By Jim Rusnak // USA Swimming Director of Media Properties | Tuesday, June 28, 2016
OMAHA – Over the last few years, Katie Ledecky has become the most dominant force in freestyle for distances of 200 meters and higher.
Since winning the 800m free at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, she has won 14 gold medals on the international stage and has set 11 world records in the 400m, 800m and 1500m free. Not only does she hold those world records, but she also holds 17 of the top 20 all-time combined performances in the 400m and 800m free.
She has lapped competitors in international competition.
On Monday, the competition got a little closer. Ledecky still won the women’s 400m free at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials with a meet record time of 3:58.98, but not by the body lengths to which she’s grown accustomed. U.S. National Team member Leah Smith touched about a second and a half behind in 4:00.65.
With that performance, Smith became the fourth-fastest swimmer of all time in that event. She and Ledecky are now the top two swimmers in the world in the 400m free.
“I’m probably more pumped for her race than mine,” Ledecky said. “She pushed me there, and I know I need that, and I know after this week, we’re going to have to get back to work. We’ll get to train together, and she is a great trainer, fun to race at practice and meets. I know we’ll just encourage each other and have fun along the way.
“I mean, that’s fast. That’s three seconds faster than anybody else in the world, so I think we’re really going to represent the U.S. well, no matter what.”
While Smith has not officially qualified for Rio, she and other second-place finishers will likely be added to the roster later in the week, pending swimmers qualifying in multiple events. If that happens, it will be her first time competing in an Olympic Games.
But while this may be her first Olympics, it’s not her first meet on the international stage. Smith won gold in the 400m free at the 2015 World University Games, gold in the 800m free relay at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships and gold in the 800m free relay at the 2015 FINA World Championships.
“If we want to have a 1-2 or 1-3 finish for the USA, I’m going to have to stay close to her,” Smith said. “I think (Ledecky) would be just as excited about that, having a fellow American on the medal stand.”
Women’s 100m Butterfly
In other races, up-and-comers continue to impress in Omaha. First-time Olympians have won four of the six finals contested so far this week, including the men’s and women’s 400m IM, the women’s 100m butterfly and the men’s 100m breaststroke. A newcomer has finished in the top two in five of those six finals.
U.S. National Teamer Kelsi Worrell helped continue that trend in the first of Monday night’s finals, coming from behind in the last 40 meters to win the women’s 100m butterfly in 56.48. Dana Vollmer touched second in 57.21.
A swimmer at the University of Louisville, Worrell has two NCAA titles in the 100-yard butterfly. She came on strong to the international scene last year, winning gold in the 100m butterfly and 400m medley relay at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. She was also the 2015 Phillips 66 National Championships winner in the 100m fly.
“I was rooting for the underdog yesterday, so I’m just excited to be here, and I’m thankful for the prayer warriors who have been praying for me all over the country, because it was my first time, and I didn’t know what to expect,” Worrell said. “I’ve never been in a semifinal before, so it was just exciting overall. I’m in shock, for sure. I wasn’t expecting to see a ‘1’ next to my name, because I couldn’t see Dana the whole time. I was just really shocked.”
Vollmer, the former world record-holder and defending Olympic champion in the 100m fly, took about a two-year hiatus from competition after the 2013 FINA World Championships to concentrate on life and her family. She is now mother to a 15-month-old toddler named Arlen.
This meet marks the first time she has tapered in three years.
“I had no idea how this would go when I got started (with the come-back), and it’s been an amazing life journey for me to really take things day-to-day, to come in with no expectations and just improve with time” Vollmer said. “The time (tonight), I was a little disappointed when I touched, but then you realize time doesn’t matter.”
If Vollmer is added to the roster, it will be her third Olympic Team. She also competed in 2004 and 2012 and is a four-time Olympic gold medalist.
“Kelsi made that race for me,” she said. “When she touched the wall, to see that kind of excitement and her tears, it was just like I remember that feeling of making my first Olympic team and the journey that I’ve had.”
Men’s 100m Breast
Kevin Cordes’s journey to the Olympics has been full of bumps, including a heartbreaking third-place finish in the men’s 100m breaststroke four years ago at Trials. The journey may not yet be complete, but for now the ghost of those 43-hundredths of a second he lost by four years ago are gone.
Cordes earned his spot on the Olympic roster Monday, winning the 100m breaststroke in 59.18.
He broke the American record along the way, turning in a time of 58.94 in Monday’s semifinals. That time was also the second-fastest in the world this year, behind Adam Peaty of Great Britain (58.36).
“I can’t believe it,” Cordes said. “It’s an amazing feeling to be able to say I’m an Olympian and going to Rio.
“I’ve definitely carried that (third-place Trials finish) in the back of my mind throughout many practices and many points, and I’m happy this time’s a little different. It’s all been motivating. There’s been a lot of ups and downs throughout my last four years, and I’m just so thankful.”
In addition to the third-place finish in the 100m breast at Trials four years ago, Cordes hit a bit of a rough patch on the international circuit. At the 2013 FINA World Championships, he was called for a false start in the finals of the 400m medley relay, and was disqualified in the 100m breast at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championship.
But then things started to shape up for him. He finished Pan Pacs with a gold medal in the 400m medley relay. Then at the 2015 FINA World Championships, he won gold in the 400m medley relay, silver in the 200m breast and bronze in the 50m breast. His performance in the 50m breast at Worlds was an American record.
He’s spent the last year in Singapore, training with coach Sergio Lopez.
“I’m going to give it everything I have,” Cordes said. “I’m going to go out there and compete. I’ve got a lot of work to do to prepare, but I’m just excited for the opportunity.”
Cody Miller finished second behind Cordes in 59.26, and like Cordes, it will be his first Olympic Games if added to the roster later this week.
He, too, says he’s seen some rough patches in the last year, including the death of his father last December.
“You know, let’s not focus on that,” Miller said. “I’ve had a lot of good things. I got engaged, so I’ve got to thank my fiancée. I love her to death. I wouldn’t be here without her.
“I grew up idolizing guys that win this meet. My first time was in 2008, and I was just lucky to be here and swim as a high schooler. Then in 2012, I was lucky enough to make a final in the 200 IM a couple lanes down from Michael (Phelps). Every kid dreams of this.
“The fact that I’m not very big, and I’ve got a lot of disadvantages, and the fact that I’m able to be here and do this, I’m just trying to soak it all in.”
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