Katie Ledecky A Dominant Force During First Night of Pan Pacs

Photo by Delly Carr

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By David Rieder

GOLD COAST, Australia, August 21. THOSE predictions that Jeff Commings and I spent the last week and a half writing? Out the window! The podium finishes at Pan Pacs didn’t quite match up to our expectations due to some injury concerns and that pesky rule that allows anyone who wants to swim in prelims at Pan Pacs so long as they qualify but limits the number of representatives per country in finals. Still, few came away surprised at who became the meet’s first double gold medalist after one night.

Katie Ledecky has emerged into an all-around superstar. While her 200 free winning time of 1:55.74 might not look as great as the 1:55.16 she clocked at U.S. Nationals, one can reasonably assume Ledecky left some gas in the tank, as she held flipped at the 150 already more than a second ahead of the field. Then, to come back less than 90 minutes later to swim an 8:11.35, just off her world record and almost three seconds faster than anyone else has ever swum IN HISTORY? Unreal.

Later in the day, Jazmin Carlin posted an incredible 8:15.54 to win the event at the European championships. She finished just a second and a half off Rebecca Adlington’s national and continental record of 8:14.10, set when she eclipsed Janet Evans’ legendary world mark at the 2008 Olympics. Now, though, that time gets merely a pat on the back and maybe a quick glance over Ledecky’s shoulder. Ledecky has become competitive internationally in the 200, but she has quickly redefined expectations of “fast” for the 400 and 800.

Ledecky won that 200 free comfortably, but she probably expected a duel with fellow American superstar Missy Franklin, but Franklin found herself confined to the B-final after a back injury. Under other circumstances, today’s swims would be disappointing for Franklin, but props to her for gutting it out. Her condition appears to be improving, which will be critical for the American women’s 800 free relay on Thursday. Her leg will be critical, even though Australia may not be at full strength with Emma McKeon, the third-ranked swimmer in the world, swimming a disappointing 1:57.21 in the event’s B-final.

Heading into the summer, I wrote numerous times how I felt the women’s 200 fly for the U.S. women was historically weak. Not that it’s suddenly become the men’s 100 back, but American fans should feel much better today. Cammile Adams, the consensus best 200 flyer in America since 2012, went toe-to-toe with world number one Natsumi Hoshi and touched her out with a blazing final 50. The time ranks just fourth in the world, but Adams showed she won’t back down against anyone.

Meanwhile, 17 year old Katie McLaughlin came in with a fight on her hands. Having seen Maya DiRado blast a 2:07.42 in the B-final, McLaughlin knew she needed a big swim to regain her spot on the Worlds team. In the final, she took the race out with Hoshi and held on for a 2:07.08, cutting nearly a second from her best time that she set in prelims. At Nationals, McLaughlin took a big step in qualifying for her first senior-level team, but her time drop and place here shows that she is ready to compete on the top level. Now the eight-ranked swimmer in the world, she has become the future of this event for the Americans.

On the men’s side, fans at the Gold Coast Aquatic Center saw just how well Australia could stack up with the Americans in the 800 free relay as Thomas Fraser-Holmes and Cameron McEvoy finished first and third, while neither Conor Dwyer nor Ryan Lochte impressed. Ryosuke Irie scored a minor upset over Matt Grevers in the 100 back, while the drama in the 200 fly came in prelims when Tom Shields’ disappointing finish was erased with a DQ.

Then, the meet’s final event brought the shock of the night. Connor Jaeger swam with world number two Ryan Cochrane the entire way in the 1500, but the Canadian couldn’t pull away, and Jaeger used a terrific surge over the final 200 to nip his more-heralded rival at the finish, 14:51.79 to 14:51.97. The times won’t impress anyone – Jaeger swam a bit faster at Nationals, and four seconds faster last year.

Still, Jaeger has now tallied his first big international win, and that confidence will pay dividends when he faces Cochrane, new European record-holder Gregorio Paltrinieri, and world record-holder Sun Yang in next year’s World Championship final. Larsen Jensen still has the American record in the event, a 14:45.29 from the Athens Olympics. After ten years, that record is now the oldest in the books, but it is a mark Jaeger has his sights set on and should break between now and 2016.

With the Pan Pacs serving as the final qualifier for next year’s World Championships team, here are the changes to the roster from Nationals to Pan Pacs.

Women’s 200 free – no changes
Men’s 200 free – Conor Dwyer and Ryan Lochte pass Matt McLean; Ryan Lochte (DNS in final at Nationals) pushes Michael Klueh off 800 free relay
Women’s 100 back – Kathleen Baker (B-final) replaces Rachel Bootsma
Men’s 100 back – David Plummer (B-final) replaces Ryan Murphy
Women’s 800 free – Becca Mann replaces Cierra Runge
Women’s 200 fly – no changes, although Maya DiRado did force a massive time drop from Katie McLaughlin to hold onto her spot
Men’s 200 fly – no changes
Men’s 1500 free – no changes

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Author: David Rieder

David Rieder has been a contributor to Swimming World since 2009. A native of Charleston, SC, he currently attends Duke University, where he works as the public address announcer for the varsity swim team.

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