Katie Ledecky Putting Disappointing U.S. Team on Her Back

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

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By David Rieder

By all measures, the United States team has gotten off to an extremely slow start at the 2015 FINA World Championships. The team has won just four medals during the first three days and 13 events of finals. The widespread disappointments have included missing out on finals swims, falling short of the podium (like Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin did today), and the men’s 400 free relay bombing out. But Katie Ledecky has been a saving grace for the U.S. team.

Ledecky has won two of the four medals for Team USA by herself. Both have been of the golden variety, and both have been dominant victories. After winning the 400 free on Sunday by almost four seconds, she similarly crushed everybody in the 1500. Leading already by more than a second at the 100, Ledecky won by almost 15 seconds and touched in 15:25.48, taking down the world record of 15:27.71 that she had set in the prelims the day before.

Ledecky did not have much time to bask in victory. Barely a minute after touching the wall and pumping her first, she was off to the warm-down pool to prepare for her semi-final of the 200 free. In her second race of the night, Ledecky flipped in last place at each of the first two walls, causing panic that she may miss out on the Wednesday’s final, but she kicked it into gear with a 29.33 final split, the second-best in the field to earn a spot in lane seven for the final.

Katie Ledecky

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

Even out in lane seven, consider Ledecky a huge threat to win the gold medal. Her preliminary time of 1:55.82 still ranks as the top time of the day, four tenths faster than the 1:56.23 that top seed Federica Pellegrini posted in the semi-finals. Ledecky and Pellegrini will be part of the most intriguing final of the meet so far, with the likes of Katinka Hosszu and Missy Franklin also occupying the middle lanes and world number one Femke Heemskerk lurking on the outside in lane one.

Franklin, meanwhile has been one of the many U.S. swimmers to struggle mightily so far in Kazan. Those who envisioned a dynamic U.S. one-two punch with Ledecky and Franklin have been disappointed as Franklin hasn’t held up her end. Franklin entered the 100 back final as the reigning World and Olympic champion in the event, but she fell to fifth place with a time of 59.40, a full second slower than the 58.42 she swam to win the title two years ago in Barcelona. The performance of Franklin and others has left the U.S. on pace for historic lows in the medal tally.

But whereas Franklin was never in contention in the 100 back final today, her performance in the semi-finals of the 200 free indicates she could rebound quickly on Wednesday and earn her first medal of the championships. She looked strong and in control throughout the entire race in the semi-finals as she won her heat and earned the second seed behind Pellegrini for the final. Franklin won the gold medal in the event two years ago with a time of 1:54.81, and she will need to be well down into the 1:55-range to have a chance at a podium finish.

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

James Guy Completes Meteoric Rise

One year ago, James Guy won a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in the 400 free, clocking 3:44.58 for his first international medal. Later in the year, he added a silver in the 400 free at the Short Course World Championships in Doha, and then he set a British record with a 3:44.16 in the long course 400 free this past April. He had proven he was a young swimmer on the rise with a chance for a World Champs medal in the 400, but the idea that he would win the world title in the 200 free seemed far-fetched.

Guy finished 2014 ranked 16th in the world in the 200 free with a time of 1:46.84, and he dropped his lifetime best to 1:46.32 this spring. The drops kept coming as he threw down a 1:45.43 in the semi-final of the event on Monday to take the number two seed behind Ryan Lochte. And in the final today, he fought off Lochte and then a massive surge by Sun Yang to earn his first world title, touching the wall in 1:45.14.

james-guy-fina-world-championships-1

Photo Courtesy: R-Sport / MIA Rossiya Segodnya

From relative obscurity, Guy has suddenly established himself as one of the premier middle distance freestylers in the world as he adds this championship to his silver from Sunday’s 400 free. And don’t expect Guy to be a one-hit wonder at the tender age of 19. One of the four British swimmers all under the age of 21 who has won a medal so far in Kazan, he’s the first teenage World Champion in the event since 18 year old Ian Thorpe won the title in 2001.

Australian Renaissance in Backstroke

Australia won their first two individual gold medals of the competition when they swept the 100 back events as Emily Seebohm and Madison Wilson finished one-two in the women’s event, and Mitch Larkin grabbed first in the men’s. The women finishing first and second comes just seven years after a time when the backstroke was by far the weak leg on Australia’s dominant medley relay teams that featured Leisel Jones, Jessicah Schipper, and Libby Trickett.

