Katie Ledecky just about started the new year with a world record in Austin, Texas, on Saturday.
Ledecky clocked 8:11.21 in an 800m freestyle at the Arena Pro Swim Series meet, just missing her world record of 8:11.00 set last year. Ledecky settled for the second-fastest time ever in the event in which she won her 2012 Olympic gold medal.
Ledecky was under world-record pace for most of the race, including at the 600-meter mark. (full meet results here)
“I could really tell the crowd was getting into it about halfway through,” Ledecky told Universal Sports. “I just wanted to give it my all. It really wasn’t hurting at the point where it usually hurts when I’m having a bad swim. So I knew it was a pretty good swim.
“I really didn’t have an awful feeling this time,” she said, smiling. “Shoot, I should’ve gone 22 one hundredths faster.”
Ledecky, a Maryland high school senior committed to Stanford, won the race by 28.54 seconds over Elizabeth Beisel, the Olympic silver medalist in the 400m individual medley. She said she would have been happy with anything under 8:20.
In Austin, Ledecky won the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles over the three-day meet. She will now go back to Bethesda, Md., to finish her high school swimming career. The biggest international meet this year is the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, in the summer.
“I’m light years ahead of where I was at this meet last year,” Ledecky told media in Austin.
In other races Saturday, 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin was out-touched by Canadian Dominique Bouchard in the 100m backstroke. That Coughlin lost is not the story.
The interesting note is that Coughlin swam the 100m back in competition for the first time since the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, when she failed to make the Olympic team in the event, which she won at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.
Coughlin turned into a freestyle sprinter after the London Games but failed to make the 2015 World Championships team in the 50m and 100m freestyles.
Coughlin, 32, said she’s been doing more backstroke training to complement her freestyle. But her focus is still on freestyle.
Coughlin’s time Saturday was 1:00.7, which was faster than any of her 100m backstroke times in Grand Prix events leading up to the 2012 Olympic trials. She was faster than 1:00.7 at the Olympic trials. Her 100m back time Saturday would’ve ranked fourth among U.S. women last year.
Then there’s Michael Andrew, the 15-year-old phenom who turned professional two years ago. Andrew rewrote 13- and 14-year-old national age group record books.
Andrew notched his first senior-level USA Swimming series win Saturday, taking the 100m breaststroke in 1:01.67. Andrew shaved nearly two seconds off his personal best in the event on Saturday.
“I knew I had the capability to do it,” Andrew told Universal Sports. “It’s pretty cool to be able to come to a stage like this and really give it my everything and to finally be in a point where I know, I feel the power.”
His time would’ve ranked fifth among U.S. men last year. Breaststroke is historically the U.S. men’s weakest stroke, but it will likely take a sub-1:00 to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic team. No male swimmer as young as Andrew will be in 2016 has made the U.S. Olympic team since Michael Phelps and Aaron Peirsol in 2000.