Katie Ledecky

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Katie Ledecky wins world championship rematch, shaves three seconds off U.S. record

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Seven weeks after losing the 400m freestyle while feeling the effects of an ill-timed illness at the swimming world championships, Katie Ledecky took a measure of revenge Sunday in the debut meet of the International Swimming League, finishing in a U.S. record 3:54.06, 3.55 seconds ahead of world champion Ariarne Titmus of Australia.

The ISL, unlike the world championships and traditional international meets, uses the short-course lap distance of 25 meters. Ledecky rarely swims at that distance — her college meets were measured in yards rather than meters — and she took advantage of the rare opportunity to smash the U.S. record of 3:57.07, set by Katie Hoff at the 2010 short-course world championships. Ledecky finished in 3:54.06.

Ledecky also came close to the world record of 3:53.92, which Titmus set in last year’s short-course world championships. But while USA Swimming will recognize times from the ISL, international organizer FINA will not. FINA does not sanction the ISL and threatened to ban swimmers who participated before relenting under legal pressure.

“I think all times should count if we are following all the rules, which we are,” Ledecky said. “That is the way it should be.”

The ISL is a team-based competition in which swimmers are split not by national team but assigned to teams nominally representing four cities in the United States and four in Europe, though most of the meets will not take place in any of those cities. The debut meet took place in Indianapolis, which does not have a representative team in the league, and the final will be in Las Vegas in December.

The ISL’s debut season got more eventful Monday, SwimSwam reported, as the swimmers’ plane to Naples, Italy, was diverted to Rome due to turbulence.

Ledecky, along with 2016 bronze medalist breaststroke specialist Cody Miller and three-time Olympic champion Natalie Coughlin, swims for the DC Trident, which finished third out of four teams in the debut meet. Energy Standard Istanbul, led by multiple-event winners Chad le Clos, Sarah Sjostrom and Florent Manaudou, won the team title.

Lilly King helped the Cali Condors take second place overall by sweeping the three breaststroke events.

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2019 U.S. swimming rankings (women)

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With many of the U.S.’ top swimmers taking a break after the world championships, and thus missing the national championships, the best way to survey the early favorites for June’s Olympic trials is to look at rankings by swimmers’ fastest times for 2019.

Last week’s world junior championships marked the last top international meet of the summer, making it a good time to take stock of the field in all of the individual Olympic events.

To no surprise, Katie Ledecky leads in her main events — the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles — despite missing events at worlds (and being slowed in those she did enter) due to illness. Her Stanford training partner, Simone Manuel, tops the 50m and 100m frees after sweeping those sprints at worlds.

Perhaps the most interesting note in the freestyle ranks is that Manuel is a close second to Ledecky in the 200m free. Manuel has never contested that event at an Olympics or worlds, but led off the 4x200m free relay at worlds in a personal-best time by .92.

MORE: U.S. men’s swim rankings

Regan Smith, the 17-year-old breakout swimmer of worlds, leads both backstrokes after breaking both world records. Kathleen Baker, the U.S. leader in the backstrokes and the 200m individual medley in 2018, ranks third and fourth in the backstrokes this year despite being slowed by pneumonia and a broken rib.

Lilly King, queen of the breaststrokes the last three years, tops her favored 100m breast and is second to resurgent veteran Annie Lazor in the 200m.

There is more parity in the butterfly and individual medleys, where Rio Olympians lead the 100m fly (Kelsi Dahlia), 200m fly (Hali Flickinger) and 200m IM (Melanie Margalis), but rising high school senior Emma Weyant tops the 400m IM. Retirements of Dana Vollmer (recent) and Maya DiRado (after Rio) helped open things up in those disciplines.

A newcomer to watch is Gretchen Walsh, a 16-year-old who swept the 50m and 100m frees at junior worlds.

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MORE: Dana Vollmer at peace with retirement

2019 U.S. Swimming Rankings — Women
50m Freestyle
1. Simone Manuel — 24.05
2. Abbey Weitzeil — 24.47
3. Erika Brown — 24.71
3. Gretchen Walsh — 24.71
5. Maxine Parker — 24.75

100m Freestyle
1. Simone Manuel — 52. 04
2. Mallory Comerford — 52.98
3. Abbey Weitzeil — 53.18
4. Gretchen Walsh — 53.74
5. Margo Geer — 54.09
6. Erika Brown — 54.13

200m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky — 1:55.78
2. Simone Manuel — 1:56.09
3. Katie McLaughlin — 1:56.48
4. Allison Schmitt — 1:56.97
5. Leah Smith — 1:57.40
6. Gabby DeLoof — 1:57.62

400m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky — 3:59.28
2. Leah Smith — 4:01.29
3. Kaersten Meitz — 4:05.80
4. Melanie Margalis — 4:06.35
5. Ally McHugh — 4:07.08

800m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky — 8:10.70
2. Leah Smith — 8:16.33
3. Ashley Twichell — 8:25.43
4. Ally McHugh — 8:26.04
5. Erica Sullivan — 8:26.13

1500m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky — 15:45.59
2. Ashley Twichell — 15:54.19
3. Erica Sullivan — 15:55.25
4. Ally McHugh — 16:05.98
5. Kensey McMahon — 16:09.80

100m Backstroke
1. Regan Smith — 57.57
2. Olivia Smoliga — 58.73
3. Phoebe Bacon — 59.02
4. Kathleen Baker — 59.03
5. Katharine Berkoff — 59.29

