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Katie Ledecky relieved to check the box after qualifying for third Olympics

In typical Katie Ledecky fashion, the final of the 400m freestyle at U.S. Swimming Trials was a one-woman show for first place -- while Paige Madden touched second to potentially claim a spot in Tokyo as well.

Katie Ledecky wasn’t thrilled with her speed in her first final of the week at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, but she was glad to check the box.

The 24-year-old confirmed her spot at her third Olympic Games by winning the 400m freestyle in Omaha in Monday night’s last final.

She swam 4:01.27, well off the world record of 3:56.46 from her Olympic gold-medal performance in Rio. Ledecky has held the world record in the 400m free since 2014, lowering it twice since.

“I thought I was a lot faster than that, so I was a little surprised by the time,” Ledecky admitted to NBC reporter Michele Tafoya. It didn’t come as too much of a surprise though, as Ledecky also remembers the first race of her 2016 Olympic Trials also being “not a fun race.”

Nevertheless, she was relieved to finally know she was assured a trip to Tokyo five years after the Rio Olympics, where she earned four gold medals and a silver.

In Tokyo, Ledecky is expected to have a shot at five medals, when factoring in relays, which could give her a shot at becoming the first U.S. woman to capture five golds at a single Olympics.

She felt surreal being in the ready room just prior to the final, noting that one year ago she was unsure whether Trials would ever be held.

Almost assured to join her in Tokyo is Paige Madden, a three-time NCAA individual champion earlier this year for Virginia. She went 4:04.86 to beat out Leah Smith, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist and two-time World medalist at this distance, who was third in a time of 4:06.27.

Haley Anderson, who will compete in her third Olympics this summer in the open water event, was fourth.

SWIM TRIALS: Results | TV Schedule | Women’s Event Previews | Men’s Event Previews

Torri Huske is missing her high school graduation later this week, a sacrifice that paid off as the 18-year-old made the Olympic team in the first U.S. Olympic Trials final of her career.

The Virginia native, whose mother Yinggrew up in a labor camp in China, won the night’s first event, the women’s 100m butterfly, with the fastest time in the world this year and third-fastest ever at 55.66 seconds.

A new American record, Huske lowered the 55.78 record she set in Sunday’s semifinal. The previous record of 55.98 seconds stood for nine years, since Dana Vollmer won the Olympic gold medal in London.

“It’s really surreal,” Huske said. “I can’t believe it’s happening.”

Huske has the extra year of training to thank for her speed. She improved her personal best times in three events during the pandemic, thanks to training in a stranger’s pool plus additional time dedicated to strength training.

Likely to join her in Tokyo is 16-year-old Claire Curzan, who was second in 56.43 seconds.

Kate Douglass was third in 56.56, ahead of 2017 World bronze medalist Kelsi Dahlia (56.8), who has two more chances later in the week to make a second Olympic team in the 50 or 100 free.

Not long after, Michael Andrew lived up to the expectations placed on him since he began drawing comparisons to Michael Phelps at 13 years old. Andrew turned professional the following year.

He went on to win medals in every stroke at the 2017 World Junior Championships.

Andrew is coached by his father Peter, a South Africa native along with wife Tina, and trains at race pace.

Now 22, Andrew finally secured a spot at his first Olympic Games by winning the men’s 100m breaststroke in 58.73 seconds, shy of the 58.14 American record he set yesterday in the semifinal. Andrew Wilson was right behind him by one-hundredth of a second.

“It’s one of those things where I’ve been waiting five years for this moment, to come back [to Trials] and get to swim,” Andrew said after the race. “I’m blessed, I don’t deserve this.”

Ledecky loved watching the finals that came before hers and was inspired by those joining her in Tokyo.

“It’s so exciting to see some young swimmers coming up,” she said. “Seeing Tori’s ear-to-ear grin on the medal podium gave me chills, and seeing Michael cry.”

Trials continues Tuesday with four finals.

The men’s 100m backstroke final includes the past two Olympic champions in that event: 25-year-old Ryan Murphy and 36-year-old Matt Grevers, plus Andrew seeking an Olympic berth in a second stroke. Ohio State’s Hunter Armstrong had the second-fastest time behind Murphy in the semis.

Regan Smith, who held the 100m backstroke world record from the 2019 World Championships until this past Sunday, was fastest in that semifinal. 2019 World bronze medalist Olivia Smoliga and 2021 NCAA gold and silver medalists Katharine Berkoff and Rhyan White join her in the final. 2016 Olympic silver medalist Kathleen Baker missed the final by 0.33 seconds.

In defense of her second individual Olympic gold, Lilly King led the 100m breaststroke semis by 0.65 seconds. Annie Lazor followed, with Lydia Jacoby, who has the potential to become the first Olympic swimmer from Alaska, in third.

After qualifying for Tokyo in the 400m free on night one, Kieran Smith is looking good to enter a second event after he swam the fastest time in both the prelims and semifinals for the 200m free. 2016 Olympians Townley Haas and Blake Pieroni are also in that final.

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