Katie Ledecky looks on after finishing the women's 200-meter freestyle semifinal at the Budapest 2017 FINA World Championships on July 25, 2017 in Budapest, Hungary.
BUDAPEST, Hungary – Katie Ledecky had her easiest day -- but her toughest swim -- at the FINA World Championships, and the result was a rare loss.
Ledecky was defeated for the first time in individual world or Olympic competition Wednesday night, tying for second in the 200-meter freestyle. She swam slower than she did in the semifinals the previous night when the race was less than an hour after she won the 1,500-meter freestyle for her record 12th world gold medal.
“I could just feel it at the end that I really didn't have that extra gear I normally have,” said Ledecky, who came in as the reigning world and Olympic champion. “I don’t know if I went out a little too hard or just was feeling yesterday and the rest of the meet. I’ll review the race video and see what I could have done better.”
Federica Pellegrini, the world record holder from Italy who was second at the 2015 worlds behind Ledecky, had a fabulous final 50 meters to win in 1:54.73 seconds. Ledecky tied Emma McKeon of Australia, the Olympic bronze medalist, at 1:55.18.
Ledecky trailed the entire race. McKeon had the early lead, but Ledecky pulled to within .01 with 150 to go. Pellegrini was .48 behind her. But Pellegrini poured it on to pass both of her rivals and win her seventh straight world medal in the 200 free.
Ledecky posted the top time from the semifinals, 1:54.69, followed by McKeon at 1:54.99.
She could sleep in Wednesday morning for the first time because she didn’t have any prelims.
Ledecky said she tried to execute her race plan, which was to go out with some easy speed and “then really push the back half.”
“It didn’t quite go as I would have hoped,” Ledecky said. “I’ll review the race video and see where I kind of slipped up. But that’s some good motivation for moving forward.”
Ledecky still has the 800 free, in which she is two-time world champion and world record holder, and will likely swim a leg on the 4x200-meter free.
Her personal best in the 200 free is 1:53.73 en route to the gold medal at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden, who broke the women’s 100-meter freestyle world record on Sunday night, was second in Rio, but opted not to swim this event in Budapest.
Pellegrini, 28, was once a young phenom like Ledecky, who is now 20. Pellegrini had just turned 16 when she won the Olympic silver medal in the 200 free at the Olympic Games Athens 2004. Four years later, she won the gold in Beijing. In 2012, Pellegrini was fifth, and she placed fourth in Rio.
Although the medal was Ledecky’s 13th at worlds, she understood that some people would view it as a disappointment given the huge expectations placed on her.
“Maybe I haven’t been quite on point as much as I would have hoped to have been this week,” said Ledecky. “I still was feeling good. That was just a matter of how I executed my race. I think I’m still learning over the years, over the months how to manage those expectations. I don’t think any of that had any effect on me.
“It happens to every athlete at some point. I know this race will really motivate me moving forward and for the rest of the meet as well.”