OMAHA, Neb. – In about 60 minutes Katie Ledecky did several things. She won the 200m freestyle title (1:55:11), picked up her gold medal at the awards ceremony, and gave a brief press conference by the pool (where she joked that she couldn’t form words because she was warming up inside .) the next race). Then she went back to the pool to thunderous Omaha applause. It was like seeing a perfectly choreographed dance.
She was a seasoned champion, but she wanted to do something new and exciting – to compete in the first 1,500-meter freestyle event in the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Ledecky had a serenity as if she had done this a million times. And in a way it has. It owns the 11 fastest 1,500 meter leisure times in the event’s history.
Ledecky dominated the race in the very first 1,500-meter freestyle swimming tests in the USA, and when she touched down at 3:40:50 pm there was not a single other swimmer on the screen. She waited a good 10 seconds for Erica Sullivan, who beat her personal best by several seconds to finish second (15:51:18) and qualify for Tokyo. Ledecky’s target time of 15:40:50 was the fastest in the world this year.
When Ledecky left the pool after qualifying for her third event (400m freestyle, 200m freestyle and 1,500m freestyle) – two in less than 90 minutes on Wednesday – there were no exaggerated reactions, just a smile and thumbs up. At the award ceremony she beamed and waved after receiving her gold medal and made the whole evening look like a cake walk.
“The men have had a mile behind them at the Olympics since 1908 … and now we finally have one,” she said in a press interview by the pool. “I’m just grateful that we have the time, it’s a great step,” she added at the conference after the event.
Ledecky came here to prove a point. And she did.
It’s been seven years since she last lost a domestic freestyle of 200 yards or more.
After a brilliant start for teenage Bella Sims, Ledecky pulled away and finished 1:55:11, by far not her strongest performance (Australia’s Ariarne Titmus had a much better time – 1:53:09 – in the Australian Olympic Trials in comparison) .
After her 200-meter freestyle race, Ledecky said she wanted to keep moving to stay warm, but not walk too fast or use too much energy. She said she ate a banana and drank some chocolate milk while waiting for the awards ceremony.
Ledecky said she told herself to speed up the longer race, not wanting to “spin it out” like it was a sprint, but rather take time with the front half, which explains the closer competition between her and Erica Sullivan as the first 500 meters. Even though Ledecky pulled away with a solid lead after the 600-meter mark, Sullivan’s performance was remarkable, which Ledecky praised at the press conference.
Ledecky is a pro at running multiple events in a short amount of time – she had to race the 1,500 meter freestyle at the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia, and then the 200 meter freestyle semifinals (which took place within 20 minutes). On Wednesday, she did the opposite – she warmed up with a 200m freestyle win followed by a longer, more energy-intensive 1,500m debut win. At the Tokyo Olympics, the schedule is similarly demanding, as several preliminary runs are planned for the same day.
“It’s a little different, but I feel prepared,” said Ledecky.
Michael Phelps summed up Ledecky’s dominance in a press conference earlier this week: “She is recreating what is possible. It’s great to see.”
Other notable results of the night:
Former University of Louisville swimmer, 23, Zach Harting qualified for his first Olympics after winning the 200m butterfly in 1:55:06. 19-year-old Regan Smith, who struggled during the pandemic after winning the 2019 World Cup, qualified for the final in the 200-meter butterfly semi-finals. With a disappointing performance, Nathan Adrian, who had recovered from a testicular cancer diagnosis in 2019, failed to qualify for the finals of the 100-meter freestyle race and finished sixth in his run and 13th overall in 48:92.
Allison Schmitt, who qualified second after Ledecky in the 200-meter freestyle final for her fourth Olympic Games, experienced an emotional moment after the race. She ran up to Phelps, who was on the sidelines, and hugged him while the duo shared an intimate moment. They both spoke loudly about their battle with depression and Schmitt said, “I don’t even know how to put it into words. He was a brother in the pool and out of the pool. It helped me so much that when he doesn’t swim he’s a big part of it. “