Katie Ledecky was the youngest swimmer on the U.S. Olympic team in 2012 and 2016, but this past week, and especially Saturday night, the Olympic Trials showed the next generation arrived.
Ten teenage women have qualified for the U.S. Olympic swim team, with another possible on the final day Sunday. It’s the most since 1996.
Ledecky, 24, completed her Olympic Trials with her fourth victory in as many events, taking the 800m freestyle in 18:14.62. It’s her signature event, which she won at the 2012 Olympics at age 15, in 8:14.63. She is undefeated since and owns the 23 fastest times in history.
Her time Saturday wasn’t one of those 23, but it’s still faster than any other active woman has swum. She earned her eighth career Olympic Trials win, breaking the female record she shared with Katie Hoff and Tracy Caulkins (Michael Phelps won 16).
“I haven’t been super happy with my times, but I still feel like I’m in a good spot,” Ledecky said, summarizing her week and looking ahead to swimming five or six events in Tokyo when including relays. “I’m not comparing myself to my past.”
ON HER TURF: Ledecky’s dominance greatest in 800m free
Ledecky ranks second in the world this year in the 200m and 400m frees — behind Australian rival Ariarne Titmus — and first in the 800m and 1500m. Her best time this year in three of the four events came before Olympic Trials.
Also Saturday, Simone Manuel and Nathan Adrian qualified into Sunday’s 50m free finals to keep their chances alive of making the team. Both Olympic champions failed to reach the 100m free finals, making the 50m their only shot.
Caeleb Dressel won for the second time in as many finals in the 100m butterfly. Dressel, the world-record holder and world champion, is joined on the team by Tom Shields, whose wife rescued him in 2018.
Ledecky is joined on the Olympic team in the 800m by 15-year-old Katie Grimes, who was 5.74 seconds behind. Grimes becomes the youngest U.S. Olympic swimmer since Ledecky in 2012.
Earlier this week, Grimes finished third in the 1500m free, missing the team by one spot. Ledecky told her after that race, “You’re the future.” After Saturday’s final, Ledecky told her, “You’re the now.”
It’s reminiscent of 2012, when Ledecky opened Trials by finishing third in the 400m free, was told by Elizabeth Beisel that she had big things ahead, then won the 800m later in the week.
“Katie squared is going to crush it in Tokyo,” Ledecky said Saturday.
Grimes, in a TV interview and, moments later, in a virtual mixed zone, said she was speechless.
“I was not even expecting that,” said Grimes, who took 17.1 seconds off her 800m free personal best the last two days. “I’m just so honored to even be at this meet.”
Another teen, world-record holder Regan Smith, finished third in the 200m backstroke, missing the team by one spot. Smith previously qualified in the 100m back and the 200m butterfly.
Instead, Rhyan White won in 2:05.73, 2.38 seconds slower than Smith’s world record, to qualify in both backstrokes. Phoebe Bacon, 18, finished second to clinch her first Olympic berth, .33 ahead of Smith.
Bacon went to the same elementary school as Ledecky — Little Flower School in Bethesda, Maryland. When Ledecky was in fourth grade, she was paired with a “little buddy” in pre-kindergarten. That was Bacon.
Bacon followed Ledecky to Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart. Though Bacon didn’t matriculate at Ledecky’s Stanford, she did choose Ledecky’s former coach, Yuri Suguiyama, now the head coach at Wisconsin.
“It’s been a dream of mine to be on the Olympic team, I think since Katie went to Trials in 2012,” Bacon said. “That was kind of eye-opening to me — this young girl from the same area, same schools that I’ve been going to made her dreams come true. I wanted to follow in her footsteps.”
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