TYR Pro Swim Series: Katie Ledecky Drops Strong Early-Season Marker for 200 Free Triumph

Pro Series: Katie Ledecky
Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

TYR Pro Swim Series (Greensboro)

The gold medal captured by Katie Ledecky in the 800 freestyle at last summer’s World Championships would suffice for most athletes. However, the American star’s trip to Gwangju was anything but was what was envisioned a year shy of the next Olympic Games. That win for Ledecky in the 800 free was brutally taxing, arriving just days after illness forced the five-time Olympic titlist to withdraw from the 200 freestyle and 1500 freestyle, and following her upset defeat to Aussie teenager Ariarne Titmus.

These days, Ledecky has put the frustration and disappointment from the World Champs in the past, and is on the move toward excelling at her third Olympics, slated for next summer in Tokyo. One day after winning the 400 freestyle at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Greensboro, Ledecky added another victory, this time capturing top honors in the 200 freestyle. Leading wire to wire, Ledecky popped a performance of 1:55.68 to prevail by nearly two seconds over Stanford teammate Simone Manuel (1:57.46) and 2012 Olympic champion Allison Schmitt (1:57.63).

Katie Ledecky of the United States of America (USA) reacts after winning in the women’s 800m Freestyle Final during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 27 July 2019.

Katie Ledecky – Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

Coming off a 4:01 clocking in the 400 freestyle on Thursday, Ledecky, the 2016 Olympic champ in the event, showed some speed at half the distance, going through the 100-meter point in 56.65. She then turned to her endurance base and pulled away from the field with a 59.03 split for the final 100. Manuel was the only other swimmer who dipped under one minute for the last two laps, as she followed a front-half split of 57.99 with a closing effort of 59.47.

“It was a great race,” Ledecky said. “I’m pretty happy with it being 1:55 and whatever. I have a good baseline to start off the year.”

If there is a silver lining to the illness that disrupted Ledecky’s World Championships, it is the fact that she wasn’t sidelined during the Olympic Games. As Ledecky prepares for the Olympic Trials in Omaha, and then the Tokyo Games, she figures to be motivated to return to the dominant athlete who was untouchable in the distance-freestyle events for the better part of the decade. And given the way Ledecky has performed in Greensboro, and looked in ISL action early last month, she is headed for a big 2020 campaign.

Ledecky wasn’t done after the 200 freestyle as she returned to the pool late in the session and finished third in the 400 individual medley, her time of 4:41.72 behind the 4:40.09 of Ally McHugh and the 4:40.72 of Hali Flickinger, who won the 200 butterfly on Thursday night.

Luca Urlando

Gianluca Urlando – Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

As a complement to Ledecky’s veteran status and reign in the 200 freestyle, 17-year-old Luca Urlando won the men’s 200 freestyle to continue his emergence as a future stalwart within the American ranks. Already one of the world’s premier performers in the 200 butterfly, evidenced by his No. 3 global ranking, Urlando bested the field in the 200 free in 1:48.40, fast enough to hold off a charging Zane Grothe (1:48.45). Placing third in 1:48.80 was the other highly touted American teen, Carson Foster.

The prospects of Urlando and Foster as long-term contributors for Team USA are intriguing. Urlando could be in the mix for a medal in the 200 butterfly in Tokyo, while Foster has the skill set to earn an Olympic berth in the individual medley events. With solid efforts in the 200 freestyle, their versatility is stretched and promotes optimism for the future as far as the 800 freestyle relay is concerned. Of the men’s relays, the 800 free relay appears to be the weakest, so help is more than welcome.

A deep field behind world-record holder Regan Smith has been building for some time in the 200 backstroke, and Isabelle Stadden has plans to contend for a trip to Japan. The 2018 Junior Pan Pacifc champ, Stadden won her prime event in 2:08.16, touching nearly a second clear of Kathleen Baker (2:09.05). Third place went to Katharine Berkoff in 2:12.74. Out in 1:03.92, Stadden was third at the midpoint, but had the most endurance, as she came home in 1:04.24 to nearly even-split the race.

“It felt really good,” Stadden said of her personal best. “That was the best time for me, and I felt pretty happy with that race…I think I just focus on my race because I know I split things a little differently, so I just focused on myself.”

Jay Litherland and Christopher Reid accounted for the other men’s victories on the night, as Litherland took the 400 individual medley in 4:20.09 and Reid bettered the competition in the 200 backstroke with a time of 1:58.33. Notably, Ryan Lochte was third in the 200 backstroke (2:00.87) and sixth in the 200 freestyle (1:50.61). The first stop of the Pro Swim Series wraps up on Saturday.