U.S. International Team Trials: Katie Ledecky Breaks 4:00 for 400 Free Victory; Leah Smith Adds Second Individual Event for Worlds (VIDEO)

Katie Ledecky -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. International Team Trials: Katie Ledecky Breaks 4:00 for 400 Free Victory; Leah Smith Adds Second Individual Event for Worlds

As usual, Katie Ledecky left no doubt. Since placing third in the 400 freestyle as a 15-year-old at the 2012 Olympic Trials, Ledecky has not lost the race on a domestic level, and the only swimmer who has beaten her at all is Australia’s Ariarne Titmus. And after collecting a win in the event at U.S. International Team Trials in Greensboro, Ledecky will head back to the World Championships and attempt to reclaim the title she lost to Titmus in 2019.

In the final, Bella Sims and Leah Smith were close to Ledecky for the first 100 meters, but before Ledecky quickly opened up a lead. Ledecky was out in 1:59.02 at the 200-meter mark, and then the world-record holder and 2016 Olympic gold medalist in the event changed gears. Her back-half split of 2:00.50 helped her grow the lead to more than 3.5 seconds. Ledecky finished in 3:59.52, the fastest time in the world so far in 2022 ahead of Titmus’ season best of 4:00.03. Ledecky’s swim was the 21st-fastest performance in history, with Titmus and Federica Pellegrini (in a full-body polyurethane suit) as the only other swimmers who have ever been quicker.

“This morning felt really good, probably one of the easiest 4:00s I’ve done,” Ledecky said. “Just felt really confident tonight. Knew I could get under. Just wanted to see how far I could get under, and I put together a good swim.”

The World Championships might present an opportunity for Ledecky to face off against Titmus for the first time since their epic dual for Olympic gold in Tokyo, a race that saw Titmus finish just off Ledecky’s world record while Ledecky swam the second-quickest mark of her career, but Titmus has indicated she plans on skipping the Budapest meet. Ledecky, however, is not too concerned about waiting a little longer for a rematch with Titmus. She has a lot of races on her slate for Worlds, having already won the 800 free and 200 free in Greensboro and with the 1500 free still to come Saturday, so she does not want to zero-in on one specific race against one specific athlete.

“I’m always focused on all of my races, and I don’t think there’s anything more there than ever,” Ledecky said. “I’m always trying to be better and trying to play around with things. I’m looking forward to hopefully more races with Ariarne in the coming years and with Summer McIntosh and so many great swimmers around the world that are coming up. I know that whoever’s at Worlds is going to give me a great race.”

Smith took second in 4:03.15 to secure her spot at the Budapest World Championships. It has been a resurgent meet for Smith after she missed making the 2021 Olympic team, and she added the 400 free to her World Championships lineup that already included the 800 free and the 800 free relay. Smith is the fifth-fastest performer in history in the 400 free, and she won silver in the event at the 2017 World Championships along with bronzes at the 2016 Olympics and 2019 Worlds. Smith’s performance here ranks her fifth in the world for 2022.

After she clinched her spot at the World Championships, Smith admitted that making her return to the highest level was very meaningful to her after the setbacks she faced at Olympic Trials. Those results forced Smith to evaluate what was most important in her swimming career and reset her perspective as she moved forward.

“It definitely means a lot to me. I was pretty emotional after my 800, and I’m not really an emotional person unless I do bad. That was really cool, and it felt like such a journey. It’s hard to believe it was just 10 months ago, but I think this year, I’ve just had an added level of gratitude of what I’ve been doing,” Smith said.

“I’ve had a really long national team career. For a while, I hadn’t had a bad taper meet since high school. When you kind of fall flat on your face in everything, it just gets your worst fear out of the way. Even though it was pretty heartbreaking for me, it was also kind of freeing in a way because now I get to swim without that burden of worrying, ‘What if?’ because it’s already happened. I think it also gave me a chance to take a step back last summer and figure out what’s important to me and what I want in this sport in the time I have left.”

Sims placed third in 4:06.61, barely holding off a charge from 16-year-old Sandpipers teammate Katie Grimes (4:06.67). Grimes was the winner in the 400 IM Thursday evening, while Sims will likely be added to the Worlds team after placing fifth in the 200 free. Hali Flickinger, qualified for Worlds in the 200 butterfly and 800 free relay, placed fifth in 4:07.97.



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