Katie Ledecky notched another career first at the NCAA Championships on Friday. Not a record (she has plenty of those). But a tie.
Ledecky, a Stanford freshman, and Mallory Comerford, a Louisville sophomore, touched the wall in the 200-yard freestyle final at the same time in 1 minute, 40.36 seconds, in Indianapolis. Video is at the 40-minute mark here.
“I put my head down, and I had no idea what happened,” Ledecky said on ESPN3 on her 20th birthday. “I never tied for first before. That’s pretty cool.”
Ledecky is undefeated in individual finals at major international meets — 15 for 15 at the Olympics, World Championships and Pan Pacific Championships.
NCAA swimming is done in 25-yard pools versus 50-meters pools in major international meets.
The 200-yard free was the most anticipated event of the four-day NCAA meet. But the attention hyped a different showdown, between Ledecky, the five-time Rio gold medalist, and Stanford teammate Simone Manuel, who bagged four medals in Rio.
Manuel is the only swimmer to beat Ledecky in a freestyle final longer than 100 meters since January 2014, doing so twice this season.
Manuel, the faster sprinter, led after 50, 100 and 150 yards on Friday. Comerford was out even slower than Ledecky but came back on both Olympians in the last 50 yards with the fastest split time. Manuel got third, .24 behind (full results here).
“It’s amazing to be racing them,” Comerford said, standing next to Ledecky. “It’s just a great experience. I was just sticking to my own race and having some fun. I’ve got nothing to lose.”
Comerford, who is five months younger than Ledecky, was 13th in the 2016 Olympic Trials 200m freestyle, more than four seconds slower than Ledecky.
But she made everyone take notice at NCAAs on Wednesday night, posting the fastest split in the 4×200-yard freestyle relay. Faster than both Ledecky and Manuel.
Ledecky won NCAA titles in the 4×200 free relay and the 500-yard free on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. She’s an overwhelming favorite in the 1650-yard free on the final day of the meet Saturday.
She called racing at NCAAs “pretty unique.”
“It ranks right up there with competing for the U.S.,” said Ledecky, who has turned down millions of dollars to stay eligible for NCAA competition. “You’re competing for your teammates that you go to school with. It’s something pretty special.”
Earlier Friday, Stanford sophomore Ella Eastin broke Ledecky’s American record in the 400-yard individual medley. Ledecky beat Eastin in setting the record at the Pac-12 Championships but did not race it at the NCAA Championships.
Stanford is favored to take home its first NCAA women’s team title since 1998, when the Cardinal were led by another freshman — Misty Hyman, who would go on to win the 2000 Olympic 200m butterfly.
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