Clark Smith

Katie Ledecky sets table for unprecedented world championships

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Katie Ledecky passed every test at nationals. Now, she has the option of taking on her biggest workload ever at a major meet.

Ledecky won her last race, the 400m freestyle, at the USA Swimming Nationals, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast, in Indianapolis on Friday night.

Ledecky clocked 3:58.44, the third-fastest time ever, 5.33 seconds ahead of runner-up Leah Smith. Ledecky has gone sub-4 a total of 10 times in her career. Only one other woman has done it once — former world-record holder Federica Pellegrini of Italy.

In other events Friday, Lilly King completed a sweep of the breaststrokes by winning the 100m in 1:04.95. The time was .02 off her Olympic-winning swim and .13 off Russian rival Yuliya Efimova‘s fastest in the world this year.

Olympian Kevin Cordes broke Cody Miller‘s American record in the men’s 100m breast, clocking 58.74. Miller was second to make the world team after taking Olympic bronze. The event is dominated by Brit Adam Peaty, who owns the world record of 57.13 and the eight fastest times ever.

Matt Grevers won the men’s 100m backstroke, one year after failing to make the Rio team and defend his London gold medal. He was followed by Rio gold medalist Ryan Murphy. Olympic silver medalist Kathleen Baker took the women’s 100m back.

In the men’s 400m free, Zane Grothe and Clark Smith went one-two after finishing fourth and fifth at the Olympic Trials.

SWIM NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | Event Schedule/Results

This week, Ledecky qualified for July’s world championships in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees and as part of the 4x100m and 4x200m free relay pools. She could tie Missy Franklin‘s female record six golds at a single worlds from 2013.

Ledecky will swim 6,300 meters in seven days at worlds in Budapest if she makes the final in all of those individual events and swims once in each relay.

With the addition of the 4x100m free, it would be 100 more meters than she swam at the 2015 Worlds, where she completed the Ledecky Slam by winning five gold medals.

In Rio, Ledecky swam 3,400 meters and won four golds and one silver. The women’s 1500m free was not on the Olympic program. Michael Phelps swam 3,300 meters when he won eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games.

None of the other great recent distance swimmers — Grant HackettSun Yang and Kate Ziegler among them — swam 6,300 meters at a major meet.

Smith has qualified for worlds in the 200m, 400m and 800m frees and in the 400m individual medley with a 1500m free spot available at nationals Saturday, should she enter the race and win it.

Ledecky’s potential schedule at worlds in Budapest:

Day 1 — July 23
400m freestyle heats (morning)
400m freestyle final (night)
4x100m freestyle final (night)

Day 2 — July 24
1500m freestyle heats (morning)

Day 3 — July 25
200m freestyle heats (morning)
200m freestyle semifinals (night)
1500m freestyle final (night)

Day 4 — July 26
200m freestyle final (night)

Day 5 — July 27
4x200m freestyle (night)

Day 6 — July 28
800m freestyle heats (morning)

Day 7 — July 29
800m freestyle final (evening)

Day 8 — July 30 (last day)
Rest

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Katie Ledecky cruises into another Olympics; Dana Vollmer earns third trip

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Katie Ledecky has set the bar so high, it’s a bit of a disappointment when she doesn’t set a world record.

The 19-year-old has no complaints.

She’s heading back to the Olympics.

Getting that formality out of the way in her first event of the U.S. swimming trials, Ledecky held off a persistent challenge from Leah Smith to win the 400-meter freestyle on Monday night.

“The last 150, I just kept telling myself, ‘Rio! Rio! Rio!'” said Ledecky, who is also a big favorite in two other freestyle races to come. “I just tried to keep myself fired up and didn’t really care what the time was.”

Ledecky, who surprisingly won her first Olympic gold at age 15 four years ago in London, is now recognized as one of the most dominant freestylers in history. She set a blistering pace over the first half of the race, putting her more than 2 seconds ahead of the time from her record-setting performance at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships in Australia.

But Ledecky tired a bit over the final 200, another world mark slipping away when she touched in 3 minutes, 58.98 seconds. Smith pushed the 19-year-old winner all the way, also claiming an Olympic berth by finishing at 4:00.65.

