Katie Ledecky retakes 400m freestyle at swim worlds; Michael Phelps’ last record rattled

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BUDAPEST — Katie Ledecky reclaimed the 400m freestyle crown to open the world swimming championships, prevailing in the absence of rival Ariarne Titmus of Australia.

Ledecky won in a championship record 3 minutes, 58.15 seconds, topping 15-year-old Canadian Summer McIntosh by 1.24 seconds. American Leah Smith took bronze, matching her finish from the 2016 Olympics and 2019 Worlds.

“Just wanted to start the meet on a good note,” said Ledecky, who is expected to swim in four events over the eight-day competition. “It hurt a bit, but I’m really happy and couldn’t be happier to have Leah on the medal podium with me.”

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Also Saturday, 20-year-old Frenchman Léon Marchand established himself as a star ahead of the 2024 Paris Games.

Marchand, who swims at Arizona State under Michael Phelps‘ longtime coach Bob Bowman, won the 400m individual medley in 4:04.28, the second-best time in history behind Phelps’ world record 4:03.84.

Americans Carson Foster and Chase Kalisz (Tokyo Olympic champion) took silver and bronze.

Marchand was under Phelps’ record pace through 350 meters, nearly wiping Phelps’ last remaining individual record, and the last individual record overall from the 2008 Olympics, off the books.

“I talk to [Phelps] a little bit by [text] message, and he’s always sending some some texts to Bob,” Marchand said.

Australian Elijah Winnington took the men’s 400m free in 3:41.22, the world’s best time since 2012. Winnington was seventh at the Tokyo Olympics.

In the 4x100m free relays, the U.S. men, led by Caeleb Dressel, won by 1.46 seconds over Australia. The U.S. has won the event at every Olympics and worlds since Dressel joined the lineup in 2016.

Favored Australia took the women’s 4x100m free despite lacking seven-time Tokyo Olympic medalist Emma McKeon, who along with Titmus is skipping worlds to focus on the Commonwealth Games. Australia won by 1.20 seconds over Canada, with a young U.S. quartet taking bronze, just as a more experienced foursome did in Tokyo.

Ledecky earned her 16th career world championships gold medal and her 12th in individual events, breaking her tie in the latter with China’s Sun Yang for the second-most in history behind Phelps’ 15 individual world titles. Ledecky has two more individual events left in Budapest, the 800m and 1500m frees.

This marked Ledecky’s first 400m free gold at a major international meet since 2018. She took silver behind Titmus at the 2019 Worlds and the Tokyo Olympics.

Last month, Titmus broke Ledecky’s 400m free world record, lowering it by six hundredths to 3:56.40.

Titmus and some other Australian stars are skipping worlds to prioritize the Commonwealth Games later this summer. Ledecky and Titmus are not expected to race against each other until the 2023 World Championships in Japan.

“The focus maybe for everyone else is about time, but for me it hasn’t been about time this year,” said Ledecky, who after winning two golds and four medals at the Tokyo Olympics moved from Stanford to Florida. “It’s just about finding my stroke, finding my rhythm and not putting a limit on what I can do.”

Worlds continue Sunday, including Dressel in the 50m butterfly final and fellow Americans Torri Huske and Claire Curzan in the 100m fly final.

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