We’re used to Katie Ledecky pulling away from swimmers by lengths of the pool in distance races, but one new rival sees the opposite.
“I think I’m getting closer and closer to Ledecky right now,” China’s Li Bingjie said at a FINA World Cup event in Singapore last weekend, according to the New Straits Times.
Li, who was born in 2002, took silver in the 800m freestyle and bronze in the 400m free behind Ledecky at the world championships in July.
Her 800m time — 8:15.46 — was the second-fastest ever for a swimmer other than Ledecky. Ledecky holds the 14 fastest times ever.
Next is Brit Rebecca Adlington‘s gold-medal-winning time from the 2008 Olympics, followed by two more Ledecky times and then Li.
Ledecky beat Li by 2.78 seconds in the world championships 800m.
It marked Ledecky’s smallest margin of victory in a race of 400 meters or longer at a major international meet since 2013 — a run of 10 races among the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships, 2015 World Championships, 2016 Olympics and 2017 World Championships.
In that world 800m final, Li cut five seconds off her personal best and outsplit Ledecky over the last 200 meters. Afterward, she told Chinese media that Ledecky didn’t swim as fast as Li thought she would, according to TeamUSA.org.
“My time wasn’t as fast as I’ve been, but it’s still faster than anybody else has ever been,” Ledecky responded when told of Li’s comments, according to the website. “And it was the end of a really long week for me, a lot of ups and downs. I was happy to just get the gold, and that’s all I really wanted to do in this race tonight, going out and swimming the best race I can. You don’t know what anybody else was going to do. If she was going to come up and challenge me, I would have had to respond.”
Then in September, Li broke Asian records in the 400m and 1500m frees at the Chinese National Games. She is ranked third in the world in both events this year.
“As for [whether I can surpass Ledecky], that’s not for me to say,” Li said last weekend, according to the newspaper.
Ledecky and Li have not met since worlds, and they might not again until 2019.
The major international meet of 2018 is August’s Pan Pacific Championships in Japan, an event that the top Chinese swimmers often skip.
Li reportedly said her next focus is on the Asian Games, which open five days after Pan Pacs.
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