Katie Ledecky grabs relay silver in return from illness at swim worlds

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Katie Ledecky grabbed relay silver in her return to the world swimming championships after suffering through dehydration and vomiting for the previous week.

“That went a lot better than I expected,” Ledecky said. “I’d say 95 percent sure that I’ll swim tomorrow [in the 800m freestyle].”

Ledecky, in her first race since Monday, gave the U.S. the lead in the second leg of the 4x200m free, but Australia surged ahead on anchor to win in a world record 7:41.50. It’s the first time the U.S. lost the event at an Olympics or worlds since China set the previous world record in 2009.

The U.S. also swam under the old record, clocking 7:41.87. Ledecky had the third-fastest split of the 32 swimmers in the final. She was joined by Simone ManuelMelanie Margalis and Katie McLaughlin.

In other events Thursday, Caeleb Dressel earned his third gold at worlds with the second-fastest 100m freestyle in history. More on Dressel and the other individual finals here.

Ledecky, a five-time Olympic champion, withdrew from her previous two events on Tuesday (200m and 1500m freestyles), with USA Swimming and her coach, Greg Meehan, then citing an unspecified illness that had affected her since arriving in South Korea on July 17 from a training camp in Singapore.

“We don’t know exactly what caused this all, but feeling the effects of dehydration, loss of appetite, lightheadedness, a lot of different things,” Ledecky said after Thursday’s race. “It kind of created a perfect storm that pulled me out. I wouldn’t have pulled out if it was [not] serious or if I was concerned, scared and worried about my health.”

Ledecky returned to light swimming on Wednesday, checking her heart rate after every 50 meters.

On Tuesday, Meehan said Ledecky’s slow last 50 meters of Sunday’s opening 400m free final, where she was passed by 18-year-old Australian Ariarne Titmus and relegated to silver, was “a little bit of a sign” of a problem.

Ledecky said Thursday that she almost stopped with 400 meters left of her 1500m freestyle heat on Monday, her last swim before temporarily withdrawing from the meet. She still posted the fastest overall time by 2.69 seconds in an event where she is the world-record holder by 18.4 seconds.

“Got over to the coaches and the medical staff, told them I’m not myself,” she said. “Spent the next two days sleeping and getting as much rest and hydration as I could.”

Michael Phelps texted to check on her during one of Ledecky’s sleepless nights.

“That meant a lot,” Ledecky said.

Ledecky is now expected to race one more event in Gwangju, the 800m free, with heats on Friday and the final on Saturday. Ledecky has won the last five combined Olympic and world titles in that event.

NBC Sports researcher Megan Soisson and The Associated Press contributed to this report from Gwangju.

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