Katie Ledecky, Sun Yang open quests for history with golds at World Championships

Katie Ledecky

Katie Ledecky and Sun Yang earned their first gold medals en route to what could be unprecedented sweeps on the first day of the World Swimming Championships in Kazan, Russia, on Sunday.

Ledecky, an 18-year-old recent high school graduate, took the 400m freestyle in 3:59.13 with a 3.89-second margin of victory. She was around one second under her 2014 world-record pace halfway through the race, finished .76 off her mark and showed little celebration in the pool.

“I can’t complain about that,” Ledecky said on Eurosport. “You always want to improve and go best times and things like that, but it gives me things to work on in the future. … It gives me some momentum moving forward for the rest of the week.”

Sun, a 23-year-old Chinese, captured the men’s 400m free in 3:42.58, taking the lead in the final 100 meters and winning by a comfortable 1.17 seconds. He flexed his biceps and screamed in celebration, as is his custom. The U.S.’ Connor Jaeger and Michael McBroom were fourth and eighth, respectively.

Ledecky and Sun could become the first swimmers to sweep the 200m through 1500m freestyles at a World Championships. They also could join Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte as the only swimmers to earn four individual gold medals at a single Worlds.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will have coverage of Sunday’s events from 1:30-3:30 p.m. ET.

Swimming World Championships: Men’s preview | Women’s preview | TV schedule | Sunday results

Missy Franklin debuted with a bronze medal leading off the U.S. 4x100m freestyle relay, which was attempting to repeat as World champion for the first time. The Americans were no match for Australia, which broke the world record in 2014 and won by 2.19 seconds over the Netherlands and 3.13 over the U.S. on Sunday.

The shocker of the earlier morning preliminaries session was the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay. The U.S. and Australia both finished tied for 11th and 13th, respectively, missing the eight-nation final. Olympic champion France ended up winning the final over Russia and Italy.

The U.S. held out of the preliminary heat its fastest 100m freestyler — Olympic champion Nathan Adrian — to save him for the final, as is custom for swimming powers. It burned them. The U.S.’ heat time included a 49.69 split from 34-year-old Anthony Ervin, the slowest 4x100m free relay split by an American at a Worlds or Olympics since 2007.

“I died real bad at the end of my leg, which is not uncommon,” Ervin, a 2000 Olympic co-champion in the 50m freestyle and the oldest member of the U.S. team at Worlds, said, according to media in Kazan. “I didn’t really see the rest of the relay. I was still kind of rolling around in a bit of a lactic acid blackout.”

The first World Championships were in 1973, and the U.S. had won a medal in the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay at every Olympics and Worlds where it competed save the 2001 Worlds when it was disqualified for using a swimmer who wasn’t on the event entry list.

In the women’s 100m butterfly semifinals Sunday, defending World champion Swede Sarah Sjostrom broke U.S. Olympic champion Dana Vollmer‘s world record from the London Games.

Sjostrom clocked 55.74 to join Vollmer as the only women to ever break 56 seconds. Vollmer, who is not competing at Worlds following childbirth, swam 55.98 at the London Olympics. The Kazan final, which will include zero Americans, is Monday night.

In the women’s 200m individual medley semifinals, Hungarian defending World champion Katinka Hosszu broke her European record with a 2:06.84, which was .69 off American Ariana Kukors‘ world record from 2009.

Chinese Olympic champion Ye Shiwen snuck into Monday’s final by .07 in the eighth and final qualifying spot. Ye has dealt with reported ankle problems leading into Worlds.

In the men’s 100m breaststroke, British world-record holder Adam Peaty was the top qualifier into Monday’s final. Peaty was followed by South African Olympic champion Cameron van der Burgh. No Americans made the final.

First two U.S. triathletes qualify for 2016 Olympics

Men’s 400m freestyle final
Gold: Sun Yang (CHN) — 3:42.58
Silver: James Guy (GBR) — 3:43.75
Bronze: Ryan Cochrane (CAN) — 3:44.59
4. Connor Jaeger (USA) — 3:44.81
5. Peter Bernek (HUN) — 3:46.29
6. Wojciech Jacek Wojdak (POL) — 3:46.81
7. Clemens Rapp (GER) — 3:48.52
8. Michael McBroom (USA) — 3:51.94

Women’s 400m freestyle final
Gold: Katie Ledecky (USA) — 3:59.13
Silver: Sharon van Rouwendaal (NED) — 4:03.02
Bronze: Jessica Ashwood (AUS) — 4:03.34
4. Jaz Carlin (GBR) — 4:03.75
5. Lauren Boyle (NZL) — 4:04.38
6. Melanie Costa (ESP) — 4:06.50
7. Diletta Carli (ITA) — 4:07.30
8. Boglarka Kapas (HUN) — 4:08.22

Women’s 4x100m freestyle final
Gold: Australia — 3:31.48
Silver: Netherlands — 3:33.67
Bronze: U.S. — 3:34.61
4. Sweden — 3:35.71
5. Canada — 3:36.44
6. Italy — 3:37.16
7. China — 3:37.64
8. France — 3:38.46

Men’s 4x100m freestyle final
Gold: France — 3:10.74
Silver: Russia — 3:11.19
Bronze: Italy — 3:12.53
4. Brazil — 3:13.22
5. Poland — 3:14.12
6. Japan — 3:15.04
7. China — 3:15.41
8. Canada — 3:15.94