It may be time to put away the term “distance swimmer” when referring to Katie Ledecky. The 17-year-old, who went from relative unknown to Olympic champion and world record holder in three years, continues to extend her range and push the boundaries of what seems possible for swimmers typically sectioned off by distance or stroke specialty.
Ledecky beat Missy Franklin to win the women’s 200-meter freestyle at USA Swimming’s Nationals on Thursday in a showdown between the country’s two brightest stars.
After flipping third at the first wall, Ledecky accelerated over the final 150 meters to touch in a time of 1 minute 55.16 seconds. It was the second fastest time in the world this year. Franklin was second in 1:56.40, which also cracks the top 10 in the world, and sets the pair up for a 1-2 finish at the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia later this month.
“I wasn’t really worried about the time. I just wanted to get into a good race and swim the best race I could,” said Ledecky, who trains with Nation’s Capital Swim Club in Bethesda and is a two-time All-Met Swimmer of the Year from Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart. “I did a really good job of increasing my tempo throughout the race, and my arms didn’t die. I was happy with that.”
Despite the two teenage swimmers’ meteoric success over the past several years, this isn’t a female version of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. The 200 freestyle is the only event in which the two female faces of American swimming compete against one another, and they’ve only met a handful of times before Thursday.
“Watching Katie in the 1,500 and 800 is a treat for everyone, but to actually race her in the 200 is awesome,” Franklin said. “She just makes me better and I’m so thankful for that.”
Ledecky finished second to Franklin at last year’s nationals, but scratched herself from the 200 ahead of world championships to focus on the 400, 800 and 1,500. It paid off when she set an American record and two world records in those events in Barcelona.
Franklin went on to win gold in 200 freestyle — one of six world titles for her last summer.
A year later, there is no chance Ledecky scratches the event as she continues to cement her legacy as the greatest female freestyler in history. But that doesn’t change how she treats her friendship with Franklin.
“We don’t smack talk, no way,” Ledecky said with a laugh. “She’s an extremely positive person and that makes all of us better. She’s amazing.”
Ledecky, who broke on to the national scene with a victory in the 800 freestyle at the 2012 Olympic Trials, doesn’t consider herself a distance swimmer: “I think of myself as a freestyler.”
That attitude may carry her to an improbable sweep of the top time in the world in four freestyle events, 200 to 1,500.
The last American to hold that honor was Cynthia Woodhead in 1980, who was the world’s No. 1 in the 100 through 800 ahead of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. Woodhead didn’t get her chance to win four goals due to the American boycott of the Games; Ledecky might in 2016, however.
Notes: Sterling native Matt McLean won the men’s 200 freestyle in a 1:46.93 ahead of fellow Olympic gold medalist Conor Dwyer. The two train together under Phelps’s coach, Bob Bowman, at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.
“Racing these guys, I knew it was going be a really tactical race,” McLean said. “I just tried to swim to my strengths and execute properly. I think it was a really good race even if the times weren’t quite what we were expecting.”
McLean, a former NCAA champion for Virginia, was three-hundredths of a second faster during prelims. Dwyer was also slower in finals, but touching in the top four and earning a spot in Australia was the goal on Thursday. . . .
Kevin Cordes won the men’s 200 breaststroke in 2:09.48, well off the U.S. open record of 2:07.86 he swam during the morning heats. Nic Fink was second. Micah Lawrence made a late push in the women’s event to win in 2:23.05 ahead of Breeja Larson. . . .
Franklin won the women’s 200 backstroke in 2:08.38. Tyler Clary beat Cal freshman Ryan Murphy and Lochte in the men’s final. He touched in a world No. 3 time of 1:54.73. Jack Conger, a former three-time All-Met Swimmer of the Year, was second in the ‘B’ final in 1:59.90.