Katie Ledecky, after chats with legends, wins two races in one night at Olympic Trials
Katie Ledecky isn’t known for pre-race chatter, but she shared a message with the other seven swimmers before the first Olympic Trials women’s 1500m freestyle final on Wednesday.
“We’re making history tonight,” she said.
Then she crushed them.
Ledecky won the 200m free and the 1500m free in an 85-minute span in Omaha, giving her three victories in three events with just the 800m free to go.
In the 200m free, Ledecky trailed at the halfway mark but won comfortably in 1:55.11. She’s joined in the individual 200m free by 2012 Olympic champion Allison Schmitt, who was 1.68 seconds behind and held on by .01 over Paige Madden. Schmitt, 31, made her fourth Olympic team after taking almost two years off after Rio, where she was strictly a relay swimmer.
Madden and fourth place Katie McLaughlin qualified for the 4x200m free relay. Bella Sims, a 16-year-old who ranked 133rd in the U.S. in the 200m free in 2019, is also likely going to Tokyo along with Brooke Forde for finishing fifth and sixth.
Ledecky later routed the field by 10.68 seconds in the 1500m free, which makes its Olympic debut as a women’s event in Tokyo after being on the program for men since 1908. She clocked 15:40.50, with Erica Sullivan getting second.
Ledecky owns the 10 fastest times in history, led by her world record of 15:20.48.
Much has been made this week about the fact that Australian rival Ariarne Titmus has been faster than Ledecky this year in the 200m and 400m frees, but the American remains in class of her own in the 1500m. Her prelims time -- 15:43.10 -- was three seconds faster than any other woman in 2021.
On Tuesday night, Ledecky texted with Debbie Meyer, who in 1968 won the Olympic debuts of the women’s 200m free and the women’s 800m free. Ledecky first met Meyer at age 17 at a United States Aquatic Sports Convention. The high schooler Ledecky’s eyes lit up at the mere mention of Meyer’s name, not needing to be told that she was an Olympian.
On Tuesday, Meyer texted Ledecky to express familiarity. She saw parallels between Ledecky leading the first set of Olympic women’s 1500m freestylers into Tokyo, and her own experience with the 800m in Mexico City.
Then on Wednesday morning, Ledecky was out for a walk in steamy Omaha, her first fresh air in three days, and saw Janet Evans. She won the 800m free at the Olympics in 1988 and 1992, but never got a chance to swim the 1500m at the Games despite holding the world record from 1987 to 2007.
“She swims her races a lot like I used to,” Evans said after posing for pictures with Ledecky at the 2014 U.S. Championships. “I remember that feeling when there’s no one around you [in a race]. You’re just like, what do I do now? You keep swimming.”
While some swimmers move down to shorter events as they age, Ledecky loves the mile.
“I’ve always enjoyed the distance training,” she said, noting the mental strength, toughness and strategy to reel off 28 consecutive 31-second lengths of the pool on Wednesday.
Ledecky managed a difficult double. After winning the 200m free, she had a 15-to-20-minute warm-down swim before an awards ceremony. She ate a banana, drank chocolate milk and water and put a jacket on as she walked, slowly, maximizing efficiency and conserving energy. After stumbling over her words in a quick interview, she moderately swam some more before returning to the competition pool.
It’s a process she’s familiar with, having done the 200m-1500m double in one night at world championships with about a half-hour between events. In Tokyo, she’ll have another tough stretch:
July 26 morning: 400m freestyle final
July 26 evening: 200m free and 1500m free heats
July 27 morning: 200m free semifinals
July 28 morning: 200m free and 1500m free finals
“But I feel prepared for it,” she said Wednesday.
In other finals, four hundredths separated first from third in the women’s 200m individual medley. Alex Walsh and Kate Douglass, 19-year-old Virginia teammates, went one-two. Madisyn Cox, the 2017 World bronze medalist, missed out by .02.
Zach Harting, known to march out for races in a Batman costume, won the men’s 200m butterfly in 1:55.06, coming back from third at the 150-meter mark.
Gunnar Bentz, a 2016 Olympian who was at the Rio gas station with Ryan Lochte, was second after being fifth at 150. The 19-year-old Luca Urlando, the fastest American since the start of 2019, finished third, .09 behind Bentz to miss the team.
In semifinals, world champion Caeleb Dressel led the eight qualifiers into Thursday’s men’s 100m free final.
But 2012 Olympic champion Nathan Adrian, eyeing his fourth Olympics and his first since a testicular cancer diagnosis two and a half years ago, was 13th and did not advance. His second and last chance to make it to Tokyo is in the 50m free this weekend, but the 100m was his better shot.
Favorites Hali Flickinger and Regan Smith were the fastest qualifiers into Thursday’s women’s 200m fly final. Katie Drabot, who took bronze at 2019 Worlds, missed the final in 13th place.
Matt Fallon, 18, was the top qualifier into Thursday’s men’s 200m breast final. He’s followed by pre-meet favorites including 2015 World silver medalist Kevin Cordes. Cody Miller, the Rio 100m breast bronze medalist, failed to make either breaststroke final and misses the Olympic team.
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