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2016 Olympics: Stanford women's swim stars reflect on dominance in Rio

Anthony L. Solis/Pac-12 Conference

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Between the three of them, they will take home 13 Olympic medals from Rio. Not a bad haul for Katie Ledecky (five), Simone Manuel (four) and Maya DiRado (four), who emerged as three of the brightest stars on the stacked USA women’s swim team during the games.

Aside from being elite members of the world’s top swimming team, the trio also has something else in common -- they’re members or alumni of the decorated Stanford program headed by women’s coach Greg Meehan, who was also an assistant in Rio for Team USA.

“This whole trip has been a dream,” said DiRado, who graduated in 2014. “Watching the swims of all my other teammates, especially my Stanford teammates and the work that Greg Meehan was able to do, it was just so special. At that point, emotions take over and you feel like you can't miss. Swim after swim it was just lights out.”

Friday proved to be a momentous night for the trio of Stanford standouts. DiRado turned in one of the most memorable moments of the summer games, when she edged out USC’s Katinka Hosszu to win gold in the 200m backstroke. Later, Ledecky won her fourth gold by blowing away the competition in the 800m. Then Manuel tied Canada’s Penny Oleksiak to share the gold in the 100m freestyle, becoming the first African-American woman to win a swimming gold.

[Related content: 2016 Olympics Aug. 11 recap: Manuel delivers instant classic gold-medal moment]

Following her second Olympics, Ledecky now has to adjust to back to normal life, which means getting ready for her freshman year at Stanford in September. Aside from finishing out her monumental Olympic effort on Friday, she also found out what dorm she’ll be staying in this fall. 

Less than 24 hours after stepping off the podium, Ledecky said she’s already antsy to speak with Meehan to figure out her training regimen.

“I think as you’ve seen this week, Greg Meehan at Stanford is a terrific coach,” Ledecky said. “He’s coached Maya, he’s coached Simone, Lia Neal. I’m confident that he’ll be a great coach for me as well. He’s very creative and I think we’ll be able to figure out ways to continue to have that training environment in a place that I’ll be pushed in practice.”

Ledecky will see some familiar faces when she joins the Cardinal later this year, as Manuel and Neal are both going to return to the program after taking years off to train for Rio. It’s safe to assume that Ledecky will remain a major medal threat at the 2020 games in Tokyo, so she said she’s looking forward to having teammates and a coach that will push her to new heights.

“I’m mostly looking forward to being part of an elite college swim team and getting to go to my class with my teammates,” Ledecky said. “I think that’s a really unique experience and something I’ve never really experienced before. It’s going to be really neat to be around teammates that are going through the same things as you, have the same commitment level, both in school and swimming. I think it’s just going to really bode well for my academic and athletic pursuits.”

[Related content: Follow the Pac-12 to Rio]

Likewise, Manuel said it was a special to share the past year of training with her fellow Cardinal, as she will return to The Farm for her sophomore year.

“It’s amazing to share it with my coach,” Manuel sad. “I wouldn’t be here without him just believing in me this whole time that I wasn’t my best. Also to share that with Maya and Lia and even Ledecky, we’ve been friends for so long. I’m just super excited for what’s to come and proud to represent Team USA along with some of my Stanford friends.”

While these three special women are accomplishing amazing things in their own right, DiRado said she’s looking forward to seeing how it affects women’s sports for future generations of Americans.

“Little girls are going to grow up watching Katie Ledecky, just, like destroy, destroy by crazy margins,” DiRado said. “And they’re going to watch Simone do things that nobody’s ever done before. They’re going to watch relays win and … I think that’s great, and I think that’s why women’s sports are doing so well in this country.”

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