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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Ledecky Completes Historic 200, 1500 Freestyle Wins to Headline Day 4 of Wave II Olympic Trials – Swimming

Ledecky Completes Historic 200, 1500 Freestyle Wins to Headline Day 4 of Wave II Olympic Trials – Swimming

In a meet full of exciting firsts, Katie Ledecky proved once again to be the constant.

Wednesday night during Day four of Wave II of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Swimming, she pulled double victories; first in the 200 freestyle and then the 1500 free about 85 minutes later – to qualify for her second and third events in Tokyo.

Ledecky opened with a 1:55.11 in the 200 free and then warmed down and prepared herself for the 1,500, which, in true form, she dominated from the beginning despite an early push from the second-place finisher in Erica Sullivan. 

She won in 15:40.50–the fastest time in the world this year–with Sullivan’s second-place time of 15:51.18 now ranking as the fourth-fastest time this year.

The 1500 is grueling by itself, but to swim both in just over an hour on this historic night–this is the first Olympics where the women’s 1500 will be contested–proves the mettle that has made her a two-time Olympian and five-time Olympic gold medalist. 

“I’ve done this before but in reverse,” Ledecky said of swimming the 200 and 1500 free in the same evening. “In Kazan (Russia at 2015 FINA World Championships), I swam the 1500 free and then the 200 free semis with about 30 minutes in between, so that was an even quicker turnaround (than tonight). 

“So I’ve done the double before, and I know I’ll have to do it two more times in Tokyo.”

In the 200 final, she led a field that includes runner-up and now four-time Olympian Allison Schmitt (1:56.79) as well as Paige Madden (1:56.80) and Katie McLaughlin (1:57.16) – who all qualified for Tokyo as members of the 4x200 freestyle relay team. 

Two other finals were contested Wednesday night, starting with the men’s 200 butterfly. After being behind at the 100-meter mark, Zach Harting came on strong over the final 50 meters to clip the field and qualify for his first Olympics with a time of 1:55.06.

Gunnar Bentz, a gold medalist in the 4x200 freestyle relay in Rio five years ago, finished second in 1:55.34.

Before his race, nerves got the best of Harting until he had a conversation with his coach that set him straight. 

“My coach told me, ‘Look, you’ve done this a thousand times. You’ve trained for this. You’re ready. You’re physically ready. You’re not anxious or nervous. You’re excited to race,’” Harting said. “It’s easy to get those two mixed up. But physiologically they do the same thing to your body. So, it’s a mindset thing. 

“So once I made the switch that I’m not nervous, I’m excited to race, and especially when I knew what I was there to do. And then having been here in this situation before obviously being in lane 4 versus lane 7 is a little bit different, but being able to pull from Worlds finals and going through semifinals a couple of other times was huge to pull from. I tried to that and just get the job done.”

In the next-to-last final of the night, Alex Walsh took the lead at the end of the backstroke leg and went on to win a very tightly contested 1-2-3 finish to win the 200 individual medley. 

Her time of 2:09.30 edged runner-up Kate Douglass (2:09.32) and third-place finisher Madisyn Cox (2:09.34). 

After Walsh stepped out of the water, she was greeted first by a huge hug from sister, Gretchen (who will swim the 100 free Thursday) and her parents – and then was engulfed by her University of Virginia teammates with hugs and loud cheers. 

“Kate (Douglass) and I trained together every day (at Virginia) this year, and I was so grateful to have her next to me,” Gretchen said. “We pace each other in practice, and I’m so excited we get to do this together.”

In the evening’s first race, the semifinals of the men’s 100 freestyle, Caeleb Dressel led a very fast semifinal field to win his semi and qualify first for Wednesday’s final. 

He hit the wall in 47.77 with Zach Apple just a single hundredth behind him. While they were the only semifinalists to swim under :48, the rest of the qualifiers for Thursday’s final went under 49. 

“There were six guys under :48 coming in, so there was great talent tonight,” Dressel said. “You really have to go hard to get your hand on the wall.”

After swimming what he called a good morning prelim time (48.37), 2012 Olympic gold medalist Nathan Adrian didn’t come back from the evening semis with the same result. He finished 13th and out of contention for Thursday’s final. He still has the 50 free on the last day of Trials. 

“There’s no doubt it’s disappointing, but it’s a lot different (for me) this year,” said Adrian, who finished in 48.92 five years after winning this event at Trials in 47.72. “When I had a bad practice before, it would hit me like a dagger in the heart. But now, I just go home and give my wife and baby a big kiss.”

Hali Flickinger, who finished as the runner-up in the 400 individual medley Sunday night, qualified with the fastest time in of the night in the 200 butterfly. 

Her time of 2:06.73 was faster than the rest of the field by a second and is the fourth-fastest time this year. Regan Smith, the 100 backstroke champion Tuesday, finished second in 2:07.89 to qualify for Thursday’s final. 

In the evening’s last semifinal of the night, 18-year-old Matt Fallon, who said he wasn’t expecting much from his race, surged over the final 15 meters to win his semifinal in 2:08.91 – shaving more than a second from his morning prelim – in the men’s 200 breaststroke. 

Also making Wednesday’s final after a third-place finish in the 100 breast is Nic Fink, who qualified second in 2:09.13. 

Fallon said he knows it’s going to take an even faster swim to win Thursday – and whatever happens, he’s already looking at this meet as a win.

“I just wanted to keep up with everyone,” said Fallon, who was last after the first 100. “My plan was to come back on them (over the final 100), but I didn’t realize I’d be first. I didn’t expect to be in this position, so I’m just going to soak it all in and have fun. Whether or not I make the team, I’ll take it as it comes.”

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