Katie Ledecky

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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Katie Ledecky grabs relay silver in return from illness at swim worlds

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Katie Ledecky grabbed relay silver in her return to the world swimming championships after suffering through dehydration and vomiting for the previous week.

“That went a lot better than I expected,” Ledecky said. “I’d say 95 percent sure that I’ll swim tomorrow [in the 800m freestyle].”

Ledecky, in her first race since Monday, gave the U.S. the lead in the second leg of the 4x200m free, but Australia surged ahead on anchor to win in a world record 7:41.50. It’s the first time the U.S. lost the event at an Olympics or worlds since China set the previous world record in 2009.

The U.S. also swam under the old record, clocking 7:41.87. Ledecky had the third-fastest split of the 32 swimmers in the final. She was joined by Simone ManuelMelanie Margalis and Katie McLaughlin.

In other events Thursday, Caeleb Dressel earned his third gold at worlds with the second-fastest 100m freestyle in history. More on Dressel and the other individual finals here.

Ledecky, a five-time Olympic champion, withdrew from her previous two events on Tuesday (200m and 1500m freestyles), with USA Swimming and her coach, Greg Meehan, then citing an unspecified illness that had affected her since arriving in South Korea on July 17 from a training camp in Singapore.

“We don’t know exactly what caused this all, but feeling the effects of dehydration, loss of appetite, lightheadedness, a lot of different things,” Ledecky said after Thursday’s race. “It kind of created a perfect storm that pulled me out. I wouldn’t have pulled out if it was [not] serious or if I was concerned, scared and worried about my health.”

Ledecky returned to light swimming on Wednesday, checking her heart rate after every 50 meters.

On Tuesday, Meehan said Ledecky’s slow last 50 meters of Sunday’s opening 400m free final, where she was passed by 18-year-old Australian Ariarne Titmus and relegated to silver, was “a little bit of a sign” of a problem.

Ledecky said Thursday that she almost stopped with 400 meters left of her 1500m freestyle heat on Monday, her last swim before temporarily withdrawing from the meet. She still posted the fastest overall time by 2.69 seconds in an event where she is the world-record holder by 18.4 seconds.

“Got over to the coaches and the medical staff, told them I’m not myself,” she said. “Spent the next two days sleeping and getting as much rest and hydration as I could.”

Michael Phelps texted to check on her during one of Ledecky’s sleepless nights.

“That meant a lot,” Ledecky said.

Ledecky is now expected to race one more event in Gwangju, the 800m free, with heats on Friday and the final on Saturday. Ledecky has won the last five combined Olympic and world titles in that event.

NBC Sports researcher Megan Soisson and The Associated Press contributed to this report from Gwangju.

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Ill Katie Ledecky withdraws from world championships races

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An ill Katie Ledecky withdrew from her next two events at the world swimming championships, USA Swimming announced less than two hours before she was scheduled to race on Tuesday morning in South Korea.

“Katie has not been feeling well since arriving to Gwangju on [Wednesday], and these precautionary measures are being taken to ensure her well-being and proper recovery, and to allow her to focus her energy on an abbreviated schedule,” National Team Managing Director Lindsay Mintenko said in a statement.

Doctors are still identifying the specific problem with lab work, said her coach, Greg Meehan. Ledecky is out of the 200m and 1500m freestyles Tuesday but could still swim the 4x200m free relay on Thursday and the 800m free on Friday and Saturday.

Meehan said Ledecky’s slow last 50 meters of Sunday’s opening 400m free final, where she was passed and relegated for silver, was “a little bit of a sign” of a problem.

Meehan also said she was “having a hard time” in the final 500 meters of her last race, the 1500m free heats on Monday morning, where she posted the fastest time by 2.69 seconds. He checked with Ledecky and doctors after that race.

“She was feeling a little bit better last night, and then we were hopeful today,” Meehan said. “But woke up this morning and was not feeling well at all. We’re just going to take it session by session and then day by day. And then if we can get her back in the meet at some point, that would be ideal scenario.”

Ledecky did not mention a medical issue in speaking to the media Sunday after she suffered her first loss in the 400m free in a major international meet.

“This doesn’t take away from what Ari did,” Meehan said of 18-year-old gold medalist Ariarne Titmus of Australia. “The message isn’t that it’s an excuse for coming up with a silver medal.”

Ledecky would have been in line to swim the 1500m free final and 200m free semifinals within about an hour of each other on Tuesday, the most difficult turnaround of her slate this week and perhaps for any swimmer at the meet.

Ledecky won the Rio Olympic 200m freestyle but was relegated to silver and bronze in the event at the 2017 Worlds and 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. She ranks No. 5 in the world this year in the event, the shortest distance that she races individually at major meets.

Titmus owns the fastest 200m free time this year.

Ledecky, who has never withdrawn from an event at a major international meet in eight years at this level, is undefeated at 1500m. She owns the eight fastest times in history, and her world record is 18.4 seconds faster than the No. 2 performer all time in an event that makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

Also withdrawing before the 200m free were Canadian Taylor Ruck, who won the 2018 Pan Pacs, and Australian Emma McKeon, who shared 2017 World silver with Ledecky. Ruck’s decision was due to her busy program overall and focusing on other events. McKeon is also ill.

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