U.S. Olympic Trials: Katie Ledecky Dominates 400 Free Prelims With 4:03, Paige Madden Drops Three Seconds for Second Place

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. Olympic Trials: Katie Ledecky Dominant in 400 Free Prelims With 4:03, Paige Madden Drops Three Seconds for Second

Katie Ledecky knows she has a challenge on her hands in the 400 freestyle at the Rio Olympics. Ariarne Titmus, the swimmer who shocked Ledecky in the event at the 2019 World Championships and handed Ledecky her first loss in the event since 2012, just posted the second-fastest time ever at Australia’s Olympic Trials, and her 3:56.90 was less than a half second from Ledecky’s world record. Prior to their impending rematch at the Olympics, the Olympic Trials final will be the only chance for Ledecky to put up a challenge to Titmus’ time, not that any results have any impact prior to the actual Games.

In prelims, Ledecky took an easy win in the final heat. Ledecky received an early challenge in the sixth and final heat from Virginia’s Paige Madden, who captured NCAA titles this year in the 200, 500 and 1650-yard free, but she eventually extended that lead over the back half. Ledecky actually looked smoother as she progressed through the race and extended her lead, and she came in at 4:03.07. Her season-best time is a 3:59.25 from the TYR Pro Swim Series in Mission Viejo in April.

In that same heat, Madden chopped more than three seconds off her previous best time of 4:09.19 as she finished second in 4:05.92. Coming off the outstanding conclusion of her NCAA career with the Cavaliers, Madden was considered a contender to qualify for the Olympic team in the 200 free, where six swimmers will be selected for United States relay duty, but she moved into the realm of legitimate contender in the individual 400 with her outstanding prelims effort.

Meanwhile, reigning Olympic and World Championships bronze medalist Leah Smith secured her spot in the final after swimming in heat five. Smith ended up in a duel with Mission Viejo’s Haley Anderson, and after Anderson opened up a lead, Smith tracked her down but ended up touching one hundredth behind. Anderson’s time was 4:06.87, a lifetime best by nine tenths. Smith took the fourth seed in 4:06.88. Smith ranks fifth all-time in the event (and third in a textile suit) with a lifetime best of 4:00.65 from the 2016 Trials.

Anderson has already qualified for her third Olympic team in the 10k open water race by virtue of her top-10 finish at the 2019 World Championships. Anderson won silver in the 10k at the London Olympics.

Ashley Twichell, meanwhile, will be a first-time Olympian in Tokyo after also finishing in the top 10 in 2019. Twichell qualified eighth for the final in 4:10.51, but scratched out of the final, opening the door for 16-year-old Cavan Gormsen. Anderson and Twichell will each have their best chance to add a pool swim for Tokyo in the 1,500 free, with prelims scheduled for Tuesday and the final Wednesday. Another likely contender in the 1,500, Erica Sullivan, scratched the 400 free to prepare for the mile.

There was a substantial gap back to the next finishers, Sierra Schmidt (4:09.00) and Kaersten Meitz (4:09.07). Emma Nordin, who swam a 4:04.60 at the Indianapolis Pro Series last month to drop a massive chunk from her lifetime best and become the third seed, ended up a surprising seventh in 4:10.31, but she will still compete in her first Olympic Trials final in the evening.

Notably, Nation’s Capital’s Erin Gemmell (daughter of coach Bruce and brother to 2012 Olympian Andrew) finished 11th in prelims after entering seeded 24th, dropping almost a second and a half from her best time. Gemmell should be a contender to qualify for the semifinals in Tuesday’s 200 free.


  1. Katie Ledecky 4:03.07
  2. Paige Madden 4:05.92
  3. Haley Anderson 4:06.87
  4. Leah Smith 4:06.88
  5. Sierra Schmidt 4:09.00
  6. Kaersten Meitz 4:09.07
  7. Emma Nordin 4:10.31
  8. Ashley Twichell 4:10.51 scratched
  9. Cavan Gormsen, 4:10.78


  1. Rich Davis

    The final at the Olympics will be epic after Ariane Titmus just missed her WR two days ago. I’d have to make Katie the favourite coz she’s just ‘that’ good.