U.S. Olympic Trials: Katie Ledecky Cruises to 8:16 in 800 Free, Top Seed by More than 10 Seconds; Three Sandpipers in Final


U.S. Olympic Trials: Katie Ledecky Cruises to 8:16 in 800 Free, Top Seed by More than 10 Seconds; Three Sandpipers in Final

Katie Ledecky has not been at her absolute best this week, but she has still been absolutely dominant in her events. She won the 400 free Monday before winning both the 200 free and 1500 free Wednesday. After a much-deserved day off, Ledecky returned to the pool for the 800 free heats, and she swam the No. 1 qualifying time for Saturday’s final. Ledecky put up an 8:16.61, off her own season best of 8:13.64 that ranks first in the world, but the only other swimmer who has been that quick in 2021 is Ariarne Titmus at 8:15.57. We’ll see if Ledecky can beat that 8:13 in the final.

Racing behind Ledecky in the final heat was 16-year-old Bella Sims, who did not swim the 400 free but dropped almost 2.5 seconds from her best time in the 200 free to finish fifth and put herself in position to get onto the Olympic team as a relay alternate. Understandably, Sims could not keep pace with the distance dynamo that is Ledecky, but she did gain separation from the rest of the field to finish in 8:27.56, about a half-second off her personal best. That earned Sims lane five for the final.

Sandpipers Erica Sullivan, the second-place swimmer in the 1500 free behind Ledecky, raced against Mission Viejo’s Haley Anderson and Sierra Schmidt in the fourth heat, and the three swimmers kept exchanging the lead over the first half of the race, but Sullivan opened up a solid lead ater that. She came home in 8:28.67, moving up to 14th in the world this year and taking the third seed for the final behind Ledecky and Sims. Anderson finished in 8:29.24 and Schmidt in 8:29.93, both a little off their season-best efforts, and that qualified them fifth and seventh, respectively.

Ally McHugh was third in the final heat in 8:29.00, qualifying her fourth for the final, and Kaersten Meitz qualified sixth in 829.52.

In the last non-circle-seeded heat, 15-year-old Katie Grimes of Sandpipers mashed her personal best time by more than six seconds with an 8:31.73. Grimes has already had a remarkable week after she finished third in the 1500 free, where she dropped an incredible 28 seconds between her two swims. Competing in the 1500 free final, Grimes was sixth for the first half of the race but then gradually moved up, passing Anderson with less than 150 meters to go and then flying home to nearly catch club teammate Sullivan for second. Here, Grimes’ finish allowed Sandpipers to put three swimmers into the championship final.

Meanwhile, 2016 Olympian Leah Smith missed out on the final in her final chance of the week to qualify for the Tokyo Games, finishing 10th in 8:36.10. Smith has achieved most of her international success in the past five years in the 400 and in the 800 free relay, but she did win bronze in the 800 free at the 2017 World Championships before she took fourth at the 2019 Worlds. She even owns a season-best time of 8:24.46 that ranks 10th in the world. But in this field, Smith’s rough week that included a third-place finish in the 400 free and an eighth-place result in the 200 free after a strong opening effort in the 400 IM came to an end.

Also missing the final was Virginia’s Paige Madden, who already finished second in the 400 free and third in the 200 free to secure her spot in Tokyo. Madden swam a time of 8:39.27, almost two seconds off her lifetime best.


  1. Katie Ledecky 8:16.61
  2. Bella Sims 8:27.56
  3. Erica Sullivan 8:28.67
  4. Ally McHugh 8:29.00
  5. Haley Anderson 8:29.24
  6. Kaersten Meitz 8:29.52
  7. Sierra Schmidt 8:29.93
  8. Katie Grimes 8:31.73

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