The crowd of more than 14,000 groaned a bit when they saw Ledecky’s time, but it was still the third-fastest in history.

ZACCARDI: The code to Ledecky’s goals in Rio

SWIM TRIALS: Video | Results | Broadcast Schedule

“That’s fast,” Ledecky said. “That’s 3 seconds faster than anybody else in the world. I think we’re going to really represent the U.S. well in that event.”

Also Monday, Dana Vollmer locked up another trip to the Olympics less than 16 months after giving birth to her first child.

She finished second in the 100 butterfly behind Olympic rookie Kelsi Worrell, one of several young swimmers already signaling a changing of the guard in the first two days of the meet.

Smith will be heading to her first Olympics. Ditto for the top two in the 100 breaststroke, won by Kevin Cordes followed by Cody Miller.

That means seven Olympic first-timers have already made the powerful American team. Chase Kalisz, Jay Litherland and Maya DiRado qualified on the first night of the trials.

“Watching the other first-time Olympians, I feel like not a lot of people see the background,” Smith said. “Maya DiRado and Kevin Cordes have been good since 2013 and missed out earlier. I was nowhere near making the team in 2012, it’s been steady progress.”

In the 100 fly, defending Olympic champion Vollmer led at the turn, but the late-blooming Worrell rallied on the return lap to post the second-fastest time in the world this year at 56.48.

Vollmer touched next in 57.21, giving her the second Olympic spot.

The 28-year-old Vollmer, a four-time gold medalist, was cheered on by her husband and their young son, Arlen.

“I had no idea how it would go when I started,” Vollmer said. “It’s really been an amazing life’s journey for me. To come in with no expectations and kind of improve all the time. I was a little disappointed when I touched with the time, but then you realize time doesn’t matter. I still got second place and I’m going to Rio.”

Worrell didn’t even make the American squad for last year’s world championships, but she’s Rio bound as well.

“I’m just so excited to be here,” Worrell said. “It is my first time, and I didn’t know what to expect.”

One night after stunningly missing out on an Olympic berth in the 400 individual medley, an ailing Ryan Lochte swam two more grueling races to qualify for the final of the 200 freestyle.

Shaking off the pain of a groin injury, Lochte got through the morning preliminaries and posted the fifth-fastest time in the evening semifinals.

But Lochte has his work cut out for him to earn an Olympic berth in Tuesday’s final, and he’s admittedly having trouble with his kicks and turns. He finished in 1:47.58 seconds, getting passed by both Conor Dwyer and Clark Smith on the final lap of their semifinal heat.

“All I wanted to do was get a lane for tomorrow and that’s what I did,” Lochte said. “Tomorrow is definitely going to be rough, and it’s going to be fast.”

Dwyer, who already earned a spot on the Olympic team in the 400 free, was the top qualifier at 1:46.96.

There was nearly an even bigger shocker in the semifinals of the women’s 100 backstroke. Defending Olympic champion Missy Franklin, one of America’s biggest stars at the London Games four years ago, got off to an even slower start than usual and barely qualified for Tuesday’s final.

Franklin rallied just to finish fourth in her heat and wound up with the next-to-slowest qualifying time at 1:00.45 – a mere 0.04 from missing a spot in the final altogether. Thirty-three-year-old Natalie Coughlin, a 12-time Olympic medalist, also slipped into the final with last spot at 1:00.46.

Olivia Smoliga was fastest at 59.16.

“I didn’t see anything,” Franklin said. “I just knew I had to get my hand on the wall.”

Cordes, who just missed out on a breaststroke spot at the 2012 trials, finally got over the Olympic hump. He won in 59.18, followed by Miller at 59.26.

“I definitely carried that for four years,” Cordes said, referring to his third-place finish four years ago. “It’s been in the back of my mind throughout many practices and many points, and I’m happy this time it’s a little bit different.”

Deaf swimmer Marcus Titus finished sixth, missing out on his first Olympics at age 30.

“I did the best I could,” Titus said. “That was a hard race.”

MORE: Katie Ledecky is an ‘unstoppable force’ in freestyle (video)