BARCELONA – American swimmers won two gold medals and set two American records Sunday at the 15th FINA World Championships.
Katie Ledecky won the first gold and set the first record, taking the women’s 400m freestyle in 3:59.82. Her time shattered the former American record of 4:01.77, set by Allison Schmitt at last year’s London Games, by nearly two seconds. It missed the world record of 3:59.15, set at the 2009 World Championships in Rome by Italian Federica Pellegrini, by 67-hundredths.
Missy Franklin, Natalie Coughlin, Shannon Vreeland and Megan Romano won the second gold, coming from behind in the women’s 400m free relay to set an American record in 3:32.31. Their time was also nearly two seconds faster than the former American record of 3:34.24, set by last year’s Olympic Team.
The United States medaled in each of the four finals contested on the first night of competition at Palau Sant Jordi. Also winning medals were Olympian Connor Jaeger, who took bronze in the men’s 400m freestyle, and Nathan Adrian, Ryan Lochte, Anthony Ervin and Jimmy Feigen, who took silver in the men’s 400m free relay.
Including the past week’s open water races, the U.S. now has six medals overall at these World Championships – three gold, one silver and two bronze.
The Women’s 400m Freestyle
Ledecky led the women’s 400m freestyle from start to finish, building her distance on the rest of the field with each length of the pool. She was ahead of world-record pace through the 300-meter mark, but fell off pace by 15-hundredths heading into the last 50 meters.
By that time, everyone else was racing for second. Spain’s Melanie Schmid took that honor, winning silver in front of her home crowd in 4:02.47. Lauren Boyle of New Zealand won bronze in 4:03.89.
“I just got into it, and I’m still in shock over the time,” Ledecky said. “I didn’t know really how fast I was going, but it just shows what happens when you get in a race with the best in the world. It was such an honor to be in the heat with those girls. We all pushed each other, and it felt really good.”
Distance legend Janet Evans was the last American woman to win this event at a World Championships, in 1991.
“It’s such an honor,” Ledecky said. “The U.S. has such a great tradition of distance swimmers, so I just tried to do my best to live up to that.”
Women’s 400m Free Relay
After a blistering lead-off from Australia’s Kate Campbell, the U.S. played catch-up with the Aussies the whole way in the women’s 400m free relay. The U.S.’s Megan Romano came from seven-tenths of a second behind in the final leg of the race to nip Ausstralians by 12-hundredths. The Netherlands took third in 3:55.77.
It marked the first time the U.S. women have won this event at a World Championships since 2003. It also marked the first time Romano has competed at a long course World Championships.
“I’ve done this my whole career,” Romano said. “I just love to race, and relays are awesome. It’s just so awesome to be able to compete with these girls right next to you. I was doing it for them. It’s fun and I love it, and I can’t not go fast.”
Franklin and Coughlin were holding hands as they cheered Romano down the homestretch.
“We knew Megan could do it, but we knew the Australians had an incredible anchor too,” Franklin said. “Watching her close was unbelievable.”
Men’s 400m Free Relay
The men’s 400m free relay was a close race the whole way, with Nathan Adrian, the Olympic gold medalist in last year’s 100 free grabbing the lead in the first leg by five-hundredths of a second over Australia. The lead switched hands three times, with no team leading by more than 31-hundredths of a second until the finish.
The final standings: France in 3:11.18, the United States in 3:11.42 and Russia in 3:11.44.
“We got second,” Lochte said. “We can’t complain about that. We all went out there and did our best, but every time the USA gets on the blocks, we want to win. Hopefully this race drives us for the rest of the meet.”
Like Romano, Feigen is competing in his first long course World Championships, and Sunday was the first time he’s anchored the Americans’ relay in a major international competition.
“That kind of got sprung on me,” Feigen said. “But it wasn’t that bad. I had a lot of great teammates who helped me with that pressure. We didn’t get first, but we did the best we could, and I can be happy with that at the end of the day.”
The Men’s 400m Freestyle
Jaeger scored the first medal for the U.S. in the pool Sunday with his third-place finish in the men’s 400m freestyle. Olympic gold medalist Sun Yang of China led the field from the 100-meter mark, but Jaeger maintained contact from lane 1, flipping in second or third place at each turn through 350 meters.
From there, he sprinted down the homestretch. He couldn’t catch Sun, who finished first in 3:41.59. Japan’s Kosuke Hagino was second in 3:44.82, while Jaeger touched three-hundredths of a second behind in 3:44.85.
Jaeger’s performance marked the first time in the last nine World Championships that an American has medaled in this event.
“It was the first international medal for me,” Jaeger said. “You might think that I only got third, but I feel like I won. Seeing a number three next to my name, I was really ecstatic. Knowing I was the only American in the final, I wanted to do something really good for Team USA. It was the first final of the meet. Hopefully we’ll get a couple more tonight. I think it’s going to be a good night for us.”
The following American swimmers competed in tonight’s semifinals. The top eight swimmers in each event will compete in tomorrow night’s finals: Dana Vollmer, 4th, women’s 100m butterfly (57.84); Claire Donahue, 8th, women’s 100m butterfly (58.44); Caitlin Leverenz, 7th, women’s 200m IM (2:11.05); Elizabeth Beisel, 12th, women’s 200m IM (2:11.69); Eugene Godsoe, 8th, men’s 50m butterfly (23.16); Matt Grevers, 12, men’s 50m butterfly (23.35); Kevin Cordes, 2nd (tie), men’s 100m breaststroke (59.78); and Nic Fink, 5th (tie), men’s 100m breaststroke (59.84).
The 15th FINA World Championships continues Monday. For complete results, go to www.omegatiming.com.