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Katie Ledecky returns, but U.S. falls to record-setting Australia in freestyle relay

Katie Ledecky of the U.S. at the world championships in South Korea
Katie Ledecky of the U.S. swims her leg of the women’s 800-meter freestyle relay July 25 at the world swimming championships in Gwangju, South Korea.
(Lee Jin-man / Associated Press)

The Americans got ailing Katie Ledecky back. They just couldn’t overcome a world record by the Australians.

Ledecky returned after two days out of the pool, due to illness, to swim in the 800-meter freestyle relay. She rallied the U.S. to the lead on her second leg, but it wasn’t enough to defend the title from 2017.

Australia won in 7 minutes, 41.50 seconds at the world championships on Thursday.

Ariarne Titmus, Madison Wilson, Brianna Throssell and Emma McKeon took down the old mark of 7:42.08 set by China at the 2009 worlds in Rome during the height of the rubber suit era.

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The U.S. took silver in 7:41.87. Canada earned bronze.

It was still a big night at the pool for the U.S.

The Americans medaled in all five finals, with Caeleb Dressel and Olivia Smoliga winning golds.

After swimming her four-lap leg, Ledecky sat down in a chair behind the blocks. She got up to cheer on Katie McLaughlin during the anchor leg.

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Ledecky hadn’t competed since preliminaries on Monday. The following day, she withdrew from the 200 free heats and the 1,500 free final because of symptoms that included dehydration and vomiting. She was beaten by Titmus in the 400 free on the first night of competition.

Dressel won swimming’s glamour event, the 100 free, for his third gold and fourth medal overall. He touched in 46.96 seconds, the only man to dip under 47 seconds in the final, and was only 0.05 seconds off the 10-year-old world record of 46.91 set by Brazil’s Cesar Cielo.

Olympic champion Kyle Chalmers of Australia settled for silver in 47.08. Vladislav Grinev of Russia took bronze in 47.82.

Dressel tied for quickest off the starting block and held off a challenge from Chalmers in the closing meters to defend the world title he won in 2017.

Dressel hopped on the lane rope, tossing his head back and his legs out in front of him in celebration. His other golds came in the 50 butterfly, a non-Olympic event, and the 400 free relay. He took silver in the mixed 400 medley relay.

The men’s 200 individual medley title went to Daiya Seto of Japan. He touched in 1:56.14.

Jeremy Desplanches of Switzerland took silver. Chase Kalisz, the 2017 champion, earned bronze, ending the Americans’ streak of winning at eight consecutive worlds.

In the women’s 200 butterfly, Boglarka Kapas of Hungary won in 2:06.78. U.S. teammates Hali Flickinger and Katie Drabot took silver and bronze, respectively, after coming in as the top two fastest qualifiers.

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The U.S. earned a second gold in the women’s 50 backstroke, a non-Olympic event.

Olivia Smoliga won from Lane 2 after her more heralded teammate, Kathleen Baker, had the fastest qualifying time. Smoliga clocked 27.33 seconds. Baker faded to sixth.

In the semifinals of the men’s 200 breaststroke, Matthew Wilson of Australia equaled the world record of 2:06.67. His time matched the mark set by Ippei Watanabe of Japan in January 2017. Watanabe finished third in the same heat.


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