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Katie Ledecky takes on unprecedented U.S. Olympic Trials double

2021 U.S. Olympic Trials - Swimming - Day 3

OMAHA, NEBRASKA - JUNE 15: Katie Ledecky of the United States reacts after competing in a semifinal heat for the Women’s 200m freestyle during Day Three of the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials at CHI Health Center on June 15, 2021 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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Two finals totaling 1,700 meters of swimming separated by an hour would be a daunting slate for most. But it’s becoming old hat for Katie Ledecky.

On Wednesday night, the greatest distance swimmer in history tackles what on the surface looks like her toughest session of the eight-day U.S. Olympic Trials.

Ledecky is the favorite to win the 200m freestyle that starts at 8:21 p.m. ET. Sixty-eight minutes later, Ledecky dives in for the first Olympic Trials women’s 1500m free final in history. The event -- along with the men’s 800m free -- was added to the Olympic program for Tokyo.

But Ledecky said her hardest session was actually Tuesday morning -- a 200m free prelim followed nearly two hours later by a 1500m free prelim, after winning the 400m free the night before.

Tears flowed for Ledecky after that 400m free on Monday night. The realization that she made her third Olympic team (albeit she was surprised by her time, 2.29 seconds slower then her winning time at 2016 Trials). And being in the same room as immediate family for the first time since Christmastime 2019, celebrating.

“We just had kind of a moment where I started crying, they started crying,” she said.

This may be a first for an Olympic Trials, but Ledecky succeeded in 200m semifinal/1500m final doubles at the world championships in 2015 and 2017.

In Omaha, Ledecky qualified first into both the 200m and 1500m free finals. It’s been seven years since she last lost a freestyle of 200 meters or longer domestically. She owns the 10 fastest 1500m free times in history.

That’s a lot of time in the pool. How does she plan to prepare on Wednesday morning?

“I also haven’t been outside in like three days,” she said Tuesday, “so I’m planning on doing a little bit of that tomorrow to get some fresh air.”

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

A look at tonight’s races:

Men’s 100m Freestyle Semifinals -- 8:05 p.m. ET
All of the contenders advanced from morning prelims, led by Rio Olympic relay champion Ryan Held. World champion Caeleb Dressel was fourth, and 2012 Olympic champion Nathan Adrian sixth. Top eight from the semis make Thursday’s final.

Women’s 200m Freestyle FINAL -- 8:21
Ledecky was last beaten by an American in a 200m free in January 2014. She qualified fastest into this final by .61 over 23-year-old Paige Madden, who still deals with chest pain after being diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this year, shortly after receiving her first vaccine dose. Madden also took second to Ledecky in the 400m free despite entering Trials ranked seventh in the nation this year. This is Ledecky’s shortest individual event, so it is where she is most likely to be challenged. Her time will no doubt be measured against what rival Ariarne Titmus did at Australia’s Olympic Trials on Monday -- a 1:53.09, the second-fastest time in history and .64 faster than Ledecky’s best time.

Men’s 200m Butterfly FINAL -- 8:32
The first Olympic Trials 200m butterfly without Michael Phelps since 1996. The top four in the semifinals were separated by .21 -- Luca Urlando and Justin Harting (who shared the best time), Trenton Julian and Gunnar Bentz. None of them are ranked in the top 10 in the world this year, but Urlando broke Phelps’ 17-18 national age group record in 2019, going 1:53.84 (before an early 2020 shoulder dislocation). No other American has been within 1.36 seconds since.

Women’s 200m Butterfly Semifinals -- 8:43
World silver medalist Hali Flickinger, who already took second in the 400m individual medley, led qualifiers into the semis by .82. The other favorites, Regan Smith and Katie Drabot, were fourth and seventh.

Men’s 200m Breaststroke Semifinals -- 8:59
The news of the morning was Rio Olympic silver medalist Josh Prenot finishing 17th and, for now, missing the semis by one spot (see if anybody scratches). Prenot then tweeted that he plans to take at least a year off from competitive swimming. The fastest Americans this year -- Daniel Roy, Nic Fink and Will Licon -- all advanced

Women’s 200m Individual Medley FINAL -- 9:19
Alex Walsh, a 19-year-old from the University of Virginia, dusted the field by 1.12 seconds in the semifinals. But others have gone faster before. Such as Madisyn Cox, the fastest American this year. Cox, the 2017 World bronze medalist, missed the 2019 Worlds after failing a 2018 drug test over what she said was a contaminated multivitamin. Meghan Small, who came into Trials ranked 13th in the nation this year, qualified third into the final, taking 1.15 seconds off a personal best from 2015.

Women’s 1500m Freestyle FINAL -- 9:29
Nobody in this field has swum with 33 seconds of Ledecky’s world record. Ledecky was fastest in prelims by 13.14 seconds, and it wasn’t even among her 14 fastest swims ever at 1500m. She holds the 10 fastest times in history. If she has any competition in the event, it will come in Tokyo, not Omaha, from Italian Simona Quadarella, who won the 2019 World title in Ledecky’s absence in 15:40.89. Ledecky’s best time this year is 15:40.55, but she went 15:29.51 in 2020.

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