Katie Ledecky wraps up an im­pres­sive week at U.S. na­tion­als in In­di­anapo­lis.

Face of U.S. swim­ming could com­pete for six golds in Bu­dapest

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY RICK MAESE rick.maese@wash­post.com

In case there were any doubts, any skep­tics, any nonbelievers re­main­ing: Katie Ledecky made clear over the course of five days this past week that there was no post-Olympic let­down. No rust, no phys­i­cal hang-ups or men­tal hic­cups. Most knew this was com­ing when she left the Rio Olympics with five medals — four of them gold — but as the sport turns its at­ten­tion to the 2020 Games in Tokyo, Ledecky is now the face of swim­ming, cer­tainly in the United States, if not the world.

At the U.S. cham­pi­onships this past week in In­di­anapo­lis, she man­aged to qual­ify for six events at the world cham­pi­onships later this month in Bu­dapest. If she en­ters all of them — the 200-, 400-, 800- and 1,500-me­ter freestyle races, plus the 4x100 and 4x200 re­lays — it would mark the busiest sched­ule Ledecky has tack­led at an in­ter­na­tional meet. If she can some­how find the top of the podium six times, she will match Missy Franklin’s record from the 2013 world cham­pi­onships for most ti­tles by a fe­male swim­mer.

“I haven’t re­ally set time goals for this year,” she told re­porters Fri­day night in In­di­anapo­lis. “Just kind of putting to­gether some good swims and hav­ing fun with it.”

Since 2000, the U.S. team at the world cham­pi­onships and Olympics has in­cluded Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte or Franklin. They have been sta­ples for the team and, led by Phelps, pil­lars of Amer­i­can swim­ming.

But now Phelps is a full-time brand, hus­band and fa­ther. Lochte is serv­ing out the end of a sus­pen­sion and is in­el­i­gi­ble to com­pete at worlds, and Franklin is com­ing off shoul­der surg­eries and isn’t ex­pected to dip a toe in a com­pet­i­tive pool again this sum­mer.

That leaves Ledecky lead­ing the Amer­i­can squad — the en­tire sport, re­ally — through the next qua­dren­nial, the lead-up to the Tokyo Games. As a teenager, she al­ways has been def­er­en­tial to the team veter­ans; now just 20, she’s one of them, suf­fi­ciently fa­mil­iar with the spot­light, ex­pec­ta­tions and suc­cess.

No one’s as ver­sa­tile. No one’s as fast. No one’s as con­sis­tent. She showed that again in In­di­anapo­lis.

Ledecky opened the meet Tues­day by win­ning the 800 free with a time of 8:11.50, nearly nine sec­onds faster than the rest of the field. That same night, she placed sixth in the 100 free, which should lock her into a spot on the re­lay team.

The next night, she topped a loaded field in the 200 with a time of 1:54.84, the fastest in the world this year. And then on Fri­day, Ledecky breezed through the 400 in 3:58.44, the third-fastest time ever.

Mak­ing Ledecky’s week all the more im­pres­sive: She didn’t ta­per in prepa­ra­tion, which means her times could be much lower in Bu­dapest.

“I didn’t rest too much for this,” she told re­porters. “. . . Maybe com­pared to the other tri­als se­lec­tions meets, this might be the least ta­pered that I’ve been over the last cou­ple of years.”

Be­cause Ledecky won the 800 free, she au­to­mat­i­cally earned a spot in the 1,500 field at worlds, which al­lowed her to skip that race — per­haps her most dom­i­nant — Satur­day in In­di­anapo­lis.

More than three dozen swim­mers qual­i­fied to rep­re­sent the United States at the world cham­pi­onships, which be­gin July 23. Ledecky and the full Amer­i­can squad will head to Opatija, Croa­tia, on July 12 for a week-long train­ing camp be­fore trav­el­ing to Bu­dapest. The U.S. team still will fea­ture some fa­mil­iar names — Simone Manuel, El­iz­a­beth Beisel, Lilly King, Conor Dwyer, Matt Gre­vers and Nathan Adrian among them — but they won’t be trav­el­ing with the likes of Phelps and Lochte. The sport in the United States — and some swim­mers, specif­i­cally — are in the process of emerg­ing from that shadow.

Jack Conger, the 22-year-old Rockville na­tive, qual­i­fied for worlds by win­ning the 200 but­ter­fly Tues­day, lead­ing the race wire-to-wire and fin­ish­ing with a time of 1:54.47 sec­onds. It’s an event that Phelps had dom­i­nated in re­cent years, win­ning Olympic gold in 2004, 2008 and 2016, sil­ver in 2012, plus five world cham­pi­onships.

“With Michael gone, that but­ter­fly win­dow is com­pletely wide open,” Conger told re­porters last week. “I kind of wanted to stamp my ticket and make a state­ment.”

Conger just com­pleted his se­nior sea­son at the Univer­sity of Texas, where he helped the Longhorns to an NCAA cham­pi­onship. Last year he served a four­month sus­pen­sion for his role in a vandalism in­ci­dent at a Rio de Janeiro gas sta­tion dur­ing last sum­mer’s Olympics. While Lochte was handed a 10-month sus­pen­sion and must sit out worlds this month, Conger will be able to com­pete in Bu­dapest.

“It was an en­tire emo­tional roller coaster,” Conger told re­porters in In­di­anapo­lis, de­scrib­ing the past 10 months. “You learn about your­self when that kind of stuff hits you. You kind of ei­ther get up from it or you let it beat you down, let it kick you down and you stay there. I learned a lot about my­self, about my friends and my fam­ily. It was def­i­nitely su­per im­por­tant to me that I came out swing­ing and fight­ing. Now it means the world that I’m swim­ming fast again and I’ve stamped my ticket.”

MICHAEL CON­ROY/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Katie Ledecky said she’s “just kind of putting to­gether some good swims and hav­ing fun with it.”

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