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HomeWorldKatie Ledecky makes fourth Olympics as Gretchen Walsh breaks world record

Katie Ledecky makes fourth Olympics as Gretchen Walsh breaks world record

Katie Ledecky is heading to her fourth Olympic Games, a feat that seemed unthinkable when she was a 15-year-old boy in London.

These days it doesn’t seem like the Summer Games without her.

As steady as ever, Ledecky rode to victory in the 400-meter freestyle during the American swimming trials on Saturday evening.

She makes qualifying for the Olympics seem so much easier than it is. Ledecky became only the ninth American swimmer to qualify for the sport’s biggest stage at least four times.

“I’m proud of that consistency,” she said. “Sometimes it can be difficult to feel like there is no breakthrough. But being really consistent is something I’m really happy with. I have learned to really enjoy training and take advantage of the moment.”

Cheered on by a crowd of 20,689 people at the home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, Ledecky hit the wall in the temporary pool in 3 minutes, 58.35 seconds.

She improved her time of 3:59.99 in the morning preliminaries and prepared for a run for another gold against a loaded field at the Paris Games.

Australia’s ‘Terminator’, Ariarne Titmus, is the defending Olympic champion and world record holder in the 400 free. Canadian phenom Summer McIntosh is also expected to battle for the top spot on the podium.

In Tokyo, Ledecky settled for silver behind Titmus – the first individual loss of the American’s Olympic career.

Her work will also be done in Paris.

Titmus is coming off an Australian trial where she broke the world record in the 200 free and narrowly missed her own mark in the 400 free, winning with a time of 3:55.44 – almost three seconds faster than Ledecky’s pace in Indianapolis.

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“It’s going to be a great field,” Ledecky said. “I’ve always done a pretty good job of being faster in the races in the period between trials and competitions. The goal is no different this time. Hopefully that will put me in a good position in the 400.”

Ledecky, 27, will swim four events at her country’s trials, all freestyle events ranging from 200 to 1,500 meters. She already has six individual gold medals to her name – more than any female swimmer in Olympic history – and a total haul of ten medals, including seven gold medals.

“I never thought I would make it there,” Ledecky said, recalling her Olympic debut at the London 2012 Games. “I never dreamed of that as a young child.”

After winning a surprise gold in her only event, the 800 free, Ledecky was determined to reach ever greater heights.

“I wanted to get back to that level, to prove that I wasn’t just a one-hit wonder,” she said. “But at the same time, I reminded myself that anything more than that is the icing on the cake, the icing on the cake.”

That makes her appreciate a fourth trip to the Olympic Games even more.

Then there’s Aaron Shackell, a local favorite from suburban Carmel, who is heading to the Olympics for the first time after winning the men’s 400 freestyle.

Shackell hit the ball in 3:45.46 to hold off Kieran Smith, the bronze medalist in the event at the Tokyo Olympics. Smith used a strong finishing kick to claim second spot in 3:45.76, which should be enough to get him back to the Summer Games.

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The top two in each individual event are expected to make up the powerful American team, which also bodes well for Paige Madden, the runner-up behind Ledecky in 4:02.08.

Ledecky and Shackell were both overshadowed on the opening night of the trials by Gretchen Walsh. The 21-year-old from the University of Virginia set a world record in the 100-meter butterfly semifinal with a time of 55.18.

Walsh was more than half a second off world record pace at the turn and finished strongly, surpassing Sweden’s Sarah Sjöström’s score of 55.48 at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“There has been a bit of a fuss,” Walsh said. “I think I’m going in tonight, you know, like I knew it was going to take a (55) point-4, or I guess point-5, but I didn’t think I was going to do it tonight. I just knew I wanted to set a fast time and now here I am: a world record holder.”

Walsh held her hand over her mouth as she looked in disbelief at the scoreboard, which had a “WR” next to her name. But she still has some work to do to make her first Olympic team.

Sunday evening’s 100 fly final also features Torri Huske, Regan Smith and Claire Curzan – all medalists at the Tokyo Games. Shackell’s sister, Alex, also advanced to the finals and will join her sibling on the Olympic team.

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