Katie McLaughlin Breaks Out and Helps USA to World Title

Katie McLaughlin
Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

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By David Rieder

The American women looked like big favorites entering the 800 free relay final, especially since they brought with them two of the top three finishers from the individual 200 free, Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin. Those two sat out the prelims relay, which still qualified second overall. But with three of the splits from that squad in the 1:58-range, the U.S. coaches made a surprising decision, inserting Katie McLaughlin into the lineup for finals.

McLaughlin originally made the team as the second-ranked American in the 200 fly, for which she qualified fifth out of Wednesday’s semi-finals, but coming into tonight she had already received an early taste of World Championships action after swimming in the final of the mixed 400 medley relay on Wednesday night. McLaughlin recorded a fly split a 57.56, faster than either of the American entrants in the individual 100 fly had recorded, and the Americans went on to earn a silver medal.

Just an hour before her relay assignment, however, McLaughlin would be lined up for the 200 fly final. She had an outside medal chance in that event, and she chose to go for broke from the start. The 18 year old from Southern California touched first at each of the first three walls but paid dearly for that effort over the final 50 meters. She dropped from a 32.54 on her third 50 to a 34.13 on the final lap as she faded to sixth place.

McLaughlin watched more experienced swimmers go right by her as she dropped off the pace. Those strong finishers included eventual winner Natsumi Hoshi, who split 32.34 on the way home, and teammate Cammile Adams, who came back in 32.69. But for McLaughlin, that painful experience in her first World Championship final will prove valuable down the line as she swims in even more significant races. And even though McLaughlin struggled at the finish, she still swam under 2:07 for the first time, clocking 2:06.95.

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

Following that individual final, McLaughlin had no time to think about her performance, as she was about to be thrown in the fire for the 800 free relay. McLaughlin had clocked 1:57.55 earlier this summer at a meet in Mission Viejo, but she did not directly qualify for this relay, and the coaches had entrusted her to perform in the final with Franklin, Ledecky, and Leah Smith. And in that relay, McLaughlin swam a race that ranks as the best and most important of her career so far.

After Smith swam the second leg of the relay, the Americans were in second place, eight tenths of a second behind Sweden. But Michelle Coleman quickly opened up a two second cushion on McLaughlin. The Americans still had Ledecky on the end, but they did not want to leave her a big deficit to make up. McLaughlin did not panic; she made up more than a second on Coleman on the last 50, and with her split of 1:56.92, she left Ledecky a deficit of less than four tenths of a second to overcome.

Ledecky ended up making quick work of Ida Marko-Varga to wrap up the gold for the Americans as Sweden faded to fourth. If McLaughlin had ended up finishing two-plus seconds back of Sweden, that’s a potentially-overwhelming gap for even Ledecky to erase. Instead, McLaughlin broke Sweden’s will with her late surge, and that allowed Ledecky to cruise on home.

Katie McLaughlin came into the World Championships as the second American entrant in the 200 fly. She will leave as a key cog in the women’s National team, and even though the 200 fly has wrapped up, McLaughlin has more business to attend to in Kazan. She will most likely swim the crucial butterfly leg on the women’s medley relay on Sunday, where she will be favored to earn a third medal. Expect more big things from McLaughlin in the upcoming Olympic year.

Quick Hits

*How did Sweden get such a big lead in the 800 free relay in the first place? The short answer: Sarah Sjostrom. The 21 year old from Sweden who now has three world titles in the 100 fly impressed more than any other individual today without earning a single medal. She picked up the top seed in the 100 free ahead of Australian sisters Cate and Bronte Campbell and the Dutch duo of Femke Heemskerk and Ranomi Kromowidjojo.

Sarah Sjostrom -world-championships

Photo Courtesy: R-Sport / MIA Rossiya Segodnya

And then on the relay, Sjostrom led off in 1:54.31, the top time in the world this year and almost a second faster than Ledecky swam in winning the individual 200 on Wednesday. Sjostrom looks like she could win the 100 free on Friday − something few would have picked before the meet began − and then she will be favored in the 50 fly on Saturday. The 50 free could be a medal opportunity as well. If she chooses to swim all of the events, Sjostrom could be a threat for four individual gold medals next summer in Rio.

*The women’s 200 breast has rapidly improved in Kazan, where it took under 2:23 to qualify for the final without going to a swim-off. In comparison, anyone who swam under 2:25 made it back to the final just two years ago in Barcelona. World record-holder Rikke Moller Pedersen and American Micah Lawrence hold the top two seeds − and they finished second and third, respectively, in 2013 − but don’t sleep on Kanako Watanabe, whose country broke a streak of swimming futility on day five.

Natsumi Hoshi ended Japan’s gold medal drought as she charged to a world title with a blazing last 50 in the 200 fly. Watanabe had already won one of those previous 24 minor medals this meet with her silver in the 200 IM, and she also fell one one-hundredth short of the podium in the 100 breast. After winning the second semi-final this evening, Watanabe will be gunning for gold in Friday’s final.

natsumi-hoshi-fina-world-championships

Photo Courtesy: Maria Dobysheva

*Back stateside, the U.S. Nationals kicked off this morning in San Antonio, and one swim caused some stirring during a relatively quiet morning. Andrew Wilson entered as the 15th seed in the men’s 100 breast with an entry time of 1:01.87, but he blasted out a 59.68 preliminary swim to lead the field. That time ranks 11th in the world for 2015, and it would have qualified him for the final at World Championships (no American man in Kazan made the top eight).

Wilson, a senior-to-be at Emory University, previously clocked 51.72 in the 100 yard breast and 1:52.97 in the 200 breast this past spring at the Division III NCAA Championships, where he was named Swimmer of the Meet. Having already conquered the short course level, a long course breakout was the natural next step. Check back tonight to see if he can improve on that time, but go ahead and add Wilson’s name to the list of American Olympic possibilities in the 100 breast.

6 comments

  1. avatar
    John Dussliere

    Coach Bill Rose. Coach Bruce Gemmell. Their athletes arrived in condition, ready to race wherever needed, whenever needed. The four of them are to be commended in this age of drug speculation every time some goes fast. They put in the work that others fear and avoid. Congrats to you on your results!!