TYR Pro Series: Just an Ordinary Day as Katie Ledecky Goes Sub-8:15 in 800 Freestyle

TYR Pro Series: katie ledecky
Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

TYR Pro Series (Greensboro) – Day 4 Finals

The sprints might have more scintillating finishes. Some events have better rivalries. But when it comes to the 800-meter freestyle, it can be argued that Katie Ledecky’s prowess is the finest artistry in the sport. Want to debate that statement? Ok. Start with fighting the fact that Ledecky owns the 22-fastest performances in the history of the event.

As the first stop of this season’s TYR Pro Swim Series wrapped up on Saturday night, Ledecky painted another of her superb portraits, covering her latest 800 freestyle in 8:14.95. That time, while 10 seconds off her world record of 8:04.79, sits just outside the top-25 marks of all-time. More, Ledecky is just one of four women to ever crack the 8:15 barrier, and she routinely achieves that feat during these in-season competitions.

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Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

Competing in her first meet of the Olympic tuneup season, Ledecky complemented earlier victories in the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle and served noticed that she is headed into 2020 with some momentum. That the five-time Olympic champion is in good form is in stark contrast to how she concluded her summer, when an ill-timed sickness sapped her energy and disrupted her performances at the World Championships.

The only comparable dominance to what Ledecky boasts in the 800 freestyle is that of Great Britain’s Adam Peaty, he of another realm in the 100-meter breaststroke. Like Ledecky, Peaty stands alone, having produced the 17-quickest efforts of all-time. When in peak form, neither Ledecky nor Peaty can be touched, and Ledecky showed a few months back that even in a subpar state, she can still top the world in the event in which she emerged as a 15-year-old Olympic champion in 2012.

It was a few months ago at the World Championships in which Ledecky was stymied by a gastrointestinal bug that knocked her to the deck. After suffering an upset defeat to rising Aussie star Ariarne Titmus in the 400 freestyle, Ledecky was forced to withdraw from the 200 freestyle and 1500 freestyle. Yet, before the World Champs ended, Ledecky dug deep to take to the blocks in the 800 freestyle and found a way to fend off Italian Simona Quadarella for a fourth consecutive title. The effort – produced at a percentage of her full power – only reinforced the gap between Ledecky and her foes.

Olympic gold and a Kangaroo in her pouch

Dawn Fraser – Photo Courtesy: Dawn Fraser Collection

Shift back to the present and Ledecky is off to a promising start in the chase for a third straight Olympic crown in the 800 freestyle. If Ledecky completes her quest, she would become just the third woman to win the same event at three consecutive Olympics, joining Australian Dawn Fraser (100 freestyle; 1956-64) and Hungarian Krisztina Egerszegi (200 backstroke; 1988-96).

By the time the first 100 was in the books, Ledecky already had a lead of more than two seconds, her margin growing with each stroke. Ledecky went through the 200 in 2:03.05 and touched at the 400 in 4:08.49, a time that would have won the 400 freestyle on Thursday night. Had Ledecky been in the men’s race, won by Chris Wieser in 8:04.95, she would have been sixth. Veteran Ashley Twichell, already qualified for the 2020 Olympics in open-water action, was second to Ledecky in 8:30.88.

“I’m happy with how my meet has gone,” Ledecky said. “It’s a good benchmark type of meet for the rest of the season.”

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Carson Foster; Photo Courtesy: FINA / Budapest 2019

While Ledecky has been a regular member of senior international trips since 2012, Carson Foster has been pegged as a future lynchpin for Team USA. A multi-event standout committed to the University of Texas, where his brother, Jake, is a star freshman, the younger Foster backed up his top seed from prelims with a first-place finish in the final of the 200 individual medley. Foster had the lead from the start and stopped the clock in 1:58.93, fast enough to hold off Ryan Lochte (2:00.65), a four-time world champion in the event.

The world junior champion in the 200 medley, Foster should have several opportunities to become a teenage Olympian next summer, as he is within striking distance of a Team USA bid in both medleys and, perhaps, the 200 backstroke or 200 freestyle for relay duty. Meanwhile, Lochte is working through heavy training in the hunt for his fifth Olympic invitation. Never one to race quickly outside of the championship season, Lochte embraced a full schedule in Greensboro, his eyes set on a later payoff.

“To go that time right now in November is awesome,” Foster said. “I think I got a little extra pump from racing those guys. It’s always an honor to be racing with swimmers of that caliber. Just wanted to solidify myself as one of those high caliber I.M.ers.”

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Photo Courtesy: Swimming Canada/Ian MacNicol

The surprise world champion in the 100 butterfly over the summer, thanks to the unseating of Sarah Sjostrom, Canadian Maggie MacNeil used a strong homecoming lap to win her prime event in 57.64. Fourth at the turn, MacNeil had the fastest closing split by more than a half-second, placing ahead of American teenager Torri Huske (58.32.).

The gold medalist in both sprints at the World Champs, Simone Manuel closed out a strong weekend and opening to her Olympic season by winning the 50 freestyle in 24.50. Manuel had already won the 100 freestyle and was second in the 200 freestyle.

Canadian Kylie Masse, the two-time defending world champion in the 100 backstroke, won that event with the only effort under one minute. After going 59.80 during prelims, Masse prevailed in the final in 59.88, American teen Isabelle Stadden second in 1:00.24. For the men, a mark of 54.16 was enough to grant victory to Justin Ress. Wins in the 200 breaststroke were secured by Madisyn Cox (2:26.71) and Anton McKee (2:11.90), with Cox also adding a triumph in the 200 individual medley in 2:11.70.

Guatemala’s Luis Martinez, the silver medalist from the summer’s Pan American Games, bested the field in the men’s 100 butterfly as he registered a time of 52.46, .03 quicker than the time of 17-year-old Luca Urlando. In the men’s 50 freestyle, Michael Chadwick walked away on top in 22.22.

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