Ledecky, Adrian steal opening night show at U.S. nationals
INDIANAPOLIS — Katie Ledecky keeps making winning look easy. Nathan Adrian continues to prove experience matters when things get close.
Either way, the result was the same Tuesday night in Indianapolis: The two Olympic gold medalists qualified for another American world championship team.
Ledecky, as usual, dominated the women’s 800-meter freestyle, winning by nearly 9 seconds. Adrian, meanwhile, rallied in the closing meters of the men’s 100 free and outtouched Caeleb Dressel by 0.01 seconds to win the men’s 100 free at the U.S. National Championships.
“That’s kind of what we’ve built into my nervous system,” Adrian said. “I’ve always tried to go out and bring it back in the back half. Now maybe we can figure out what to do in the front half.”
Adrian doesn’t have much time for fine-tuning before heading to Budapest, Hungary. The meet is scheduled for July 23-30.
But after taking Olympic gold in the 100 free in 2012 and picking up a bronze in the same event last summer in Rio de Janeiro, Adrian returned to Indianapolis this year under completely different circumstances.
At age 28, he was easily the oldest competitor in the final, almost 6 1/2 years older than the next oldest competitor, Ryan Held.
And with the retired Michael Phelps and suspended Ryan Lochte not around, Adrian has accepted his role as Team USA’s elder spokesman.
The good news is that he appears to be as strong as ever.
After qualifying fourth in the morning prelims, Adrian charged back from the No. 6 spot at the turn and sprinted past five younger competitors to reclaim a title he first won in 2009, also in Indy. He won in 47.96 seconds. Dressel was next at 47.97.
“I didn’t know where they were and if I had looked, I probably would have lost it,” Adrian said after pumping his fist and taking a deep breath following the race.
The winners of each event qualify for the world championships. Runner-ups are also likely to join the team through a selection process.
Ledecky, as usual, provided no drama in an event she has owned for years.
The 20-year-old Stanford star took the lead in the first 50 meters and extended it by between 0.31 and 0.83 seconds on each ensuing lap through the first 600 meters. At one point, the Washington native was even swimming under her own world record pace.
She eventually finished in 8:11.50, beating Leah Smith to the wall by 8.96 seconds.
Ledecky did all that despite having only about 25 minutes between her sixth-place finish in the 100 free and the start of the 800 and without the benefit of changing her workouts before nationals.
“I didn’t rest too much for this. I’d say maybe compared to other trials/selection meets, this is probably the least tapered I’ve been,” she said. “I felt in control but by the time I got to about 400 or 50, I couldn’t pick it up any more.”
By winning, Ledecky has already given herself the option to compete in the 1,500 free at Budapest without having to swim the event Saturday.
She will still plans to swim the 200 free on Wednesday and the 400 free on Friday, setting her up for the possibility of four more international golds to match the four individual golds she won at the 2015 world championships and four more golds more she brought home from the 2016 Olympics.
But Adrian and Ledecky weren’t the only turning heads on opening night.
Mallory Comerford, of the University of Louisville, surprised Simone Manuel, the reigning Olympic co-champion in the women’s 100 free.
The 19-year-old Comerford was the fastest qualifier in prelims then led from start to finish, defeating five Olympians in the championship heat.
Comerford’s time of 52.81 was the third-fastest in the world this year. Manuel wound up second in 53.05.
“I’ve really been trying to figure out long course, and I think it’s finally clicking,” Comerford said.
Hali Flickinger won the women’s 200 butterfly in 2:07.60, more than one second ahead of Dakota Luther.
Jack Conger captured the men’s 200 fly in 1:54.47, just ahead of Pace Clark (1:54.48).
And 19-year-old True Sweetser won the men’s 1,500 free in 14:59.73. Robert Finke was second at 15:01.31.