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Katie Ledecky
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Katie Ledecky, Caeleb Dressel sizzle as world championships near

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Two of U.S. swimming’s biggest stars appear in form going into the world championships.

Katie Ledecky swam the world’s fastest 800m freestyle of 2019 at a Tyr Pro Series meet in Bloomington, Ind., on Sunday. A half-hour later in Atlanta, Caeleb Dressel clocked his fastest 100m freestyle since the summer of 2017.

It marked the last full meet for Ledecky before worlds in Gwangju, South Korea, in two months. Dressel will swim another meet in late June, his coach, Gregg Troy, said Monday.

Ledecky’s swim was a statement by virtue of the world rankings. She came to Bloomington as the world leader in the 800m, but only by four tenths of a second over Wang Jianjiahe, a 16-year-old who broke the Asian record at the Chinese Championships.

Nobody has been that close to Ledecky in her trademark event since her breakthrough 2012 Olympic title at age 15, though Ledecky and Wang have never been in the same race.

“I’m aware of what everyone else in the world is doing,” Ledecky said last month, according to the Washington Post.

Ledecky opened breathing room in Bloomington, going four seconds faster than a month ago and winning by 26 seconds against a domestic field (Ledecky swept the 200m, 400m and 800m frees over the weekend and hasn’t lost domestically in any of those events in five years). She owns the 20 fastest 800m frees in history and on Sunday clocked the seventh-fastest of that set.

It’s an opportune time to look at the world rankings in the four individual events Ledecky will swim in Gwangju:

200m Freestyle
1. Ariarne Titmus (AUS) — 1:54.30
2. Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) — 1:55.29 (not expected to swim 200m free at worlds)
3. Katie Ledecky — 1:55.78

400m Freestyle
1. Ariarne Titmus (AUS) — 3:59.66
2. Katie Ledecky — 3:59.95
3. Li Bingjie (CHN) — 4:03.29

800m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky — 8:10.70

2. Wang Jianjiahe (CHN) — 8:14.64
3. Leah Smith (USA) — 8:16.33

1500m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky — 15:45.59
2. Wang Jianjiahe (CHN) — 15:46.69
3. Simona Quadarella (ITA) — 16:04.02

On paper, it’s the toughest competition Ledecky faces going into a major international meet since she expanded her program to include all of those events in 2014. Titmus, 18, is now the fifth-fastest 200m freestyler in history and the third-fastest in the 400m free. Wang is No. 3 all-time in the 800m and No. 6 in the 1500m.

The difficulty increases when putting history in perspective. Most elite female distance swimmers peak in their teens and, until recent years, were all but if not retired in their early 20s (Ledecky is 22).

Dressel’s performance last weekend triggered alarm bells to anybody who might have been sleeping on the man who earned a Michael Phelps-record-tying seven golds at the 2017 Worlds.

The summer of 2018 did not go to plan for Dressel, who earned two individual victories in seven tries between the two biggest meets of the year.

But in Atlanta, Dressel ran down Chase Kalisz in Saturday’s 200m butterfly, covering the last 50 meters 1.79 seconds faster than the field. Impressive for Dressel, a sprinter, to do that in an event he rarely contests and against Kalisz, the world’s greatest all-around swimmer whose primary event is the 400m individual medley.

Then on Sunday, Dressel moved from No. 27 to No. 4 in the world this year in the 100m freestyle. His 47.86 was his fastest 100m free since the 2017 Worlds, when Dressel recorded the three fastest 100m free times in American history.

The 2019 world rankings in Dressel’s primary events show that he, like Ledecky, could be in for a fight to repeat his 2017 medal haul:

50m Freestyle
1. Bruno Fratus (BRA) — 21.47
2. Ben Proud (GBR) — 21.48
3. Andrea Vergani (ITA) — 21.53
6. Caeleb Dressel — 21.69 (Dressel did not swim the 50m free in Atlanta)

100m Freestyle
1. Vladislav Grinev (RUS) — 47.43
2. Kyle Chalmers (AUS) — 47.48
3. Marcelo Chierighini (BRA) — 47.68
4. Caeleb Dressel (USA) — 47.86

100m Butterfly
1. Mehdy Metella (FRA) — 50.85
2. Chad le Clos (RSA) — 51.25
3. Sebastian Sabo (HUN) — 51.34
5. Caeleb Dressel — 51.41

Dressel’s winning times from 2017 Worlds in those three events were all significantly faster than Fratus, Grinev and Metella’s top times for 2019, but smart swimmers will be peaking in July and not at spring meets.

In other events Sunday, Annie Lazor continued her tear by clocking 2:20.77 in Bloomington’s 200m breaststroke and becoming the second-fastest American in history behind two-time Olympic champion Rebecca Soni.

Lazor, a 24-year-old who was seventh at the 2016 Olympic Trials, chopped 3.65 seconds off her personal best in the last 10 months. She leads the 2019 world rankings ahead of world champion Yuliya Yefimova of Russia. But Lazor did not qualify for the world championships team last summer.

Nathan Adrian ended his first meet since testicular cancer treatment (which included two surgeries) with a third-place finish in Sunday’s 50m freestyle. Adrian, a five-time Olympic champion, was fourth in the 100m free on Friday.

“I don’t really know what to make of the times, but in terms of my stroke, that felt better than I expected it to feel,” Adrian told Swimswam.com.

MORE: Olympic breaststroke champion faces ban for missed drug tests

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Katie Ledecky dominates 400m free at TYR Pro Swim Series

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Katie Ledecky won the women’s 400m free by seven seconds on Friday evening at the TYR Pro Swim Series stop in Knoxville, Tennessee. It marked Ledecky’s third win of the meet; the five-time Olympic gold medalist won the 200m free and 400m IM yesterday. She’ll conclude her program in Knoxville by competing in the 1500m tomorrow.

Other American stalwarts have also had strong showings in Knoxville. Three-time Olympic gold medalist Ryan Murphy won tonight’s 100m back final by more than a second, while four-time Olympic medalist Simone Manuel has also seen her share of success, winning the 50m free tonight and finishing second to Ledecky in yesterday’s 200m free.

One of the breakthrough performers of the meet has been Michigan native Annie Lazor, who won the 200m breaststroke tonight in a personal best of 2:23.51, just one day after winning the 100m breaststroke (also in a personal best). Lazor competed at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, but after not making the cut for Rio, opted to take a break from the sport. Lazor took a year away from competition before making the choice to return to the pool. The 24-year-old has recently been training at Indiana University, where she swims alongside fellow breaststroke specialists Lilly King and Cody Miller. Last month, Lazor won the 200m breaststroke at the Short Course World Championships, marking the first major international victory of her career.