By Sharon Robb
OMAHA, Neb., June 16, 2021—The bell lap never sounded so good to Katie Ledecky who made history Wednesday night at the U.S. Olympic Trials at CHI Health Center.
In front of a standing ovation, Ledecky, 24, of Nation’s Capital Swim Club, completed a grueling double, first winning the 200-meter freestyle against a stacked field in 1:55.11 and finishing the night with another win, this time in the newest Olympic women’s event 1,500-meter freestyle in a pool record 15:40.50, bettering her previous pool record of 15:43.10 set in prelims.
Twenty nine minutes after winning the 200, she was on the podium getting her medal and 67 minutes later she was on the blocks for the 1,500.
“It went well,” Ledecky said. “It was good I had the morning off to rest up and take care of business tonight. I told our heat in there we were making history tonight. I think we were all just so fired up that we finally got this chance.”
Three-time Olympic champion and former four-time world record holder Debbie Meyer texted Ledecky the night before her races. Meyer was the first woman to win the 800-meter freestyle when it became an Olympic event at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
“She was saying how cool it was for her when she was the first one to win the 800,” Ledecky said. “She said it was so cool to look back at the event to see she was the first. I just tried to cherish the moment. The 1,500 has been a long time coming. I’m so glad we are finally here.”
Erica Sullivan, 21, of Sandpipers of Nevada held off clubmate Katie Grimes to finish second in 15:51.18 to make her first Olympic team.
Ledecky won the first final of the night, the 200-meter freestyle in 1:55.11. Allison Schmitt, 31, of Sun Devil Swimming made her fourth Olympic team with a second place in 1:56.79. After her swim, Schmitt got a big hug on the pool deck from good friend and former teammate Michael Phelps.
After the first 50 and 100 Ledecky was second behind Schmitt. After the 150, Ledecky put it another gear to lead by almost a second. Schmitt finished 1/100ths of a second ahead of University of Virginia’s Paige Madden.
In her 1500 race, Ledecky went out in 59.22 for the first 100 and by 150 meters she had a full body length lead and went through the 400 at 4:07.77.
The only negative was NBC cutting away for commercials after the 400. Come on NBC, seriously? The coverage resumed at 650-meters and she had extended her lead by three body lengths. She went through 1,000 at 10:25. She was seven seconds and four body lengths ahead with 300 meters to go.
“She is a true competitor, she is so tough,” said U.S. Olympic women’s and Stanford coach Greg Meehan. “She embraces training. She just loves the sport. She loves to swim. She loves being in the water. She loves being with her teammates. Every day she wants to be better.”
In the women’s 200-meter individual medley, a pair of teenagers will be going to Tokyo. Alex Walsh, 19, of Nashville Aquatic Club won by 2/100ths of a second in 2:09.32 and Kate Douglass of University of Virginia was second in 2:09.32. Favorite Madisyn Cox finished 2/100ths of a second out of second.
“I just wanted it so badly,” Walsh said. “I just put my head down. That was the hardest 15 meters. I kept thinking about all my teammates and the hard work I put in this season. I couldn’t believe I touched first. I was so happy and so excited to represent the U.S.”
Zach Harting of the Louisville Cardinals won the men’s 200-meter butterfly in hopes of filling Michael Phelps’ shoes in the event. “Those are pretty big shoes,” Harting said with a smile.
Harting won in 1:55.06 and Gunnar Bentz of Dynamo Swim Club was second in 1:55.34. Harting broke open a tight race and surged in the final meters in a lifetime-best. Harting was emotional after the race and took four bows to the crowd. Bentz threw a kiss to the scoreboard.
“A lot of people work their whole lives. They get told they can have a dream when they’re children and then they’re told that’s not the way it works when they grow up,” Harting said. “For me, ever since I was 7 and started swimming my dream was to represent the U.S. at the Olympics. Not all of us get to turn their dreams into reality. I’m really grateful for that. I worked my butt off every day for that. You can do it. This is dreams coming true.”
Reigning world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist Caeleb Dressel made his Trials debut and had no problem making tonight’s 100-meter freestyle final as the top seed in 47.77. Nathan Adrian, 32, going for his fourth Olympic team came up short placing 13th in 48.92. It was the first time since 2008 he didn’t make the 100. Adrian was coming back from two bouts of testicular cancer. He still has a shot in the 50 freestyle.
Alex Evdokimov, 25, of Pinnacle Racing (VA) and formerly Coral Springs Swim Club, was ninth in the 200-meter breaststroke prelims in a lifetime-best 2:11.54 (previous best was 2:12.10) to advance into the semifinals where he finished fifth in another best time of 2:11.39 swimming in Lane 2. He was second off the blocks in 0.67.
Other Florida Gold Coast swimmers remaining each have one final race.
Josh Zuchowski, 17, of FAST swims Thursday in the 200 backstroke.
Julia Podkoscielny, 16, of Pine Crest Swimming swims Friday in the 200 backstroke.
Erika Pelaez, 14, of Eagle Aquatics swims Saturday in the 50 freestyle.
The top two finishers of most events will most likely become 2021 US Olympians. Relay only spots go to places 3-6 (though not completely guaranteed for 6th place) of 100- and 200-meter freestyle events. The maximum roster size for Team USA is 26 men and 26 women.
All races 200 meters or shorter will have three stages at Trials: a prelim in the morning, followed by a semifinal that evening. The final of the top-8 qualifier will take place on the following night.
Thursday’s events are: (Morning Prelims Session), women’s 100 freestyle prelims, men’s 200 backstroke prelims, women’s 200 breaststroke prelims, men’s 200 individual medley prelims; (Evening Session), men’s 800 freestyle final, men’s 200 breaststroke final, women’s 100 freestyle semifinal, men’s 200 backstroke semifinal, women’s 200 butterfly final, men’s 100 freestyle final, women’s 200 breaststroke semifinal, men’s 200 individual medley semifinal.
Daily finals coverage will be broadcast across NBC channels. Along with live finals coverage, 24 hours of preliminaries will be available on NBCOlympics.com and NBC Sports App.
For prelims, today through June 19, 11 a.m. on NBC Stream and 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN. For finals, today through June 16 on NBC at 8 p.m., June 17 NBC at 10 p.m. and NBCSN at 8 p.m., June 18-19 NBC at 9 p.m. and June 20 NBC at 8:15 p.m. All times are Eastern Standard Time for South Florida.
WEDNESDAY FINAL RESULTS
200-meter freestyle: 1. Katie Ledecky, NCAP 1:55.11, 2. Allison Schmitt, SUN 1:56.79, 3. Paige Madden, UVA 1:56.80.
200-meter individual medley: 1. Alex Walsh, NAC 2:09.30, 2. Kate Douglass, UVA 2:09.32, 3. Madisyn Cox, TXLA 2:09.34.
1500-meter freestyle: 1. Katie Ledecky, NCAP 15:40.50, 2. Erica Sullivan, SAND 15:51.18, 3. Katie Grimes, SAND 15:52.12.
200-meter butterfly: 1. Zach Harting, CARD 1:55.06, 2. Gunnar Bentz, DYNA 1:55.34, 3. Luca Orlando, DART 1:55.43.
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com