By Sharon Robb
April 15, 2015—Teenager Katie Ledecky had the crowd on its feet at Skyline Aquatic Center on opening day of the Arena Pro Swim Series Wednesday in Mesa, Ariz.
Ledecky, 18, of Nation’s Capital didn’t break any world records but did run away with the 1500-meter freestyle title in 15 minutes, 42.23 seconds. She took the lead early and built on it every 100 meters.
It was the fifth fastest time in event history and was the fastest time in the world this year becoming the first woman to crack the 16-minute barrier. The previous fastest this year was 16:06.72 by Lauren Boyle of New Zealand.
Ledecky was coming off a few weeks of altitude training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
Chile Olympian Kristel Kobrich was second in 16:26.95. Madelyn Donohoe of The FISH, at 13, the youngest swimmer in the field, was third in a best time 16:44.01, dropping six seconds from her previous best.
Top seed and American record holder Michael McBroom scratched leaving the men’s 800-meter freestyle wide open. The three-man race came down to Marcelo Acosta of El Salvador and University of Louisville freshman winning in 8:10.85 and out-touching Nick Norman of Mission Viejo in 8:11.41 and teammate Daniel O’Connor in 8:12.76.
Both races are non-Olympic events.
Earlier in the day, swimmers held court with the media including Michael Phelps and his coach Bob Bowman. It was his first pre-meet press conference in six months since serving his suspension for his second DUI.
The 18-time Olympic medalist said he is not planning on competing for a spot on the world team for the World Championships. USA Swimming has banned him from the world championships in Kazan as part of his DUI punishment.
Instead, he said he hopes to compete for the U.S. at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. It was the first time he let his Olympic intentions be known publicly.
During his 40-minute press conference, Phelps admitted the last few months have been some of the most difficult in his life.
“I did more growing up in the last probably eight months than I ever have in my life just on a lot of different levels,” Phelps told a packed house of reporters. “I’m in a better place and a better state of mind mentally, emotionally, spiritually, everything.
“Like I said, it’s been some of the most challenging times of my life. Brutal. But you know, it’s life, and I have been able to come out on a better end and have a clearer head. I don’t think I’ve ever been like this once in my life.”
The 29-year-old said he has rekindled his passion for the sport. He is now engaged to his on-again, off-again girlfriend of eight years, Nicole Johnson.
“I feel like I am back in high school and even leading up to the 2008 Olympics,” Phelps said. “Just how I feel in the water. I’m happy at workout. I’m smiling. I actually come to every workout, which is a surprise. It’s a change from last year. It’s because I want to be there.”
The four-day meet and fourth stop on the Arena Pro Swim Series, capped at 600 swimmers, continues on Thursday with a full schedule of prelims and finals. Phelps will swim the first of five events, the 100-meter butterfly, on Thursday along with Ryan Lochte. The rivals are entered in the same events but are at different levels of training. SOFLO three-time Jamaican Olympian and world record holder Alia Atkinson and her teammates will also compete on Thursday.
The meet ends on Saturday. Top three finishers will win $1,000, $600 and $200.
Prelims are 9 a.m. and finals 6 p.m. MST. The meet will be live streamed at usaswimming.org. Universal Sports Network will air live television coverage on Thursday and Friday with Floridian Rowdy Gaines as color analyst.
1.Katie Ledecky, Nation’s Capital 15:42.23, 2. Kristel Kobrich, CHI 16:29.95, 3. Madelyn Donohoe, FISH 16:44.01; FLORIDA: 11. Cameron Davis, University of Miami 18:01.18.
1.Marcelo Acosta, Louisville/Azura Florida Aquatics 8:10.85, 2. Nick Norman, Mission Viejo 8:11.14, 3. Daniel O’Connor, Mission Viejo 8:12.76
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org