Katie Ledecky swam the second-fastest 200m freestyle of her life. Caeleb Dressel, in one of his non-primary events, beat the top-ranked American. And a 17-year-old Alaskan rocketed into the Olympic discussion.
The first set of events at a Pro Series stop in Mission Viejo, California, generated the most buzz of any one day of a professional swim meet in the U.S. so far in 2021. The Olympic Trials, where the top two per individual event are in line to go to Tokyo, are in two months.
Start with Ledecky, who won Friday’s opening race, the 200m free, in 1:54.40, matching the fastest time ever in an American pool.
“Passed the first test,” Ledecky said of a meet that continues Saturday and Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Olympic Channel, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app). Full results are here.
The only time she’s been faster was at the Rio Olympics, when she prevailed in 1:53.73. Since, Ledecky shared 200m free silver at the 2017 Worlds, took bronze at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships and didn’t race it at 2019 Worlds due to a stomach virus.
With her time on Friday, Ledecky improved to third-fastest in the world since the start of 2019 (behind veteran world champion Federica Pellegrini of Italy and 20-year-old Australian rival Ariarne Titmus) and fastest this year.
“It was a good confidence-building swim,” Ledecky said. “It was right where I felt like I should be.”
Immediately after Ledecky’s win, Dressel notched a similarly defining victory, though because of the event rather than the time.
Dressel, who won six medals in Olympic events at worlds in 2017 and 2019 (10 of the 12 gold), won the 200m free (which he did not swim at worlds) in 1:47.57. He ranks third among Americans this year (and outside the top 10 since the start of 2019), but on Friday he beat the highest-ranked American, Andrew Seliskar.
Dressel is in the mix for the 4x200m free relay at the Olympics, which could be a potential seventh Olympic event. It will likely take a swim in the 1:45s to make the Olympic team in the individual 200m free, potentially an eighth event for Dressel, which he did not rule out.
“I would not want to give up an opportunity to have another swim at the Olympics and representing the U.S. in the 200m free,” Dressel said. “I don’t want to say I’m going to promise anything or what. We’re going to get the feet wet at trials.”
Dressel noted he swam the 200m free at the 2017 World Championships trials and finished sixth to make that relay pool. The fifth- and sixth-place swimmers in the 100m and 200m frees at trials usually swim preliminary heats of relays at worlds and the Olympics (and are eligible for medals).
Dressel did not swim the 4x200m free relay at 2017 Worlds. The schedule set up so that he had two other individual swims during those sessions.
At Olympic Trials, the 200m free heats, semifinals and final are in sessions where Dressel has no other scheduled events. At the Olympics, the 200m free and the 4x200m free relay are in sessions with no more than one race in Dressel’s primary events.
“I’ll get my feet wet with that swim [at trials] and kind of feel out the meet, and then we’ll go from there,” Dressel said. “So I’m not sure. I’ll talk to [coach Gregg] Troy once we’re getting into crunch time [closer to Olympic Trials], and then we’ll figure out what our concrete plan will be.”
Dressel also won the 100m butterfly, where he holds the world record, a half-hour after the 200m free.
In other events Friday, Lilly King comfortably won the 100m breaststroke in 1:05.70.
But the Olympic and world champion and world-record holder wasn’t the story of the race. In second place: 17-year-old Alaskan Lydia Jacoby, who between prelims and the final lowered her personal best by 1.17 seconds and now ranks second in the U.S. this year and third since the start of 2019.
No person born in Alaska has made an Olympic swim team, according to Bill Mallon of Olympedia.org. No Alaskan has made an Olympic swim team, according to an Alaska Swimming Hall of Fame contact.
Nic Fink won the men’s 100m breast in 59.74, lowering his mark as fastest American this year. Fink, a 27-year-old eyeing his first Olympics, remains outside the top five Americans since the start of 2019. Andrew Wilson, who was second on Friday, owns the top time in that span of 58.93.
Melanie Margalis swam the world’s fastest 400m individual medley in 2021, clocking 4:35.18 and beating a field that included Olympic hopefuls by 2.37 seconds. Margalis, a 29-year-old who was fourth in the 200m IM in Rio, ranks fourth in the world in the 400m IM since the start of 2019, trailing the three 2019 World Championships medalists.
Rio Olympian Kelsi Dahlia won the women’s 100m fly in 58.11. She remains the second-fastest American in the event since the start of 2019, trailing 16-year-old Claire Curzan. Curzan is slated to swim a 100m fly in her native North Carolina on Saturday.
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