SWIMMING: More world leads for Ledecky, Fink, Smith and Armstrong and a Breaststroke triple for Lilly King at U.S. Trials!

Three events, three wins for Freestyle superstar Katie Ledecky (USA).

The penultimate day of the Phillips 66 International Team Trials was another demonstration of how powerful the U.S. swim program is, with world-leading performances in four more events in Greensboro, North Carolina. This meet is selecting the American team for the 2022 World Championships in Budapest and blowing up the 2022 world rankings in the process.

The qualifying protocol is a little complicated, with only the winner of each event guaranteed a spot on the U.S. team, plus the top four in the 100 m and 200 m Freestyles (for relays). Most likely, the top two in each event will be on the U.S. team in Hungary, but only the winners in non-Olympic 50 m races. On Friday:

● Women/400 m Freestyle ● Katie Ledecky zoomed to the no. 2 time in the world for 2022 in the prelims, posting the fastest time by more than four seconds in 4:00.38, with two-time Worlds medalist Leah Smith at 4:04.83.

In the final, it was Ledecky, Smith and Bella Sims (4×200 m Free Relay silver in Tokyo) separating from the rest of the field by the 150 m mark and then Ledecky took off. She extended her lead throughout, finishing more than a body length ahead in a world-leading 3:59.52, the no. 21 performance of all-time (she has 17 of the top 22).

Smith took second by the 125 m point and was a solid second in 4:03.15, moving to no. 4 on the 2022 world list. Sims finished third in 4:06.61 (no. 10) and the amazing Katie Grimes – already the winner of the 400 m Medley and the U.S. 10 km open-water champion – was fourth in 4:06.67.

● Men/400 m Freestyle ● The U.S. had no one in the top 37 in the world after the prelims, but that was going to change with 200 m winner Keiran Smith the favorite considering his Olympic bronze medal in Tokyo last year.

And it was Smith to the lead right away, leading North Carolina State All-American Ross Dant through most of the race. But Dant would not go away and got to the lead on the final turn by 0.05, with U.S. Open 400 m Free champ Trey Freeman getting into the fight.

Coming home, it was Smith getting stronger and taking the lead again, but Freeman was moving fastest of all and passed Dant in the final 10 m to get second, 3:46.61-3:46.93-3:47.11, ranking 8-9-12 in the world for 2022.

● Women/100 m Breaststroke ● Lilly King and Kaitlyn Dobler were 1-2 in the 50 m Breaststroke final and 1-2 in the qualifying, with King at 1:06.20, and Annie Lazor in third and Olympic champ Lydia Jacoby fourth.

King got to the lead right away in the final, but not by much. She only had an 0.23 lead over Lazor and 0.31 over Dobler at the turn. King’s stroke rate increased to keep her in front, with a furious race behind her between Lazor and Dobler, with Jacoby coming hard.

At the touch, King was the clear winner at 1:05.67 (she has a faster time this season), with training partner Lazor moving no. 7 in the world at 1:06.12 and Dobler at 1:06.19. King sweeps all three Breast events, but Jacoby – the Tokyo winner – finished off the team in fourth in 1:06.21, no. 10 on the world list for 2022.

● Men/100 m Breaststroke ● Michael Andrew was back in the pool again, leading the qualifying over Nic Fink, 58.78-59.63.

In the final, Andrew started fast as usual and had the lead at the turn over Fink, but the 28-year-old two-time World Short Course Breaststroke champ had a superb underwater and had the lead on Andrew with 30 meters left.

Fink matched Andrew stroke-for-stroke and the two separated from the field and Fink got his second win of the meet – he tied for the 200 Breast victory – in a lifetime best and world-leading 58.47, with Andrew now no. 2 at 58.51. Charlie Swanson was third, well back at 1:00.06.

● Women/100 m Backstroke ● Olympic bronze medalist Regan Smith led all qualifiers at 58.29, fastest in the world for 2022, well clear of Olympic fourth-placer Rhyan White (58.98).

In the final, Smith got off well and had a small lead at the turn over Claire Curzan – in her fourth event! – and White, then extended on the final lap and scored a convincing win over a great field in another world-leading time of 57.76.

Curzan, swimming away from the leaders in lane 2, never wavered and kept her stroke rate strong to score second in 58.39 (no. 3 for 2022) ahead of White (58.59, no. 5) and 50 m Back winner Katharine Berkoff (58.61, no. 6).

It’s a U.S. Open record for Smith, smashing her own mark of 57.92 from the U.S. Trials in 2021.

● Men/100 m Backstroke ● Olympic Trials fifth-placer Justin Ress moved to no. 5 on the world list for 2020 with the fastest qualifying time of 53.10, ahead of Rio Olympic champ Ryan Murphy (53.17).

In the final, Murphy got into the water first and had a tiny lead at the turn (0.10) over 50 m Back winner (and world-record-setter) Hunter Armstrong. But that didn’t last and Armstrong came hard in the middle of the final lap to get a small lead and then touch for the win in a world-leading 52.20.

Murphy followed in a rush at 52.46, then came Ress at 52.73 and they are 1-2-3 on the world list for 2022. Shaine Casas swam 53.01 and is no. 6 in the world this season and got fourth. Let’s remember: Armstrong is 21 and already has an Olympic relay gold to his credit. Wow.

Now four days in, this meet has produced a world record, three American Records and world-leading performances in 14 events: eight for men and six for women. And one day to go.

Saturday’s final-day program includes the women’s 1,500 m Free, men’s 800 m Free, the 200 m Medleys and the 50 m Freestyles; the finals will be shown on CNBC at 6 p.m. Eastern.

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