IRVINE, Calif. — It’s not about the suit for Katie Ledecky.
On Thursday morning at the U.S. Championships, the five-time Olympic champion experienced what she guessed was the most unexpected obstacle thrown her way in the minutes before a major meet race.
Ledecky ripped a racing swimsuit in the locker room. Then she ripped a backup suit. With about 15 minutes before her 200m freestyle heat, Ledecky put on a practice suit of a different makeup, not designed for top speed.
“It didn’t make me too nervous,” Ledecky said. “It was a blessing in disguise because it really pushed me to get out of my comfort zone.”
Ledecky suffered a rare defeat in her preliminary heat, placing second to Gabby DeLoof, but she still easily advanced to Thursday night’s final. Job done. She of course won the final, without any wardrobe malfunctions, by 1.22 seconds over Allison Schmitt.
Ledecky said many women ripped suits in the morning and even some more before Thursday’s 200m backstroke finals. She blamed the heat at this outdoor Southern California meet, creating sweat and moisture and making it uncomfortable to change in the locker room.
“Everyone’s suit is sticking to them,” she said. “We’re all sweating in there.”
Ledecky’s experience is reminiscent of others. Swede Therese Alshammar famously ripped a high-tech suit before the 2008 Olympic 50m freestyle semifinals, where Dara Torres helped hold up the race for Alshammar to change.
Michael Phelps had a mid-race malfunction when his googles filled with water in the 2008 Olympic 200m butterfly. He had to count strokes to know where he was in the pool.
“It is a good challenge,” said Ledecky, who raced Thursday in front of Phelps and Kobe Bryant in a VIP section. “You’re going to get big meets, and things like that are going to happen. It’s all just about adjusting and making sure you’re prepared.”
Nationals continue Friday with finals at 9 p.m. ET, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming for subscribers on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. Caeleb Dressel, the seven-time 2017 World champion, is expected to headline the action in the 100m butterfly.
Ledecky has two events left at nationals — the 400m freestyle on Saturday and 1500m freestyle on Sunday.
Swimmers are vying for spots at the two biggest international meets before the 2020 Olympics — August’s Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo and the 2019 World Championships in South Korea.
Once a swimmer makes the Pan Pacs team in one event — like Ledecky by winning the 800m free on Wednesday — he or she can swim any event at Pan Pacs. The two fastest swimmers per individual Olympic event, using best times from nationals and Pan Pacs, qualify for worlds.
Missy Franklin, a four-time 2012 Olympic champion, failed to qualify for Pan Pacs and worlds by not making the A final of either the 100m or 200m frees the first two days.
In other events Thursday, Olympic champion Ryan Murphy won the 200m backstroke by 1.53 seconds over Jacob Pebley. Murphy is motivated by his defeats at the 2017 Worlds, where Russian Evgeny Rylov won the 200m back. Rylov is the only man to go faster than Murphy’s 1:54.15 this year.
Micah Sumrall, formerly Micah Lawrence, won the 200m breaststroke in her first major meet since failing to make the Rio Olympic team. Sumrall, a two-time world medalist in the 200m breast, had turned to coaching before deciding to return to competition last year.
Triple 2017 World medalist Kathleen Baker and 16-year-old Regan Smith tied for the women’s 200m backstroke title in 2:06.43.
Andrew Seliskar emerged as 200m free champion by .23 over Olympian Blake Pieroni, who had won the 100m free on Wednesday. Seliskar, a former junior world-record holder, entered five events at the 2016 Olympic Trials, but the 200m free was not one of them. He came into nationals ranked fifth in the U.S. in the 200m free this year.
Olympic silver medalist Josh Prenot overtook Andrew Wilson in the last half of the men’s 200m breast, cruising to win by 1.43 seconds in 2:07.28, the fastest time in the world this year.
Dressel was upset by Michael Andrew in the 50m butterfly, one day after shockingly finishing sixth in the 100m free.
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