Katie Ledecky reacts after competing at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials at CHI Health Center on June 14, 2021 in Omaha, Neb.
OMAHA, Neb. — Katie Ledecky made a first step toward defending her three Olympic titles in Tokyo. As she almost always does, the 24-year-old freestyle phenom swam away with the women’s 400-meter freestyle title at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials — Swimming.
Her winning time of 4:01.27 was over three seconds faster than second place finisher Paige Madden, 22, from the University of Virginia. But she was almost five seconds slower than her best ever — the world record (3:56.46) which she set at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
“It felt like it did five years ago,” commented Ledecky immediately after the race. “Not the best feeling 400, but it felt faster than that.”
Ledecky was just happy to be here in Omaha.
“It felt surreal in the ready room,” she said. “A year ago, we didn’t even know if we’d be here. “
Ledecky owns eight of the top 10 all-time performances in the 400 free. But in Tokyo, another Olympic gold medal in the 400 free is not a given — unlike the 800 and 1,500 freestyle races, which Ledecky dominates. Her fastest time in the 400 this year is 3:59.25 which she swam at a TYR Pro Swim Series meet in early April.
And Australia’s Ariarne Titmus is close. At Australia’s Olympic Trials yesterday, Titmus came within a half second of Ledecky’s 400 free world record, swimming 3:56.90 — and telling reporters, “[Ledecky] is not going to have it all her own way I guess.” The Australian is the reigning 400 free world champion after beating Ledecky, who was ill with a stomach virus, at 2019 world championships.
But before trials began, Ledecky stated that her focus is in Omaha, not on who is swimming what times at other meets around the world. She did not even realize that Australia was holding its swimming Olympic trials at the same time as the U.S.
“The [Olympic] medals aren’t given this week,” she stated in a pre-trials press conference, “so I don’t think we have to get too caught up in what times people are going here versus anywhere else in the world right now.”