IRVINE, Calif – Records are in jeopardy any time Katie Ledecky swims.
She broke the world record in the 400-meter freestyle for the first time four years ago at the same outdoor pool where the 2018 Phillips 66 National Championships are being held this week.
“I remember walking out for that race and just hearing the music playing,” Ledecky recalled. “It was ‘Timber’…and I was, like, ‘It's going down.’”
For her first final at this nationals, the 800-meter freestyle Wednesday night, that world record looked like it could be going down as well – making it No. 15 on the Ledecky list.
The 21-year-old was on world-record pace though 350 meters, chasing the time of 8 minutes, 4.79 seconds she swam in winning her second straight 800-meter gold medal at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
Ledecky was in front as soon as she came up for air, then made her first turn at world-record pace of 27.69 seconds.
At 200 meters, her time was 1:58.24, which was 1:18 faster than the same point in Rio.
But by 350 meters, she was only .16 ahead of the world record pace, and at the halfway mark she was slower – at 4:02.29. Ledecky swam the final 400 in 4:09.69 for a time of 8:11.98.
“I didn’t feel super sharp,” she said.
Keep in mind that while it was slow for Ledecky, it was faster than anyone else has swum the event in history. The time slid into 13th place on the all-time list. Ledecky has the top 19 times recorded, with Rebecca Adlington of Great Britain in 20th with her gold medal swim at the Beijing Games in 2008 (8:14.10).
Leah Smith, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, was second in 8:22.79.
Ledecky will have more chances to break world records at the meet, which runs through Sunday as part of the Team USA Summer Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.
“I didn’t even know I was under (world-record pace),” she said, asking how long her record bid lasted.
“It didn’t feel very fast,” she added. “It felt pretty smooth. I never was really able to change gears and hold it. I’ll get back to work and find ways to be better in a couple of weeks.
“Usually it takes me a few races to get into these meets historically, so I knew that was just kind of going to be the case. Just with how warm it is, I was just trying to get through it efficiently and put together the best race I could.”
Her next race is the 200-meter freestyle on Thursday. The five-time Olympic gold medalist is ranked No. 1 in the world in the 200 free this year with a time of 1:54.56, which would have won the 2017 world championships (where she was second).
Ledecky then will swim the 400 and the 1,500, in which she also holds the world records. She lowered the mark by 5 seconds earlier this season. And just to be well-rounded, she swam the heats of the 100 on Wednesday morning.
With her 800 victory, Ledecky qualified for the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in Tokyo next month. No matter how she does in her subsequent races – and who would bet against her – she can compete in any race at Pan Pacs. The meet is also a qualifier for the 2019 worlds in South Korea.
“I just focus on my own goals,” said Ledecky. “I know people are chasing me and that’s motivating in itself.
“My best races are when the first 400 and the second 400 are pretty even. It’s all about that balance of not going out too fast but being able to bring it home really hard.”
Ledecky turned pro in March after swimming two years for Stanford University, which won two more national titles with her on the roster.
“Time is flying by,” Ledecky said.
She said she’s taken confidence away from her pro meets this year and is excited for the rest of the summer.
Ledecky is facing tough competition – from herself.
“I think obviously being in my position and having broken 13 world records before the 14th one, I think it gets harder,” she said. “It's not any easier being me and having the times that I have to go best times.”
But she told the crowd at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatic Center that one goal supersedes all others.
“To have fun,” she said. “That’s all I’m doing. To swim fast is fun.”