2016 Trials Throwback: Katie Ledecky Rules the Field in the 400 Free

Katie Ledecky at 2016 Trials Photo Courtesy: Annie Grevers

Each day during the pre-scheduled days of the 2020 US Olympic Trials, Swimming World will take its readers back four years to the 2016 Trials in Omaha to recap each event, and will offer some insight into what the events will look like in 2021.

At most Trials races, there are two bids to the Olympics up for grabs. Within any reasonable grasp of reality, though, the women in the 400 freestyle were swimming for one.

It would’ve taken a monumental happenstance at the 2016 Trials for 19-year-old Katie Ledecky to have not gone to Rio. She arrived in Omaha with the world record and a monopoly on the fastest times in history. Her seed time was nearly five seconds quicker than second seed Leah Smith.

But Ledecky’s coronation didn’t deprive the event of supplemental drama at 2016 Trials. The 400 presented the middle ground for the expertise in the American talent pool. Did it more favor Smith, who excelled at longer distances? Or would it remain in the wheelhouse for Allison Schmitt, who won gold in the 200 and silver in the 400 in London but had endured a difficult four years between Olympics?

The Race

Ledecky evinced no cracks in prelims of 2016 Trials, coasting in with the fastest time in a controlled 4:02.62. Smith was a half-second back, the top two times in the world. Schmitt was third in 4:06.66, a concerning gap.

The final devolved into a two-person race. Ledecky took the initiative off the block with a 56.31 in the first 100. She and Smith detached themselves from the field by the 200-meter mark. At that point, the only question was if Ledecky would take down her world record. She ended up a half-second shy, winning in 3:58.98. Smith never lost touch, taking second in 4:00.65, a personal-best that clinched her first Olympics berth. Schmitt faded to fifth in 4:09.25, never a factor.


  1. Katie Ledecky 3:58.98
  2. Leah Smith 4:00.65
  3. Cierra Runge 4:07.04
  4. Lindsay Vrooman 4:08.99
  5. Allison Schmitt 4:09.25
  6. Stephanie Peacock 4:09.53
  7. Hannah Moore 4:09.54
  8. Hannah Cox 4:09.72

On to Rio

The Katie Ledecky show roared uninterrupted into Rio. She trounced Camille Muffat’s Olympic record in prelims at 3:58.71, earning the top seed in finals by four seconds. She opened the edge even further in finals, downing her world record in 3:56.46, head and shoulders beyond the field and nearly two seconds better than her world record. She went out in 57.05 and led by 1.5 seconds after the first 100 meters. It was the first gold medal for the U.S. in the event since 2000 (Brooke Bennett).

Smith battled through a crowd late to grab bronze. Jazz Carlin of Great Britain sat second most of the way and got silver in 4:01.23. Smith nearly clawed past Carlin late on and had enough in the tank to hold off the outside smoke of Hungary’s Boglarka Kapas, Smith clocking in at 4:01.92 for bronze with Kapas fourth in a national-record 4:02.37.

2016 Trials Throwback:

Day 1:

Day 2:

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