It’s Katie Ledecky‘s turn to headline a World Swimming Championships.
In 2009, Michael Phelps won a meet-leading five gold medals at the World Championships in Rome.
In 2011, Ryan Lochte won a meet-leading five gold medals at the World Championships in Shanghai.
In 2013, Missy Franklin won a meet-leading six gold medals at the World Championships in Barcelona.
Ledecky, the youngest member of U.S. swimming’s big four, will win more individual titles next week in Kazan, Russia, than any other swimmer if the last two years’ rankings hold true.
She plans to swim four individual events and one relay, a slate of distances ranging from 200m to the grueling 1500m freestyle. The 200m freestyle semifinals and the 1500m free final are separated by about 20 minutes, a double arguably more daunting than anything seen before from Phelps, Lochte or Franklin at a major international meet.
Ledecky, an 18-year-old who graduated from a D.C.-area Catholic all-girls school on June 4, is scheduled to swim each of the first seven days of the eight-day meet. On Sunday, Aug. 9, the final day, she will rest.
She’s the world-record holder in the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles (finals this Sunday (400m), then Tuesday (1500m) and then Saturday (800m)).
Ledecky swept those three events at the 2013 World Championships, one year after she took Olympic gold in her only event in London, the 800m free, as the youngest member of the entire U.S. Olympic team of more than 500 athletes.
She has since grown to dominate the distance freestyles so much that she added the 200m free to her program in 2014. How did that go? Ledecky was the second fastest woman in the world in the event last year behind Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom, who is not swimming the 200m free in Kazan next week.
If Ledecky sweeps the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees, she will become the first woman to win four individual golds at a single World Championships. The only men to do so? Phelps and Lochte.
“It’s going to be a busy week for me, but I’m just excited for the challenge,” Ledecky told media in Kazan on Friday.
Franklin, meanwhile, is a bit of a question despite being a tested and proven swimmer at major meets (four golds at the 2012 Olympics, six golds at the 2013 Worlds). She needed help walking following back spasms two days before last year’s major international meet, the Pan Pacific Championships, and came home with one individual medal (bronze).
Though Franklin hasn’t had back flare-ups at competitions since, her form going into Worlds is a little unclear. She’s raced in one meet since the NCAA Championships in March. Her FINA world rankings in her four individual events the last two years (keeping in mind last season’s back spasms and this year’s lack of racing long-course meters):
|Event||2014 World Ranking||2015 World Ranking|
Franklin remained confident in interviews at her only meet this spring or summer, in June in Santa Clara, Calif. She’s returned to her longtime Colorado coach, Todd Schmitz, since turning professional.
“We don’t really know quite what to expect, but when you think about how many times we’ve swam these races and the experience we got on previous trips and hold on to that confidence and know that we know what we’re doing,” Franklin told media in Kazan on Friday.
Ledecky and Franklin were the only U.S. women to earn individual golds at 2013 Worlds. Again, there might not be any others this year.
Across all Worlds events, only one other U.S. woman owns a top-three world ranking either of the last two years — Jessica Hardy was second in 2014 in the 50m breaststroke, which is not contested at the Olympics.
Granted this year, U.S. swimmers haven’t needed to post fast times in competition before going to Kazan, because the U.S. team for Worlds was determined in 2014. Americans could have spent all year in heavy training, while many swimmers from other nations needed to peak in competition in the spring for Worlds qualifying meets.
One swimmer who has been on fire this year is Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, the 2013 World champion in the 200m and 400m individual medleys. Hosszu, nicknamed “Iron Lady” for her Ripken-like durability while swimming several events in three- and four-day meets, could show up in seven individual events in Kazan.
Hosszu is world No. 1 in the 200m medley the last two years, No. 1 in the 400m medley this year and No. 2 last year, No. 2 in the 200m back this year and No. 3 in the 100m back last year.
Hosszu is set for showdowns with China’s Ye Shiwen in the individual medleys in Kazan. Ye was the 16-year-old who broke the Olympic record in both medleys at London 2012, including the 400m IM world record by swimming the final 50 meters faster than Lochte did in the men’s race.
In other events, the favorites are Australian Cate Campbell and the Netherlands’ Femke Heemskerk in the sprint freestyles, Australian Emily Seebohm in the backstrokes (if recovered from May’s dislocated kneecap), Lithuanian breaststroker Ruta Meilutyte and the Swede Sjostrom in the sprint freestyles and butterflies.
Key women’s finals:
Sunday, Aug. 2
400m freestyle — Ledecky is the world-record holder
4x100m freestyle relay — Australia vs. USA vs. Netherlands, who have traded Olympic and World titles since 2003
Monday, Aug. 3
100m butterfly — Sjostrom is the defending champion and world-record holder; Olympic champion Dana Vollmer is not competing at Worlds after having a baby
200m individual medley — Hosszu was fastest in the world in 2013, 2014 and 2015, but Ye lurks
Tuesday, Aug. 4
100m backstroke — Franklin is the 2012 Olympic and 2013 World champion, but Seebohm has been world No. 1 the last two years
1500m freestyle — Ledecky is 14 seconds faster than anyone else this year
100m breaststroke — Meilutyte is the 2012 Olympic and 2013 World champion and world-record holder
Wednesday, Aug. 5
200m freestyle — Ledecky and Franklin’s only shared individual event
Thursday, Aug. 6
200m butterfly — Missing the reigning Olympic and World gold and silver medalists
4x200m freestyle relay — Ledecky and Franklin expected to lead U.S.
Friday, Aug. 7
100m freestyle — Franklin is not a medal favorite, behind Australia’s Campbell sisters, Sjostrom and Heemskerk
200m breaststroke — Defending champ Russian Yulia Efimova is back from a doping ban
Saturday, Aug. 8
200m backstroke — Franklin is the Olympic and World champion and world-record holder, but Seebohm is top seed
800m freestyle — Ledecky’s fourth and final individual event
Sunday, Aug. 9
50m freestyle — Campbell looks to dethrone Dutch Olympic and World champion Ranomi Kromowidjojo
400m individual medley — Hosszu vs. Ye II
4x100m medley relay — U.S. has won six of last seven World titles