The Sports Examiner

SWIMMING: Ledecky breezes to wins in 200 m and 1,500 m Free; London gold medalist Schmidt makes U.S. team at 31; Aussie McKeon swims world lead 52.19 in 100 Free

American swimming superstar Katie Ledecky: now a 17-time World Championships gold medalist!

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Katie Ledecky wrapped up her second and third spots in Tokyo at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, winning the 200 m Freestyle and the 1,500 m Free.

She took control of the 200 m Free by the 150 m mark and won by daylight in 1:55.11 over 31-year-old Allison Schmidt (1:56.79), Paige Madden (1:56.80) and Katie McLaughlin (1:57.16). However, with the 1,500 m Free final later, Ledecky didn’t even set a season’s best (1:54.40 in early April) and remains second on the year list.

Schmidt, the 2012 Olympic champion who took a break after Rio, returned to the pool in 2018, will be in Tokyo for her fourth Games: she’s won medals in Beijing, London (200 m Free gold!) and Rio. She’s still the American Record holder at the distance at 1:53.61 from 2012.

(The U.S. 4×200 m Free relay will have its work cut out for them in Tokyo, after finishing in 1:55.11-1:56.79-1:56.80-1:57.16. By comparison, the top four at the Australian Trials earlier this week timed 1:53.09-1:54.74-1:55.68-1:56.08.)

In the 1,500 m final, Ledecky came in with the fastest time in the world at 15:40.55 and led wire-to-wire, finishing in a world-leading 15:40.50. It’s the 14th-fastest performance in history and Ledecky owns the top 10 and 13 of the top 15.

Behind her was a three-way battle for second, with Erica Sullivan maintaining that position for most of the race and finishing in 15:51.18, but with company coming fast as Katie Grimes touched in 15:52.12, trailed by open-water star Haley Anderson, in 15:55.60. Sullivan is now no. 4 on the 2021 world list and Grimes is no. 5.

Madisyn Cox entered the women’s 200 m Medley with the second-fastest time in the world this season at 2:08.51, but it was Alex Walsh, 20, who took over on the third (breaststroke) leg and barely held on to come home the winner in 2:09.30, about a half-second behind her season’s best mark from the semis. Cox was second heading into the final lap, but was passed by a season’s best from Kate Douglass, 2:09.32-2:09.34, as all three touched within 0.04!

Semifinal co-leader Zach Harting won the men’s 200 m Fly in the final 50 m, overhauling Trenton Julian and Luca Orlando on the final lap, finishing in 1:55.06, moving to no. 7 on the 2021 world list. As Julian faded to fifth at the touch, Rio Olympian Gunnar Bentz moved up from fifth to second in 1:55.34 and Urlando got third (1:55.43).

In the men’s 100 m Free qualifying, Ryan Held led the morning heats at 48.07, with Caeleb Dressel a comfortable fifth in 48.25. But Dressel warmed up in the semis, racing to the no. 5 spot on the 2021 world list in 47.77, just 0.01 ahead of Zach Apple (47.78, now no. 6) in semi two. Blake Pieroni (48.13) won semi one. One sad note: 2012 Olympic champ Nathan Adrian did not qualify for the final, placing 13th in a creditable 48.13.

Will Gallant led the morning heats in the men’s 800 m Final in 7:53.76; that’s the best time by an American in 2021, but 26th on the year list (with the final to come).

No American had broken 2:09 this season in the men’s 200 m Breast, but Matt Fallon posted the fastest semi time in 2:08.91 to move to 15th in the world this year. Nic Fink won the first semi in 2:09.13 and Kevin Cordes (2:09.31) and Will Licon (2:09.39) went 2-3 in Fallon’s first semi.

Favored Hali Flickinger led the morning qualifying in the women’s 200 m Fly in 2:08.14, then dominated the semifinals impressively, winning the second semi in 2:06.73, just off her seasonal best of 2:06.68, which is third in the world for 2021. Backstroke star Regan Smith won the first semi in 2:07.89 and is well positioned to make the U.S. not only in a second event, but in a second stroke!

The U.S. Trials continue though Sunday; Thursday’s finals include the men’s 800 m, men’s 100 m Breaststroke, women’s 200 m Butterfly and the men’s 100 m Freestyle.

At the Australian Swimming Trials in Adelaide, sprinter Emma McKeon improved on her own world-leading mark in the women’s 100 m Free, racing to a 52.19 finish in the morning heats.

She won the final in 52.35, ahead of 2013 World Champion Cate Campbell (52.59, Madison Wilson (52.76) and Meg Harris (52.92), giving Australia positions 1-2-3-5 on the 2021 world list, and the favorite’s role in the 4×100 m Freestyle relay.

McKeon’s 52.19 is the eighth-fastest performance ever, and only Sarah Sjostrom (SWE), Cate Campbell, American Simone Manuel and German Britta Steffen have ever swum faster.

Jenna Strauch won the women’s 200 m Breast final in 2:23.17, slightly slower than her season’s best of 2:23.12, 12th on the 2021 world list.

Mitch Larkin, best known as a two-time World Champion in the Backstroke, sizzled in the men’s 200 m Medley, winning in 1:56.29 to move to no. 2 in the world for 2021. He finished well ahead of Brendon Smith in second (1:58.82).

Tristan Hollard took the men’s 200 m Back in 1:56.44, slower than his 1:56.40 in April; he remains at no. 11 for 2021.

The Australian Trials conclude on Thursday, with the women’s 200 m Back, men’s 100 m Fly, women’s 800 m Free, women’s 50 m Free, men’s 50 m Free and the men’s 1,500 m Free.

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