200m Backstroke
1. Regan Smith — 2:03.35
2. Lisa Bratton — 2:07.91
3. Kathleen Baker — 2:08.08
4. Alex Walsh — 2:08.30
5. Hali Flickinger — 2:08.36

100m Breaststroke
1. Lilly King — 1:04.93
2. Annie Lazor — 1:06.03
3. Breeja Larson — 1:06.78
4. Kaitlyn Dobler — 1:06.97
5. Bethany Galat — 1:07.13

200m Breaststroke
1. Annie Lazor — 2:20.77
2. Lilly King — 2:21.39
3. Bethany Galat — 2:21.84
4. Emily Escobedo — 2:22.87
5. Madisyn Cox — 2:23.84

100m Butterfly
1. Kelsi Dahlia — 57.06
2. Katie McLaughlin — 57.23
3. Amanda Kendall — 57.51
3. Kendyl Stewart — 57.51
5. Aly Tetzloff — 57.70

200m Butterfly
1. Hali Flickinger — 2:05.96
2. Katie Drabot — 2:06.59
3. Regan Smith — 2:07.26
4. Lillie Nordmann — 2:07.43
5. Dakota Luther — 2:07.76

200m Individual Medley
1. Melanie Margalis — 2:08.91
2. Madisyn Cox — 2:10.00
3. Kathleen Baker — 2:10.65
4. Ella Eastin — 2:10.72
5. Alex Walsh — 2:11.24

400m Individual Medley
1. Emma Weyant — 4:35.47
2. Brooke Forde — 4:36.06
3. Ella Eastin — 4:37.18
4. Madisyn Cox — 4:37.23
5. Makayla Sargent — 4:37.95

Katie Ledecky rallies to win signature event after week of illness

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Katie Ledecky‘s rough week at the world championships in Gwangju, South Korea, ended Saturday with an inspirational win in the 800m freestyle, rallying to beat Italy’s Simona Quadarella.

Ledecky went out fast and led by 1.14 seconds after 200 meters. But her form seemed to slip, and Quadarella, who won the 1,500m freestyle in Ledecky’s absence on Tuesday, took a slim lead at 450 meters that she extended to 0.84 seconds at the 600-meter mark. Ledecky seemed to be a battle for silver at that point.

But Ledecky chipped away. She was within 0.55 seconds at 650 meters. Then 0.12. Quadarella defended her lead for another length of the pool, but then Ledecky simply took off, swimming the final 50 in 29.19 seconds and finishing 1.41 seconds ahead of Quadarella.

“Knowing that I can pull out the last 50m like that, I kind of knew I had a little more speed than Simona and kind of just trusted that I could rely on that at the end,” she said.

Her time of 8:13.58 was nowhere near her world record of 8:04.79, but given the illness that wiped out much of her week, it hardly matters.

Katie Ledecky smiles with her gold medal Saturday
Katie Ledecky poses during the medal ceremony for the 800m freestyle Saturday in Gwangju, South Korea. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

“Just kind of relieved to end on a good note,” Ledecky said. “Not a good time, but I just gutted it out. It was a tough week for me physically, mentally, emotionally and all of it, but I had great support from my friends, family, coaches and medical staff. Never imagined I’d have this kind of week. I’m excited for the next year of work.”

Australia’s Ariarne Titmus, who upset Ledecky in the 400m freestyle before the American’s illness was made public, took bronze in the 800 final. She also took silver in the 200m freestyle, from which Ledecky withdrew. Germany’s Sarah Kohler was fourth, ahead of U.S. swimmer Leah Smith.

ALSO SATURDAY: Dressel, Smith win world titles

In a career full of world and Olympic titles, Ledecky has always been particularly strong in the 800m freestyle, an event she first won in the 2012 Olympics. She has won every world and Olympic title since then, a total of six straight major wins.

But in Gwangju, her week started Sunday with a stunning loss to Titmus in the 400m freestyle, breaking a string of world championship wins dating back to 2013. She posted the fastest time in Monday’s 1,500m freestyle heats, by a typical margin of 2.69 seconds, but later revealed that she nearly dropped out because she was feeling unwell. She withdrew from the 200m heats and 1,500m final on Tuesday.

She returned Thursday for the 4x200m freestyle relay, taking the lead in the second leg with a time of 1:54.61 — the third-fastest time of any swimmer in the race — and earned another silver medal.

In between, Ledecky said she spent seven hours in the hospital Tuesday with she believes was a viral illness but hasn’t gotten an exact diagnosis.

Her symptoms included insomnia (on Saturday morning she didn’t fall asleep until 3), an elevated heart rate, headaches and an inability to keep food down. She plans to visit doctors upon landing in the U.S.

Even Saturday morning, she felt nauseous and hot soon after arriving at the pool, but thankfully splashing into the water, where she has looked most comfortable the last seven years, cooled her off. She said she thought about withdrawing from the 800m final “for about a minute.”

Ledecky was antsy Friday night watching teammates Caeleb Dressel and Regan Smith break world records. She texted coach Greg Meehan that she badly wanted to have a strong swim in her last race of an abbreviated meet, knowing she had the best training of her three years at Stanford — by far — going into this competition.

Ledecky came to Gwangju hoping this would mark a checkpoint en route to the Tokyo Olympics. Instead, it turned out to be the most difficult major meet of her dazzling career, one that, along with a gold and two silver medals, will give her a story to bring back to Stanford.

“One I’ll be telling for a while,” she said.

OlympicTalk editor Nick Zaccardi contributed to this report.

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