women’s event.

“It’s something that I’m really excited about,” Ledecky said. “I’m going to be continuing to train and go to school at Stanford, and continue to keep my focus where it’s already been, which is on my studies and my swimming and what matters to me, and I get to do it around some really great people.”

 


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