Katie Ledecky, after being slowed by illness, showcases her speed

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How fast is the greatest distance swimmer in history?

Katie Ledecky answered Friday, clocking her fourth-best 200m freestyle ever at a Tyr Pro Series meet in Des Moines.

Swimmers peak not for March meets, but for the U.S. Olympic Trials in June and, of course, the Tokyo Games in July and August. Historic times now bode well for the bigger races to come.

Ledecky touched in 1:54.59 to crush by nearly two seconds a field that included the U.S.’ other top 200m freestylers — Allison Schmitt and Simone Manuel. The previous two days, Ledecky won the 1500m free by 46 seconds and the 400m free by seven seconds.

“It’s exceeded my expectations,” Ledecky said of her first meet of 2020. “I figured I’d have a good meet given how great training is going, but you really never know coming into a meet like this if you’re going to be completely dead from training, or if it’s going to start showing.”

The 200m free appears to be the shortest event on Ledecky’s agenda this year. She wasn’t part of the 4x100m free relay at last summer’s worlds, before she missed races with an illness. She must focus more on distance training for this Olympic year than in 2016 given the addition of the 1500m to the Olympic program.

In the 200m, Ledecky was relegated to silver at the 2017 Worlds and bronze at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. She scratched the event at last summer’s worlds due to what she believed was a stomach virus that caused her to spend seven hours in a South Korean emergency room.

Still, Ledecky’s winning time from Rio — 1:53.73 — is faster than any swimmer has recorded in this Olympic cycle. It’s still very important to her going toward trials, where the top two per individual event make the Olympic team. Ledecky hasn’t lost a 200m free domestically in more than six years.

“It’s just as high up as any of the other events, if not more given that we’ve got a relay fight on our hands this year,” Ledecky said on NBCSN, referencing the 4x200m free relay that the U.S. lost to Australia at worlds. “Putting in just as much work for that as the distance events.”

The Tyr Pro Swim Series at Des Moines concludes Saturday with finals at 7:30 p.m. ET streaming on USASwimming.org. Full results are here.

In other events Friday, Caeleb Dressel overtook Michael Andrew to win the 100m butterfly in 50.92, the fastest time in the world in 2020. Dressel, who broke Michael Phelps‘ world record at last summer’s worlds (49.50), beat Andrew by .41. Andrew lowered his personal best to improve to fourth-fastest among Americans since the start of 2019.

“I’m faster than I was at this point in the season last year,” Dressel said. “I don’t want to get caught up in what I’m swimming in March. It doesn’t matter at all.”

World-record holder Regan Smith held off Olympian Kathleen Baker in the 200m backstroke, clocking 2:06.16 to prevail by three tenths. Smith, an 18-year-old Minnesota high school senior, lowered the world record to 2:03.35 at last summer’s world championships. Baker, who ceded her 100m back world record to Smith last summer, recorded a time on Friday that would have earned bronze at worlds.

About 45 minutes later, Smith lowered her 100m butterfly personal best for the second time in one day. Smith clocked 57.34, .01 behind the U.S.’ top sprint butterflier, Kelsi Dahlia. Smith, who may not swim the 100m fly at trials, improved to third-fastest among Americans in the event since the start of 2019.

Ryan Murphy won the men’s 200m back in 1:55.22, the fastest time in the world this year. Murphy, the Rio Olympic champion, was relegated to silver by Russian Yevgeny Rylov at the last two worlds. Rylov was not in the Des Moines field.

Melanie Margalis took 2.97 seconds off her 400m individual medley personal best, winning in 4:32.53. Margalis, fourth in the Rio Olympic 200m IM, improved from the fifth-fastest American in the 400m IM since the start of 2019 to No. 1 by 2.94 seconds.

Ryan Lochte was fourth in the men’s 400m IM won by German Jacob Heidtmann. Lochte, the 2012 Olympic 400m IM champion, clocked 4:18.95 and still ranks outside the top 10 Americans in the event since the start of 2019. Lochte’s best chance to make a fifth Olympic team at age 35 appears to be in the 200m IM.

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Salwa Eid Naser, world 400m champion, provisionally banned

Salwa Eid Naser
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Salwa Eid Naser, the world 400m champion of Bahrain, was provisionally suspended for missing three drug tests in a 12-month span.

“I’ve never been a cheat. I will never be,” Naser, 22, said in an Instagram live video. “I only missed three drug tests, which is normal. It happens. It can happen to anybody. I don’t want people to get confused in all this because I would never cheat.”

Naser said “the missed tests” came before last autumn’s world championships, where she ran the third-fastest time in history (48.14 seconds) and the fastest in 34 years.

“This year I have not been drug tested,” she said. “We are still talking about the ones of last season before the world championships.”

The Athletics Integrity Unit, which handles doping cases for track and field, did not announce whether Naser’s gold medal could be stripped.

“Hopefully, it’ll get resolved because I don’t really like the image, but it has happened,” she said. “It’s going to be fine. It’s very hard to have this little stain on my name.”

Naser, the 2017 World silver medalist, upset Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas for the world title in Doha on Oct. 3.

The only women who have run faster than Naser, who was born Ebelechukwu Agbapuonwu in Nigeria to a Nigerian mother who sprinted and a Bahraini father, were dubious — East German Marita Koch (47.60) and Czechoslovakia’s Jarmila Kratochvilova (47.99).

“I would never take performance-enhancing drugs,” Naser said. “I believe in talent, and I know I have the talent.”

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When Laurie Hernandez winked at the Olympics

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Blink, and you may have missed one of the social-media-sensation moments of the Rio Olympics.

Laurie Hernandez, then 16, was the youngest woman on the U.S. Olympic team across all sports. She was about to start arguably the most important floor exercise routine of her life.

So, she winked.

“The amazing thing about the Olympics is that you feel so many different emotions in the span of a few days, and they are all intense,” she wrote in her 2017 book, “I Got This,” a nod to what she told herself before her balance beam routine earlier that night. “So it was nice to have at least one totally playful moment.”

The U.S., on its fourth and final rotation, already had the team gold all but locked up. Knowing she was nervous, Hernandez’s teammates confirmed to her that they were a few points ahead.

Then Hernandez heard the beep, and it was time to go. She was in the view of an out-of-bounds judge at the Rio Olympic Arena.

“Well, I looked straight at her and suddenly felt this surge of confidence to wink,” she wrote. “Later, a woman came up to me while I was watching Simone [Biles] and Aly [Raisman] compete in their all-around finals and she said, ‘Wow, I just want you to know that when you winked at the judge, it really worked.’ I didn’t know how to respond, so I just said, ‘Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.’ That’s when she told me she was the out-of-bounds judge! All I could say was ‘Oh my goodness.'”

Hernandez, a New Jersey native, finished the Olympics with a team gold and balance beam silver.

She took more than two years off before making a comeback in earnest last year, announcing she planned to return to competition this spring under new coaches in California. Now that’s on hold given the coronavirus pandemic, which pushed the Tokyo Olympics to 2021.

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