Katie Ledecky won her third gold medal of the World Championships, taking the 200m freestyle over a field that included defending World champion Missy Franklin in Kazan, Russia, on Wednesday.
Ledecky clocked 1:55:16. Italian world-record holder Federica Pellegrini earned silver at 1:55.32, followed by Franklin for bronze in 1:55.49.
“It was a star-studded field, just glad that it all went well,” Ledecky told Michele Tafoya on Universal Sports. “I just felt a lot more recovered than yesterday [when Ledecky swam the 200m freestyle semifinals after winning the 1500m free final in world-record time 30 minutes earlier]. I was able to go out with the field.”
Ledecky, 18, has entered seven career Worlds events and won gold in all of them. If she wins the 800m freestyle on Saturday, Ledecky will become the third swimmer to win four individual titles at a single World Championships. The others were Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
“This one was the least expected,” Ledecky said of the 200m free on Eurosport, with her coach, Bruce Gemmell, adding that he was surprised that she won. “I knew this would be the toughest race.”
Ledecky did not swim the 200m free at Worlds in 2013, when Franklin won in 1:54:81.
“Katie’s just an inspiration to everyone,” Franklin, who has fifth- and third-place finishes this week in two individual events that she won two years ago, told Tafoya on Universal Sports. “What she does is incredible, and it’s never been done before.”
Ledecky’s rise to become the world’s best 200m freestyle swimmer the last two years makes one wonder if she will dip down further to the 100m freestyle for 2016.
In January, Ledecky chopped .41 off her 100m freestyle personal best at a meet in Austin, Texas, two months after her coach, Bruce Gemmell, did not rule out adding the 100m free in interviews.
Ledecky’s personal best in the 100m free (54.55) ranks her 42nd in the world this year and ninth among Americans. It’s likely the top six at the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials will make the Olympic team for the 4x100m free relay. The Rio Olympic 4x100m relay is on the first day of competition at the Olympics, a day where Ledecky has no other events.
In 1972, Australian Shane Gould won medals in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles at the Munich Olympics.
The U.S. has won eight medals in four days in Kazan with four days left. Its lowest medal total at an Olympics or Worlds in the last 50 years was 21 at the 1994 World Championships.
In other events Wednesday, China’s Sun Yang won his third straight 800m freestyle World title, his second gold medal in Kazan and his third medal overall. Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri was second, .85 behind, followed by Mack Horton of Australia getting the bronze. American Connor Jaeger was fourth.
Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh won his second World Championship, 10 years after his first. Cseh, for so long chasing Phelps in various events, clocked 1:53.48 in the 200m butterfly to beat reigning Olympic and World champion Chad le Clos of South Africa by .20. Poland’s Jan Switkowski earned bronze.
Le Clos had been the 200m fly king starting with his Olympic upset of Phelps in London. Phelps said earlier this year that he’s open to competing seriously in the 200m fly again, after swearing it off last year, citing slow times worldwide in the event.
“I wish that he was here,” Le Clos said of Phelps, according to The Associated Press. “He’s been talking a lot of smack in the media about how slow the butterfly is, so I just can’t wait until I race him again. I’m going to really go for his world record next year.”
Great Britain’s Adam Peaty followed his 100m breaststroke title with a 50m breast gold medal in 26.51, which was .15 ahead of South African Cameron van der Burgh. Van der Burgh also took silver in the 100m breast. American Kevin Cordes took bronze in the 50m breast by .01. The 50m breast is not contested at the Olympics.
In semifinals, Lochte was the top qualifier into Thursday’s 200m individual medley final. Lochte finished fourth in the 200m freestyle Tuesday in his only other individual event in Kazan. He’s the three-time defending World champion in the 200m IM.
Olympic champion Nathan Adrian qualified fifth into Thursday’s 100m free final. That final will not include two-time reigning World champion James Magnussen of Australia (injured) or Russian world leader Vladimir Morozov (false start in the semifinals).
Americans Katie McLaughlin and Cammile Adams qualified fifth and sixth into Thursday’s 200m butterfly final.