Katie Ledecky checked every box at the Olympic Trials so far. All that’s left is the event that made her famous nine years ago — the 800m freestyle — on Saturday night.
Ledecky qualified fastest into the final by 10.84 seconds in an eight-and-a-half-minute race. She is undefeated in this event since winning the 2012 Olympics at age 15.
Ledecky can become the fifth U.S. woman to swim in four individual events at an Olympics after Shirley Babashoff, Summer Sanders, Katie Hoff (who did five in 2008) and Missy Franklin, according to Bill Mallon of Olympedia.org. (Tracy Caulkins also won four events at the 1980 Olympic Trials, but the U.S. boycotted those Games.)
Ledecky will also be part of the 4x200m free relay in Tokyo, giving her the chance to become the first American woman to win five golds at a single Olympics in any sport (Simone Biles can, too, but Ledecky can do it first by a matter of days.)
But Ledecky trails Australian rival Ariarne Titmus in the world rankings in the 200m and 400m frees. Titmus doesn’t swim the 1500m like Ledecky, so the 800m is at the tail end of her distances.
The number to monitor Saturday is 8:15.57, Titmus’ winning 800m free time from the Australian Trials. Ledecky went 8:16.61 in prelims.
A look at tonight’s races …
Men’s 100m Butterfly FINAL — 9:04 p.m. ET
Caeleb Dressel swam the third-fastest 100m fly in history in Friday’s semifinals. He already owned the fastest two times, so the tattooed Floridian is an overwhelming favorite here. His world record of 49.50 is in play. Rio Olympian Tom Shields, who in December 2019 shared that he attempted suicide in 2018, was the second-fastest qualifier. Shields ranked sixth in the nation in 2019, but on Friday clocked his fastest time in five years.
Women’s 200m Backstroke FINAL — 9:12
Regan Smith, 19, is favored here, in her best event, to qualify for a third individual event in Tokyo. She’s the world-record holder, and nobody else in this field has ever come within two and a half seconds of that best time. However, 18-year-old Phoebe Bacon was .23 off Smith in the semifinals (and the lone swimmer within 1.15 seconds of her). Bacon, sixth in the 100m back, was Ledecky’s “little buddy” as a pre-K student at Little Flower School in Bethesda, Md., when Ledecky was a fourth-grader at the same institution.
Women’s 800m Freestyle FINAL — 9:22
Bella Sims, a 16-year-old who qualified in the 4x200m relay, was second-fastest in the prelims by 1.22 seconds. She is already set to become the youngest U.S. Olympic swimmer since Ledecky in 2012. Sims will look to hold off Erica Sullivan, who was second to Ledecky in the 1500m free, Haley Anderson, who made the team last year in the open-water 10km, and Ally McHugh, who was fifth in her best event, the 400m IM.
Men’s 50m Freestyle Semifinals — 9:39
Tony Ervin, at 40 the oldest swimmer at Trials, was eliminated in morning prelims in 23rd place. Ervin won the 50m free at the Olympics in 2000 and 2016, but said in 2018 that his goal was not to make it to Tokyo, but try and make the final to shake the hands of the two men who do go. Nathan Adrian, 32 and an eight-time Olympic medalist, gets his last chance to qualify for Tokyo in this event. He was third in the prelims behind Dressel, an overwhelming favorite, and Michael Andrew.
Women’s 50m Freestyle Semifinals — 9:52
Simone Manuel gets her last chance at making the Olympic team in this event (where she is world champion and holds the American record). She was second in prelims, two days after failing to qualify for the 100m free final. Abbey Weitzeil, a Rio Olympian who already made it in the 100m free, was fastest.
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