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Katie Ledecky sets world record in 400 freestyle

Philip Hersh

Globetrotting

12:16 AM EDT, August 10, 2014

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IRVINE, Calif. — She ripped off her outer swim cap and threw it into the pool, raised one fist and then the other and pounded the water with both.

It was a rare unfettered display of emotion from Katie Ledecky.

It also was perfectly befitting for an occasion when the 17-year-old from Bethesda, Md., did something that made her even more exceptional.

"It was just pure excitement," Ledecky said. "It never gets old to break a world record."

By winning the 400-meter freestyle in Saturday night's final at the U.S. Championships in 3 minutes, 58.86 seconds, Ledecky became the first woman since Janet Evans to own the world records simultaneously in all three distance freestyles, the 400, 800 and 1,500 meters.

Evans first achieved that distinction in 1988 and, almost unbelievably, kept it for 18 years until her 400 record fell in 2006.

"It's an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as Janet," Ledecky said. "There's a great history of U.S. distance swimmers, and we're just trying to follow in their footsteps."

The 400 record Ledecky broke, 3:59.15, had been set by Italy's Federica Pellegrini in 2009. Pellegrini's time was aided by one of the suits banned after 2009 because they amounted to "technological doping." Buoyancy from those suits was a particular benefit at the end of races.

Ledecky, 2012 Olympic champion in the 800, had started a buzz about a possible world record when she swam the third fastest time ever (3:59.89) in the Saturday morning qualifying. In that race, she had been ahead of the world-record splits for 300 meters.

"(The record) was on my mind but I didn't let it overtake me today," she said. "I was very relaxed and whatever happened, happened.

"I just tried to make sure I didn't rush the first 100. Right after that, I could just race the final 300. I think it was probably pretty close to a perfect race."

Ledecky was nearly six seconds ahead of runner-up Cierra Runge (4:04.67). Becca Mann of Homer Glen was fifth in a personal best 4:07.92.

Michael Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, who also coaches Mann, said Ledecky's fearlessness is among the reasons she has outdistanced the national competition.

"She's not afraid to go for it," Bowman said. "I think that's important."

Phelps, who finished sixth behind Lake Forest's Matt Grevers in the 100 backstroke Saturday night, was similarly impressed.

"It's amazing," Phelps said. "I thought it was going to be really tough to get under four minutes twice (in one day). She puts it out there. It's good seeing somebody who is hungry and wants it like her."

Ledecky's coach, Bruce Gemmell, smiled when told what Phelps had said about the double sub-four.

"She's 17 years old," Gemmell said. "He probably forgot that when he was 17 years old, he could do the same thing."

Ledecky would be 1.7 seconds under the world-record pace at 200 meters. The margin kept shrinking as she hit the final turn, when Ledecky tried "to kick as hard as I could, and pull as hard as I could."

The effort did not leave Ledecky feeling unusual pain or exhaustion.

"I haven't thrown up after a race yet, so maybe that is what I have to shoot for," she said, with a grin.

Ledecky won the 200 and 800 freestyles earlier in the meet. She has decided to skip Sunday's 1,500 to get back into training for the Pan Pacific Games, which begin Aug. 21 in Australia.

"I just like to train hard and swim fast," she said. "I'm glad it's paying off."

Grevers was "pleasantly surprised" by his time in Saturday morning's heats of the 100 backstroke, and no wonder.

His clocking of 53.11 was fourth fastest in the world this season. China's Yu Jiayu is the leader at 52.34.

Grevers, 29, the Olympic 100 back champion, was even faster in the final, winning in 52.75 (third fastest of 2014) even though he bounced around his lane and "probably swam 102 yards."

"I think I'm in the best shape of my life," he said.

In the 100 breaststroke, favored Kevin Cordes of Naperville had the fastest time in the heats but wound up third in the final with a slower time. Cordes clocked 1:00.63 to winner Cody Miller's 59.91.

In finishing fifth to Missy Franklin (59.38) in the 100 backstroke, Glenview's Olivia Smoliga (1:01:08) matched her finish of last year and achieved her goal for a national meet she entered after losing recent training to a bout with mononucleosis.

It was Franklin's third victory of the meet.

phersh@tribune.com

Twitter @olyphil