Seebohm has actually been the top female sprint backstroker for the Aussies for that entire time. She first became relevant internationally in 2007 when she finished fourth in the event at the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne at just 14 years of age. She missed the Olympic final a year later, but she did enough on the medley relay in Beijing to allow the Australian women to win gold and set a new world record. Although she had three times finished on the podium at the Worlds or Olympics in the 100 back in the time since, today’s was her first major international title.

Wilson, meanwhile, had never broken 1:00 before this year, though she did give an indication that she was capable of bigger things when she finished fourth in the 100 back at the Short Course World Championships last December. A bit of a late-bloomer at age 21, she blasted a 58.94 at Australian Nationals in April to burst onto the scene, and she carried that momentum to Kazan and a 58.75 to earn herself a silver medal.

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

Australia has had even less recent success in men’s backstroke. Matt Welsh was a mainstay in the early part of the century, winning the World title in the 100 back in 2001 and silver medals at the 2000 Olympics and 2003 Worlds. Since Welsh’s retirement, however, only Hayden Stoeckel had won an major individual backstroke medal for Australia prior to today. Stoeckel tied Arkady Vyatchanin for bronze in the 100 back at the 2008 Olympics.

Larkin shocked the world when he broke out in the 100 back with a 52.50 to lead prelims, clobbering the 53.10 that was his personal best entering the meet. He lowered his time to 52.38 in the semi-finals before using a late surge to win the event’s final in 52.40. Few will be shocked to see Larkin win another medal, perhaps even gold, in the 200 back, where he enters seeded fourth at 1:55.26. Only one Australian man has ever won a World Championship medal in the 200 back; way back in 1975, Mark Tonelli earned silver. Larkin could match or better that on Friday.

Quick Hits

*A familiar name earned the top seed in the men’s 200 fly as Laszlo Cseh topped his competition by almost a second in the semi-finals with a 1:53.53. Cseh has earned ten World Championship medals over his career; those medals have come in five different events (a medal in the 200 fly would make it six), while winning at least one medal at each of the last seven World Championships, including his bronze from the 50 fly on Monday. However, only one of those ten medals has been gold, the 400 IM in 2005. Cseh has re-made himself into a true butterflyer after years of success in the IM events, and he will be favored to earn his second World title in Wednesday’s 200 fly final.

Gian Mattia D'Alberto / lapresse 19-08-2014 Berlino sport 32mi Campionati Europei LEN di nuoto nella foto: Laszlo Cseh HUN Gian Mattia D'Alberto / lapresse 19-08-2014 Berlin 32rd LEN European Swimming In the photo: Laszlo Cseh HUN

Photo Courtesy: Gian Mattia Dalberto/Lapresse

*Kevin Cordes did not qualify to swim the 100 breast at the World Championships, but he has thrust himself into the medal conversation in the 50. He picked up the third seed for Wednesday’s final with a 26.76, knocking a tenth off of Mark Gangloff’s American record. Cordes could also be a factor in the 200 breast, where he ranked fifth in the world in 2014 with a 2:07.86, and he may also compete on the 400 medley relay. Although he did false start to disqualify that same American squad two years ago in Barcelona, he has shown the best form of any U.S. breaststroker in Kazan and thus merits consideration for the spot.

*The top eight swimmers from this morning’s 800 free will compete in the final of that event on Wednesday night. American Connor Jaeger led the way with a 7:44.77, and he will aim to get back on the podium after finishing fourth in his past three World Championship finals. Although defending bronze medalist Ryan Cochrane missed the final, Jaeger will still have tough competition from the likes Sun Yang, Gregorio Paltrinieri, and Michael McBroom. Take little stock of the lane assignments; the top five swimmers in the event all came from the swift final heat, so starting from lane seven means very little for two-time defending champion Sun.

*The 400 mixed medley relay will make its World Championships debut on Wednesday. While still not an Olympic event, the relay will be an interesting test of strategy − which legs should the men swim, and which legs should the women swim? Should the men always swim first, or should coaches simply look to maximize time, regardless of who swims what stroke. The Australians will be favored in the race with a team Larkin, Jake Packard, Emma McKeon, and Cate Campbell, while the Americans could counter with Matt Grevers, Jessica Hardy, Tom Shields, and Simone Manuel.

4 Comments

4 comments

  1. avatar
    Jamie

    Great article! Come on USA!!! We’ll miss having Matt Grevers at our Masters Nationals meet this weekend but it looks like USA needs all the help they can get.

Author: David Rieder

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David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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