Flying through a pool that had baffled some of the best swimmers in the country, Katie Ledecky set the world record in the women’s 400-meter freestyle at the National Championships in Irvine on Saturday night.
The normally reserved Ledecky slammed her fist into the water after her time of 3 minutes 58.86 seconds was announced, showing more emotion than she had all week. Times at the nationals have been slow, so much so that earlier in the week, sprinter Nathan Adrian said, “I don’t think any of us have quite figured it out.”
Everyone except for the 17-year-old Ledecky, apparently.
After 150 meters, she was 1.3 seconds under the world record pace. After 250, she was 1.71 seconds under. Her pace slowed at the end — she was only .38 seconds under pace for the last 50 meters, but her plan all along was to rush the first 100 meters and then finish as strong as she could.
This is her third individual title of the weekend, after Ledecky won both the 800-meter and the 200 free earlier in the week. She also now holds the world record for the 400, 800, and 1500-meter freestyle — the first American female swimmer to hold all three since Janet Evans in 2006.
Ledecky was close to breaking the world record during the preliminaries, but tried to keep the record off her mind during the day.
“It was on my mind, but I didn’t let it overtake me today,” she said after the race. “I think that’s something that definitely helped to keep me relaxed.”
After the race, Ledecky was asked about her future. She’s already one of the best female swimmers in the world, and will be one of the American headliners going into the Rio Olympics in 2016.
“I haven’t thrown up after a race yet,” she said with a smile. “Maybe that’s what I have to shoot for.”