FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- With five Olympic gold medals atop her impressive resume, Stanford’s Katie Ledecky still managed to add an encore performance at the Pac-12 Swimming and Diving Championships.
Ledecky, a freshman, set an American record in the 400-yard IM and finished second to Olympic medalist and Stanford teammate Simone Manuel in the 200-yard freestyle in the Friday night finals at the King County Aquatic Center.
In event finals held Thursday night, Ledecky set an American record in the 500 freestyle in 4:25.15; and was a member of the 800 freestyle relay team that set an American record with a time of 6:49.42 in one of two relay finals on Wednesday night.
|Katie Ledecky competes at the Pac-12 Swimming and Diving Championships on Feb. 24, 2017 in Federal Way, Wash.|
“She’s a great swimmer and could really probably do any event and do it really well,” Stanford coach Greg Meehan said. “But I was really proud of how her teammates really kind of pushed her to do those things. She was surrounded by three other Stanford Cardinal swimmers in the IM and three others in the 200 free. Both of those events, taking first through third I think says more about our group than it just does about Katie.”
With a roster that also included 2016 Olympic medalist Lia Neal and Olympic Trials competitor Ally Howe, Stanford lived up to its No. 1 collegiate ranking, leading the team standings heading into Saturday’s final events with 1,126 points, followed by rival California with 953, and defending champion Southern California third with 762.
Ledecky, who drew a huge ovation from the crowd when announced, overtook teammate Ella Eastin with a split of 52.67 in the freestyle portion of the 400 IM en route to setting a new American record of 3:57.68 to open the Friday evening session. That bested the previous mark of 3:57.89 set by Cal’s Caitlin Leverenz, a 2012 Olympian, at the 2012 NCAA championships.
Eastin finished second and teammate Allie Szekely third to give Stanford a sweep of the opening event.
Manuel, whose four medals at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games included gold in the 100 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay, quickly gave Stanford another victory when she held off Ledecky down the stretch to win the 200 freestyle in a Pac-12 record time of 1:40.37.
Ledecky was second in 1:40.50, with Neal, a silver medalist in the 400 freestyle relay at the 2016 Games, third in 1:43.62. Cal freshman and 2016 Olympian Abbey Weitzeil, who won gold in the 400 medley relay and silver in the 400 free relay in Rio, finished eighth in 1:44.85.
After shining on the Olympic stage, Ledecky and the other Cardinals swimmers have bought into the collegiate team experience, Meehan said.
“They turned down a lot of financial opportunities to be a part of our program, and that says a tremendous amount about Stanford as a university, that they wanted to do that, but then I think it says a ton about their teammates,” Meehan said. “They wanted to experience this with them, and it would have been easy to go a different direction. They are better because of our team environment and they absolutely make our team environments better.”
Howe, who finished 12th in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the 200 backstroke, won the 100 backstroke in 49.69, besting the previous American and NCAA record of 49.97 set by 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin in 2002.
Cal’s other Olympian Kathleen Baker, a silver medalist in the 100 back and member of the gold-medal-winning 400 medley relay team in Rio, was second behind Howe in 50.27.
“It was a little bit of an emotional moment because I just remember being in Austin in 2002 and watching Natalie do that double and going 50.0 and 49.9 in her 100 fly and 100 back, and at the time, she was so far ahead, especially on that last 25,” Meehan said. “To see that go down now, 15 years later; one, it says a lot about just how great Natalie was and being the greatest NCAA swimmer for sure of her era.
“And, I think it says a lot about the sport’s getting faster and Ally just happened to be the one,” Meehan added. “We’re super excited for her and super proud of her.”
Stanford senior diver Kassidy Cook, who finished 13th in the 3-meter springboard at the Rio Games, finished second in 3-meter diving with a score of 367.50, behind UCLA’s Maria Polyakova’s 385.00.
Cook won the 1-meter diving on Thursday with a score of 338.35.
Manuel and Howe also were on the winning 200 medley relay on Wednesday night with Manuel swimming a blistering freestyle split of 20.76 over the final 50 yards to edge Cal by a tenth of a second.
Jim Hoehn is a Seattle-based writer who spent much of his journalism career as a sportswriter for newspapers, magazines and wire services. He also is a former editor at Rugby magazine. Hoehn is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.