Kathleen Baker

Katie Ledecky, after being slowed by illness, showcases her speed

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How fast is the greatest distance swimmer in history?

Katie Ledecky answered Friday, clocking her fourth-best 200m freestyle ever at a Tyr Pro Series meet in Des Moines.

Swimmers peak not for March meets, but for the U.S. Olympic Trials in June and, of course, the Tokyo Games in July and August. Historic times now bode well for the bigger races to come.

Ledecky touched in 1:54.59 to crush by nearly two seconds a field that included the U.S.’ other top 200m freestylers — Allison Schmitt and Simone Manuel. The previous two days, Ledecky won the 1500m free by 46 seconds and the 400m free by seven seconds.

“It’s exceeded my expectations,” Ledecky said of her first meet of 2020. “I figured I’d have a good meet given how great training is going, but you really never know coming into a meet like this if you’re going to be completely dead from training, or if it’s going to start showing.”

The 200m free appears to be the shortest event on Ledecky’s agenda this year. She wasn’t part of the 4x100m free relay at last summer’s worlds, before she missed races with an illness. She must focus more on distance training for this Olympic year than in 2016 given the addition of the 1500m to the Olympic program.

In the 200m, Ledecky was relegated to silver at the 2017 Worlds and bronze at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. She scratched the event at last summer’s worlds due to what she believed was a stomach virus that caused her to spend seven hours in a South Korean emergency room.

Still, Ledecky’s winning time from Rio — 1:53.73 — is faster than any swimmer has recorded in this Olympic cycle. It’s still very important to her going toward trials, where the top two per individual event make the Olympic team. Ledecky hasn’t lost a 200m free domestically in more than six years.

“It’s just as high up as any of the other events, if not more given that we’ve got a relay fight on our hands this year,” Ledecky said on NBCSN, referencing the 4x200m free relay that the U.S. lost to Australia at worlds. “Putting in just as much work for that as the distance events.”

The Tyr Pro Swim Series at Des Moines concludes Saturday with finals at 7:30 p.m. ET streaming on USASwimming.org. Full results are here.

In other events Friday, Caeleb Dressel overtook Michael Andrew to win the 100m butterfly in 50.92, the fastest time in the world in 2020. Dressel, who broke Michael Phelps‘ world record at last summer’s worlds (49.50), beat Andrew by .41. Andrew lowered his personal best to improve to fourth-fastest among Americans since the start of 2019.

“I’m faster than I was at this point in the season last year,” Dressel said. “I don’t want to get caught up in what I’m swimming in March. It doesn’t matter at all.”

World-record holder Regan Smith held off Olympian Kathleen Baker in the 200m backstroke, clocking 2:06.16 to prevail by three tenths. Smith, an 18-year-old Minnesota high school senior, lowered the world record to 2:03.35 at last summer’s world championships. Baker, who ceded her 100m back world record to Smith last summer, recorded a time on Friday that would have earned bronze at worlds.

About 45 minutes later, Smith lowered her 100m butterfly personal best for the second time in one day. Smith clocked 57.34, .01 behind the U.S.’ top sprint butterflier, Kelsi Dahlia. Smith, who may not swim the 100m fly at trials, improved to third-fastest among Americans in the event since the start of 2019.

Ryan Murphy won the men’s 200m back in 1:55.22, the fastest time in the world this year. Murphy, the Rio Olympic champion, was relegated to silver by Russian Yevgeny Rylov at the last two worlds. Rylov was not in the Des Moines field.

Melanie Margalis took 2.97 seconds off her 400m individual medley personal best, winning in 4:32.53. Margalis, fourth in the Rio Olympic 200m IM, improved from the fifth-fastest American in the 400m IM since the start of 2019 to No. 1 by 2.94 seconds.

Ryan Lochte was fourth in the men’s 400m IM won by German Jacob Heidtmann. Lochte, the 2012 Olympic 400m IM champion, clocked 4:18.95 and still ranks outside the top 10 Americans in the event since the start of 2019. Lochte’s best chance to make a fifth Olympic team at age 35 appears to be in the 200m IM.

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Lilly King beats Yulia Efimova again, then laughs with Russian rival

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Lilly King beat Russian Yuliya Efimova again in the 100m breaststroke at the world championships. Then the former heated rivals clasped hands, exchanged pecks on the cheek and laughed with each other minutes later.

King has repeated over the last two years that she and Efimova moved on from their Rio Olympic rivalry, where King called out Efimova for having served a doping ban, causing Efimova to cry at a post-race press conference.

