Katie Ledecky earns gold for record 20th swim worlds medal; Regan Smith wins backstroke

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BUDAPEST — Katie Ledecky is more interested in lap times than medal counts. She was satisfied with both at the world swimming championships on Monday.

Ledecky took gold in the 1500m freestyle for her 20th career world medal, tying Natalie Coughlin for the female record. Ledecky, after winning her opening 400m free on Saturday, clocked 15 minutes, 30.15 seconds to bag her fourth world title in the 1500m on Monday. It was a U.S. one-two as 16-year-old Katie Grimes took silver, 14.74 seconds back.

“My goal was to hold 31 low [second laps to ], so that’s right on the money,” said Ledecky, who went 7.59 seconds faster than her time to win the event’s Olympic debut in Tokyo.

Grimes is the youngest U.S. medalist at a worlds since Ledecky in 2013 and the second-youngest medalist ever in the women’s 1500m after Ledecky, who is now both the youngest and the oldest world 1500m free champion, according to Bill Mallon of Olympedia.org.

The U.S. added four medals between the men’s and women’s 100m backstrokes — gold (Regan Smith), silver (Ryan Murphy) and bronze (Hunter Armstrong and Claire Curzan). Murphy ceded his world record to Italian gold medalist Thomas Ceccon, who lowered it from 51.85 to 51.60.

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Ledecky, now a four-time world champion in the 1500m free, owns the 13 fastest times in history in the event, including the world record of 15:20.48. Her time on Monday was 8.73 seconds faster than any swimmer in history not named Ledecky.

The only swimmers with more world championships medals than Ledecky are Michael Phelps (33) and Ryan Lochte (27). Ledecky’s 17 gold medals are also third in history behind Phelps (26) and Lochte (18).

“I don’t count [medals],” Ledecky said. “It’s pretty wild because I feel like just yesterday I was in Barcelona at my first worlds [at age 16 in 2013] like Katie [Grimes] is now.”

She has two more events left at worlds, the 4x200m free relay on Wednesday and the 800m free on Friday and Saturday. In the 800m free, Ledecky can become the first swimmer to win five consecutive world titles in one event.

Smith added a 100m back title to the 200m crown she earned in 2019, when she broke three world records in two races at age 17.

She held off two-time defending world champion Kylie Masse of Canada by .18, prevailing in the absence of Olympic gold medalist and world record holder Kaylee McKeown of Australia. McKeown scratched the 100m back, reportedly to focus on the 200m individual medley, where she took silver.

“It’s getting harder and harder to deal with the pressure because a lot of people expecting me to deliver,” said Smith, who took 100m back bronze in Tokyo. “I’ve been working a lot with a psychologist to survive this situation, and it seems to be working.”

Curzan, who is slated to join Smith at Stanford later this summer, earned her first individual Olympic or world medal.

In the men’s 100m back, Ceccon went from fourth in Tokyo to a world champion and world record holder. He trained the last few years at the same pool as Italian legend Federica Pellegrini, who retired last year.

“I haven’t realized that I broke the world record,” he said in disbelief. “I didn’t think of any record or time before the start.”

Murphy, who swept the backstrokes at the 2016 Olympics, wasn’t upset that he was denied his first individual world title given he swam his best time in four years.

“I honestly was not expecting to be that fast,” he said. “Thomas is an incredible talent. Hats off to him. That’s a gnarly swim.”

Armstrong, who broke the 50m back world record at April’s trials, earned his first individual medal at an Olympics or worlds.

In the 100m breaststroke, 2016 Olympic champion and world record holder Lilly King took fourth after squeaking into the final in the eighth and last spot. She got in after training partner Annie Lazor was disqualified for illegal leg movement with her kick in the semifinals.

King, vying to become the first woman to win three consecutive world titles in a breaststroke event, missed bronze by five hundredths behind 2012 Olympic champion Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania. Meilutyte retired in 2019 after it was announced she was facing a ban for missed (but not failed) drug tests. She was given a two-year ban and returned to competition last December.

Italian 17-year-old Benedetta Pilato won the 100m breast in 1:05.93, holding off German Anna Elendt by .05.

The 17-year-old Romanian David Popovici won the 200m free in 1:43.21, the world’s best time in 10 years. Popovici became the first Romanian man to win a world title and the youngest male gold medalist from any nation in 15 years.

Worlds continue Tuesday featuring Olympic champion Bobby Finke in the 800m free final and the mixed medley relay, expected to include Caeleb Dressel.

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