Katie Ledecky swims her fastest 400m freestyle in years, while rival recovers

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Katie Ledecky had her second sizzling swim in as many days, scorching her fastest 400m freestyle since August 2018 at a Pro Series meet in Mission Viejo, California, on Saturday.

Ledecky, the Olympic champion and world-record holder, clocked 3:59.25, her fastest time in a meet this early in a year ever. A woman has broken four minutes in the 400m free a total of 25 instances in history. Ledecky was that woman on 20 of those occasions.

“That one didn’t feel as good as some of my other swims this week,” Ledecky said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, “but I’m happy with the time.”

Ledecky had an even more impressive 200m free on Friday, clocking her second-fastest time ever in that event. She has the 100m and 1500m frees on the final day of the meet Sunday (1 p.m., Olympic Channel). Meet results are here.

The 400m is the meeting place for Ledecky and her new rival, 20-year-old Australian Ariarne Titmus.

Titmus won the 2019 World title in 3:58.76 to become the second-fastest woman in history (though slower than Ledecky’s seven best times). Ledecky took silver in that race, 1.21 seconds behind, while dealing with a stomach virus that led her to withdraw from races two days later.

Titmus recently missed three months of training due to a shoulder injury, according to an Australian report on Saturday.

In other events Saturday, Brazilian veteran Bruno Fratus edged world champion Caeleb Dressel by .03 in the men’s 50m freestyle, clocking 21.80 in an Olympic selection meet for Brazil. Dressel posted the fastest time by an American this year.

Lilly King won an Olympic Trials preview in the women’s 200m breaststroke, recording 2:22.38 to hold off training partner Annie Lazor by .35. Lazor is the fastest American since the start of 2019 (2:20.77), while King is the fastest this year. The final also included the third-, fourth- and fifth-fastest Americans since the start of 2019.

Like King, Nic Fink completed a sweep of the breaststrokes in Mission Viejo, taking the men’s 200m breast in 2:09.73. It’s the fastest time by an American this year, but Fink, a 27-year-old seeking his first Olympics, still ranks third among Americans since the start of 2019. Will Licon (not in Mission Viejo) and Andrew Wilson (third on Saturday) are the top two.

Olympic champion and world-record holder Ryan Murphy took the men’s 100m backstroke in 53.11 seconds, bouncing from one side of his lane to the other and knocking the line near the finish. Murphy swam the fastest time by an American this year. Matt Grevers, the 36-year-old, 2012 Olympic champ, was eighth in 55.40 in his first Pro Series meet in 13 months.

World bronze medalist Olivia Smoliga overtook former world-record holder Kathleen Baker to win the women’s 100m back in 59.04 seconds, the fastest time by an American this year. The women’s 100m back is one of the U.S.’ deepest events. Regan Smith, who owns the world record of 57.57, is not in Mission Viejo.

World silver medalist Hali Flickinger swam the fastest 200m butterfly of an American woman in 2021 — 2:06.68 — in Friday night’s preliminary heats. She then scratched the final, won by Katie Crom in 2:10.38, to focus on the 400m free.

Rio Olympian Abbey Weitzeil won the women’s 50m free in 24.57, the fastest time by an American this year, against a field lacking Simone Manuel. Manuel, the world champion, remains the fastest American since the start of 2019 (24.05), ahead of Weitzeil (24.47).

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