OMAHA, Neb. — Katie Ledecky’s most grueling night at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials resulted in two more victories.
She didn’t seem bothered at all to have to swim her shortest and longest events about 70 minutes apart.
Ledecky, 24, won the 200-meter freestyle first. She rushed off to the practice pool to warm down as best she could, then it was back to the arena for the 1,500 free — roughly the equivalent of a mile and a new event for the women at the upcoming Olympics.
It was a totally different race, stressing endurance over speed, but it looked just the same.
Ledecky touched the wall far ahead of everyone else, giving her a third individual race at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics. Her winning time was 15 minutes, 40.50 seconds, well off her 2018 world record (15:20.48) but fastest in the world this year.
Ledecky has already pondered the significance of the inaugural women’s 1,500 free.
About time, she said.
“The men have had the mile in the Olympics since 1908,” Ledecky said. “It’s 2021, and we finally got one.”
Erica Sullivan was nearly a half-lap behind, but she knocked more than 4 seconds off her personal best to take the expected second Olympic berth in 15:51.18.
The 200 free was one of four gold medals that Ledecky won at the Rio Games. She’ll get a chance to defend that title after winning in 1:55.11, a full body length ahead of the field.
Allison Schmitt, who won the event at the 2012 London Games, is headed to her fourth Olympics at age 31 after holding off Paige Madden by one-hundredth of a second for the runner-up spot behind Ledecky.
Schmitt’s time was 1:56.79, which gives her a likely individual event in Tokyo as well as a spot on the 4×200 free relay. Madden and Katie McLaughlin, who was fourth in 1:57.16, will also be going to the Olympics as relay swimmers.
“I knew it was going to be close,” Schmitt said. “I didn’t know how close it was until I got out of the water and saw one-hundredth on the board.”
As Schmitt crossed the deck, her longtime teammate and good friend Michael Phelps raced down from the stands to give her a long embrace. Both swimmers have disclosed their struggles with depression even while performing brilliantly in the pool.
“I don’t even know how to put it into words,” Schmitt said. “He’s been a brother inside the pool and outside the pool. It helped me so much. Even now, when he’s not swimming, he’s a huge part of it.”
Ledecky already won the 400 free, though she wasn’t as fast as expected. She’s also heavily favored in the 800 free, another race she won at Rio, which means she could swim as many as four individual events and perhaps a couple of relays at the Tokyo games.
“Katie is amazing,” Schmitt said. “As her teammate and her friend, I’m going to be right there along the way cheering her on.”
Zach Harting earned his first trip to the Olympics with a victory in the men’s 200-meter butterfly.
Harting, a 23-year-old from Huntsville, Alabama, won with a time of 1:55.06 after a restless night.
“I couldn’t sleep last night, woke up before my alarm, heart pounding out of my chest, crazy adrenaline,” he said. “I wanted to puke all through warm-up, still kind of want to do that. I don’t think I really handled it well, but I knew I was going to win so that kind of gave me a little bit of peace.”
Harting is already making plans to get the customary Olympic rings tattoo.
“Coming in here and not making the team was not an option,” he said. “I don’t know if I could have handled it, so the easiest thing to do was make the team and that’s what I did.”
Gunnar Bentz, who was among the swimmers involved in Ryan Lochte’s infamous night in Rio five years ago, touched after Harting in 1:55.34 and will get the expected second spot in the event.
Alex Walsh won a thrilling race in the women’s 200 individual medley, with only four-hundredths of a second separating the top three.
The winner touched in 2:09.30, followed by Kate Douglass at 2:09.32 and Madisyn Cox in 2:09.34. Douglass will get the expected second spot on the Olympic team, while Cox endured another heartbreak after finishing fourth in two events at the 2016 trials.
Walsh and Douglass give the American team two more first-time Olympians.
“I’m in shock,” Walsh said.
Eighteen-year-old Torri Huske, who already made the team in the 100 butterfly, got off a blistering start in her signature stroke but couldn’t hold on. She faded to fourth in 2:10.38.
Ledecky is one of at least two swimmers the Americans are counting on to be big stars at these Olympics, the first since 1996 that won’t include Phelps. He retired after Rio with a record 23 gold medals and 28 medals overall.
The other is Caeleb Dressel, who was top qualifier in the semifinals of the 100 free with a time of 47.77.
Nathan Adrian, an eight-time Olympic medalist who won the 100 free at the 2012 Olympics and captured a bronze in Rio, failed to even qualify for the final after finishing sixth in his heat and 13th overall at 48.92.
“Goodness,” Dressel said when asked about Adrian failing to advance. “When we have six guys under 48 (seconds) heading into this (final), there’s real talent here. It’s real deep. It’s great for the sport, but it’s tough to get your hand on the wall first.”
Adrian, who overcame testicular cancer and is now married with an infant daughter, conceded that it was hard to maintain the sort of focus he needed at age 32.
“When I had a bad practice before, it was a little bit of a dagger in the heart. I would be very, very affected by that,” he said. “Now, I just want to go home and immediately give my wife and baby a hug and a kiss.
“In so many indescribable ways, this is such an all-in sport. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stick two good swims out there.”
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