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Katie Ledecky Makes Her Third Olympic Team; Torri Huske “Flies” To Tokyo, the Second Teen To Qualify

By Peggy Shinn | June 15, 2021, 1:35 a.m. (ET)

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.” 

Women’s 100 Butterfly

While the 400 free could have been described as ho-hum — with Ledecky all but assured the win, at least in U.S. waters — the women’s 100-meter butterfly lit up the night. 

Torri Huske, an 18-year-old from Arlington, Virginia, who is missing high school graduation to compete at Trials this week, flew onto her first Olympic Team by winning the women’s 100-meter butterfly — beating 2016 Olympian Kelsi Dahlia and breaking the American record again, the second time in two nights.

“It doesn’t feel real yet,” said Huske, wide-eyed and smiling, immediately after the race. “I don’t even know what to do.”

Huske shattered the 100 butterfly American record in the semifinals last night, beating Olympic gold medalist Dana Vollmer’s record set at the 2012 Olympic Games. Then Huske did it again in the finals. Her winning time of 55.66 is the third fastest all-time and is over a third-of-a-second faster than Vollmer’s former record.

Coming onto the pool deck before the race even started, Huske was all business. She took off her warmups as she walked onto the pool deck — a time when other swimmers typically look around and soak in the atmosphere. The she was the first on the blocks, waiting there for a few minutes while the other swimmers took off their sweats. 

She described her usual strategy as “fly and die” — going out fast for the first 50 meters of the 100 butterfly, then trying to hang on. And indeed she did. At the turn, she was on pace to break the world record (Sarah Sjostrom’s 55.48). Her second 50 was slower, but she held on to beat fellow teen Claire Curzan by 0.23 seconds. Curzan, 16, is good friends with Huske.

Known for swimming in a wetsuit when she was younger to stay warm in the pool, Huske is small for a swimmer and credited the Covid-19 pandemic with helping her improve her strength — which allowed her to not “die” as quickly in her final 50. With swimming pools closed last year, Huske was forced to find other ways to workout.

As NBC Olympics reported, Huske rode a stationary bike and rowing machine for 45 minutes twice a day. She also hiked, ran hills, did a power tower, and went running with her mom, who grew up in China in a labor camp, attended college there at age 16, then immigrated to the U.S. in 1991 and earned an engineering degree from Virginia Tech. 

It took two months before Huske’s parents found a small backyard pool for their daughter to  swim in 45 minutes from their house. She either swam laps in this 42-foot long pool, or swam tied to a bungee cord, her dad sitting on the cord on the pool deck.

Asked if she would have made the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team without her improved strength, Huske said it was hard to say. But it definitely kept her from fading in the 100 fly.

Michael Phelps, who’s at the 2021 Trials as a spectator, agreed. Given the fast times at trials so far this year, “the swimmers did something right this past year,” he said before the night’s races started.

Although Huske and Ledecky are two different types of swimmers — Huske a sprinter and Ledecky a long-course freestyler — the two have something in common. Huske will enter Stanford University this fall after the Tokyo Games. Ledecky helped the Cardinal win two NCAA championship titles and graduated last fall — a year earlier than planned thanks to the pause in competition caused by the pandemic.

Ledecky and Huske both have more races at trials this week, with Ledecky competing in the 200, 800, and the 1,500 freestyles, and Huske entered in the 50, 100, and 200 freestyles, as well as the 200 butterfly and 200 IM. 

Huske admitted she was overwhelmed to be swimming at U.S. Olympic Team Trials — Swimming. “Really famous swimmers” were saying hi to her, and Olympic gold medalist Lilly King asked Huske if she was going to get an Olympic rings tattoo. 

“Apparently Katie Ledecky called my exact time I would go [in the 100 fly] before my race,” said Huske. “She predicted it.”

Asked if other swimmers might now idolize her and be overwhelmed to share a lane with her in the warm up pool, Huske smiled and replied, “That's really weird to think about because I feel like I'm not super scary.”

Swimming U.S. Olympic Team Trials 2021 Highlights

Katie Ledecky Women's 400M Free Final| Swimming U.S. Olympic Team Trials 2021
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06/15/2021
Torri Huske Women's 100M Fly Final | Swimming U.S. Olympic Team Trials 2021
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06/15/2021

Peggy Shinn

An award-winning freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.

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