U.S. International Team Trials: Katie Ledecky Dominates 200 Free With 1:55.15; Claire Weinstein Finishes Second (VIDEO)

Katie Ledecky -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. International Team Trials: Katie Ledecky Dominates 200 Free With 1:55.15; Claire Weinstein Finishes Second

There was never any doubt as to the favorite in the women’s 200 freestyle final at U.S. International Team Trials. Katie Ledecky was the only swimmer in the field returning to the national final after leading the United States to silver in the 800 free relay at last year’s Olympics, and she was the Olympic gold medalist in the 200 free at the 2016 Olympics. Indeed, Ledecky crushed the field over the middle 100 meters to open up an enormous lead, and she never looked back.

Ledecky finished in 1:55.15, almost two seconds ahead of the field. She moved to second in the world for 2022 behind Olympic champion Ariarne Titmus, although it is worth noting that Titmus will be absent from this summer’s World Championships. Just like in Tuesday’s 800 freestyle, Ledecky swam faster than her time from last year’s Olympic final (although only by seven hundredths).

“I was a little sloppy this morning with some turns, so I just wanted to clean some things up and see what I could do,” Ledecky said. “It was a solid time. I think I’ve been 1:55 15 or 16, about 10 times in my life, so it’s just another one of those, I guess, but I’m happy with it.

The race for second place was considered wide open, and what played out was a back-and-forth showdown. Virginia’s Alex Walsh, best known for her abilities in the 200 IM, was in second place during the race, but on the last length, it was 15-year-old Claire Weinstein from Sandpipers of Nevada who ran down the field to claim second place. After crushing her lifetime best by almost a second in prelims, Weinstein swam an even-faster time of 1:57.08.

The automatic qualifying spots on the U.S. women’s 800 free relay went to Leah Smith (1:57.44) and Hali Flickinger (1:57.53), with both adding additional swims for the World Championships. Previously, Smith was second to Ledecky in the 800 free while Flickinger won the 200 fly.

Another Sandpipers swimmer, Bella Sims, placed fifth in 1:57.71, and Walsh took sixth in 1:57.82. Both swimmers are likely to be added to the World Championships team as relay alternates to participate on the U.S. women’s 800 freestyle relay.

Of the six likely qualifiers for this World Championships relay, only Ledecky and Sims return from the group that combined to take Olympic silver last year. Two of the swimmers who joined Ledecky in the Olympic final, Allison Schmitt and Katie McLaughlin, did not compete in Greensboro, while Paige Madden did not qualify for the final. Sims only competed in the prelims round in Tokyo. This group will have a wide range of experience, from a 15-year-old rookie in Weinstein to a pair of 27-year-olds in Smith and Flickinger. Smith was a veteran of the 800 free relay from 2016 through 2019 before she had an off performance at Olympic Trials last year.

Regardless of who is competing for the U.S. team, Ledecky is confident that the swimmers will find a way to step up and be in contention on the international level, even with tough competition from Canada, Australia and the Olympic gold medalists from China.

“It’s a different group each time, and I think we always find a way,” Ledecky said. “We always find a way to be in the mix. You saw that last year. I think we were counted out a lot, and we were really happy with our performance, getting under the old world record, getting silver and being that close to the gold. I knew that going into tonight that no matter who’s going to be on that relay, no matter who makes those spots, they’re going to step up and swim well. I have full confidence in the squad.”

As for Ledecky’s mindset as she moves through this Trials meet, she knows she needs to think one race at a time and not get too far ahead. Ledecky will take Thursday off from racing before she contests the 400 free Friday and the 1500 free Saturday. Only then can she turn her attention toward Budapest and her fifth appearance at a World Championships, where she will try to add to her 15 career world titles and 18 total Worlds medals.

Her challenges on the global level will be numerous in the individual 200 free. Ledecky won the world title in this event in 2015 and the Olympic gold in 2016, but she finished off the podium in fifth place in Tokyo. Titmus is skipping Worlds this year, but Olympic silver medalist and short course world-record holder Siobhan Haughey will be in action, and so will the Canadian duo of Summer McIntosh and Penny Oleksiak and China’s Yang Junxuan, among other top international rivals. But the tight battle that Ledecky faces in two months is a thought for another day.

“I think once this week is complete, I’ll be able to reset my mind toward Worlds and think about what I want to achieve there. Of course, it’s a different animal with prelims and finals of the distance events and a relay and things like that. I think I’m just going to get through this week first. This has been what’s circled on my calendar first. I never take anything for granted. Just making the team, and moving forward, I know we’ve got seven weeks from this point to try to get a little better from here and rest up and race again.”



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