U.S. Nationals: Katie Ledecky Crushes Field in 800 Free By 19 Seconds, Sets Sights on ‘Some Different Events

U.S. Nationals: Katie Ledecky Crushes Field in 800 Free By 19 Seconds, Sets Sights on ‘Some Different Events’

Any time Katie Ledecky dives in to race the 800 freestyle, you almost expect a historic performance. She is one of only three women to capture three consecutive Olympic gold medals in any event, and her world record of 8:04.79, set at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, sits more than nine seconds ahead of the second-fastest swimmer in history (Ariarne Titmus). At last month’s World Championships, Ledecky became the first swimmer, female or male, to win five consecutive world titles in one event.

As she raced the event at U.S. Nationals, Ledecky flirted with her world-record pace for the first portion of the race. She was slightly ahead at the 200 and 300-meter splits, and even though she could not sustain that pace, she pulled away from the field to win by more than 25 meters.

She finished in 8:12.03, the 19th-fastest performance in history but faster than any other swimmer has ever gone. When she won her fifth consecutive world title in the event last month, Ledecky swam a time of 8:08.04, the fifth-fastest performance in history behind four of her own swims.

“Coach Nesty told me tonight, ‘You can go for it if you want to,’” Ledecky said. “I was like, ‘Go out fast?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ It’s not often that my coach says those words, so I just wanted to see what I could go out and trust my back half. I would have liked to be a little more even, but it’s a good data point. We didn’t come in with any expectation for the 800. It was nice to reinforce some technical things and see where I am right now.”

Ledecky was 19 seconds ahead of any other swimmer in the race as Indiana’s Mariah Denigan’s time of 8:31.12 from the final heat of the afternoon held up for second place overall. Alabama’s Kensey McMahon placed third in 8:31.92 after she pulled away from Texas’ Erica Sullivan for the runnerup spot in the final heat. Sullivan was fourth in 8:34.37, followed by Long Island’s Cavan Gormsen (8:35.48) and Gator Swim Club’s Elise Bauer (8:37.11).

Following the World Championships, where Ledecky won gold in the 400, 800 and 1500 free plus the 800 free relay, she took four days off (including a travel day) before returning to practice the following Wednesday morning in Gainesville, Fla., as part of her preparation for Nationals. But aside from the 800, Ledecky’s meet will look a lot different than her usual slate at a major competition.

“The first week was really hard, a lot harder than I was expecting,” she said. “We just kind of grinded for a week-and-a-half and then got back in with the group and got more into our regular training flow after just a lot of aerobic and long stuff. It’s a little different because it’s not like you can do a full taper because a full taper would have started at the beginning of the month, right when we got back, so kind of in this in-between phase, but just wanted to come here and have fun and race some different events.”

Yes, that’s right — events aside from Ledecky’s typical slate of mid-distance and distance freestyle. She will swim the 200 free Wednesday after skipping the individual race at Worlds, and then she will race the 400 IM Thursday, not a new race but one she has never raced at a national-level long course competition. After that, she plans on swimming time trials in the 200 butterfly and 200 IM.

“I don’t have cuts,” Ledecky said of the 200 fly and 200 IM. “I’m excited to see what I can do. I haven’t swum a 200 fly long course I think since 2014, so that one will be fun. And 200 IM I think is one of the most fun events. It’s just a 50 of each stroke, and coming off the 400 IM, it’s going to feel short.”

She added that she has no plans of adding any of the non-freestyle events to her usual lineup for major meets, but she sees a lot of value in swimming the off-events. “I think the better you are at all four strokes, the better an athlete you are,” Ledecky said. “I don’t want to guarantee it, but I think I’m guaranteed a best time this week, which doesn’t happen often at this stage of my career.”

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