It’s more civil now, King said after the 2017 Worlds, where they embraced and shared a laugh in the pool in Budapest. They appeared just as friendly, if not more, after King beat Efimova in the 100m breast for a third straight major international meet in Gwangju, South Korea on Tuesday.

“I wouldn’t say we have completely moved on, but we are definitely more cordial than we have been,” said King, who clocked 1:04.93, eight tenths off her world record, to edge Efimova by .58. “Again, that was three years ago. I was 19 and a half. … I think it was blown out of proportion a little bit, the whole situation, but again we’ve both grown up since then. We’ve both moved on, and I think we take this rivalry in stride.”

King and Efimova renew their calmer rivalry twice more at worlds in the 50m and 200m breasts. King won the former at 2017 Worlds, while Efimova won the latter. On Tuesday, Efimova reflected on what happened in Rio.

“If you take Lilly King and ask her if she’d do the same as she did (then), I think she would never say I did it right,” she said, according to Agence France-Presse. “Probably she’d think she did it wrong.”

Worlds continue Wednesday with Caeleb Dressel expected back in action in the mixed-gender 4x100m medley, which could be his third of a possible eight gold medals. There will also be finals in the men’s 800m freestyle, women’s 200m freestyle (sans the ill Katie Ledecky), men’s 200m butterfly and men’s 50m breaststroke.

SWIM WORLDS: TV Schedule | Results

Earlier Tuesday, controversial Chinese Sun Yang repeated as 200m freestyle champion despite touching the wall in second. Lithuanian Danas Rapsys beat Sun but was quickly disqualified for twitching on the starting block.

The medal ceremony was a bit of a repeat of Sun’s 400m free title on Sunday. Co-bronze medalist Duncan Scott of Great Britain and Sun did not appear to shake hands before the Chinese anthem. After, Sun turned around as they left the podium, approached Sun and spoke at him, pointing his finger in his face. More on this episode here.

Sun’s 400m free win was followed by Australian silver medalist Mack Horton‘s protest. Only Michael Phelps has more individual world titles (15) than Sun’s 11.

Canadian Kylie Masse repeated as 100m backstroke champion, while American Olivia Smoliga took bronze. World-record holder Kathleen Baker, competing in her first meet in four months due to pneumonia and a broken rib, faded from first at 50 meters to sixth.

Olympic champion Ryan Murphy was also first at the halfway point of the men’s 100m back, but dropped to fourth as China’s Xu Jiayu repeated as world champion.

Italian Simona Quadarella became the first woman other than Ledecky to win the 1500m free world title since 2011, clocking 15:40.89 in Ledecky’s absence. Ledecky’s world record is 15:20.48.

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Olympic medalists Kathleen Baker, Caeleb Dressel headline TYR Pro Swim Series stop in Des Moines

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The TYR Pro Swim series continues this week with a stop in Des Moines, Iowa. The meet marks the first time that Iowa has hosted a professional swimming competition.

The women’s field is headlined by a handful of Olympic medalists, including Allison Schmitt, Kathleen Baker, Leah Smith, and Olivia Smoliga.

Baker, a two-time Olympic medalist and backstroke specialist, will look to improve on her performance at the first stop of the series in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she finished third in the 50m back, eighth in the 100m back (an event in which she holds the world record), and scratched the 200m back.

Schmitt, an eight-time Olympic medalist, is entered in her first meet of 2019. The three-time Olympian is slated to compete in six events, including the 200m free, where she holds a six-year-old American record. Schmitt originally planned to retire after the 2016 Rio Olympics, but she never officially took herself out of the drug-testing pool, and returned to competition in April 2018. The 28-year-old has been open in recent years about battling depression and says one of her goals is to destigmatize conversations surrounding mental health.

The men’s field features seven-time world champion Caeleb Dressel, who is entered in seven events: the 100m free, 100m breast, 200m free, 50m breast, 50m fly, 100m fly, and 50m free. The 22-year-old had a slow start to the meet on Thursday morning, finishing 15th in the preliminary round of the 100m free (an event in which he holds the American record). Given that it is still early in the season, it is hard to draw too many conclusions from results in Des Moines as most swimmers are currently in the middle of a heavy training period as they look ahead to this summer’s World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.

Michael Andrew, 19, is also expected to compete in seven events, including five that overlap with Dressel. At last summer’s U.S. National Championships, the two swimmers dueled in multiple events, with Andrew out-touching Dressel in both the 50m fly and 50m free, while Dressel secured the win in the 100m fly.

Live coverage of Thursday’s finals begins at 8:00pm ET on Olympic Channel, while Friday’s finals get underway at 8:00pm ET on NBCSN.