Katie Ledecky powered through a punishing and unprecedented double at the US Olympic swimming trials Wednesday, winning the 200m and 1,500m freestyles to keep building her Tokyo programme.
Little more than an hour after winning the 200m free, Ledecky returned to win the 1,500m in 15min 40.50sec, shaving five-hundredths of a second off her previous best this year.
“I think I managed it pretty well,” Ledecky said. “Took care of business, was happy with how my 1,500m felt.”
Ledecky launched her night by adding the 200m to the 400m free victory she claimed on Monday, giving herself a chance to defend two of the four titles she won in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Trailing Allison Schmitt at the halfway mark, Ledecky surged home to win in 1min 55.11sec with Schmitt, the 2012 Olympic gold medallist, second in 1:56.79 to book a trip to Tokyo.
Schmitt, who hung on for second by just one one-hundredth of a second ahead of Paige Madden, became just the fifth American woman swimmer to qualify for four Olympics, joining Jill Sterkel, Dara Torres, Jenny Thompson and Amanda Beard.
She got a congratulatory hug from her friend and onetime teammate Michael Phelps.
Ledecky had no time to savor the victory. She was quickly back in the warm-down pool, then off to the 200m medal ceremony, eating a banana on the way and “walking slowly so I wouldn’t exert any more energy than I needed to.”
It’s the toughest double Ledecky will face as she targets the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m freestyles in Tokyo, but she’s just glad she has a chance at the 1,500m, which has only been added to the Olympic programme for women this year.
“We’re making history tonight and we will be in Tokyo,” said Ledecky, who has twice tackled the 200m-1,500m double at the World Championships, winning gold in both in 2015 and 200m silver and 1,500m gold in 2017.
“I’m just so grateful that we have the mile in now and I’ve spoken about the equity that we finally have there, and I think that’s a big step,” added Ledecky, who was presented with her medal by Janet Evans.
Evans held the 1,500m freestyle record from March 1988 through June 2007, but was never able to contest the event at the Olympics.
“Hopefully we can do her proud in Tokyo,” Ledecky said.
Ledecky was pleased with what she called a “well put-together swim” that saw her finish 10.66sec ahead of runner-up Erica Sullivan.
“I didn’t die off or feel like I was hurting too bad at the end there.”
In other finals Wednesday, Zach Harting won the men’s 200m butterfly in 1:55.06, grabbing the Olympic berth that eluded him in 2016, when he finished seventh at the trials.
“Coming here and not making the team wasn’t an option,” said Harting, who now will spearhead the US challenge in an event once owned by Phelps. “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, whose Rio Olympic experience included being involved in the drunken late-night escapade that embroiled Ryan Lochte in scandal, finished second in 1:55.34.
And the 2021 youth movement continued with a pair of 19-year-olds finishing one-two in the women’s 200m individual medley.
Alex Walsh clocked 2:09.30sec, two-hundredths of a second in front of her University of Virginia teammate Kate Douglass.
Douglass held off Madisyn Cox in the closing meters, edging the 2017 world championships bronze medallist by another two-hundredths of a second.