GLASGOW, Scotland — Katie Ledecky‘s stroke looked labored as she swam into the finish. Her last 15 meters had been slow, a far cry from the charging finishes expected of the reigning world champion, and well back from the race’s winner.
It was a disastrous result for the Bethesda-native, who finished sixth in the women’s 400-meter freestyle at the sixth Duel in the Pool on Friday night at the Tollcross International Swimming Centre. It was the first time in her young career that the 16-year-old swimming sensation had finished off of the podium in a major swimming competition. In fact, it was the first time she had failed to attain gold.
“I’m putting it past me,” Ledecky said. “I’m going to gear up for tomorrow and try to get something out of tomorrow. Get some points for the team.”
Ledecky was expected by many to challenge the short-course meters world record. She had come close in the more competitive long-course format this summer at World Championships in Barcelona. Instead, the European All-Star Team swept the event’s points, plus a non-scoring fourth-place finish, to the complete shock of the United States contingent watching on deck.
Mireia Belmonte Garcia of Spain, the reigning world record holder, won the event in 3 minutes, 57.65 seconds. Her countrywomen Melani Costa finished second (3:59.14), followed by Denmark’s Lotte Friis (4:00.19) and Britain’s Jasmin Carlin (4:01.13). Four seconds after Belmonte touched first, Ledecky drifted into the wall in 4:02.68.
“I haven’t really assessed [my race] yet,” Ledecky said. “I’m just thinking about the present and I’m going to try to be better tomorrow.”
Ledecky took the race out in typical fashion and lead at the 100-meter mark by .65 seconds. She began to unravel shortly after, and the second-half punch that has seemed so routine over the last year plus was nonexistent.
The Stone Ridge School junior admitted she had been feeling ill earlier in the week, but felt good in the water during pre-meet training sessions. Ledecky swam two week ago at U.S. Winter Nationals where she won the 500-yard free and set an American record in the women’s 1,650-yard freesetyle. She also swam two events at a local invitational last Saturday before flying to the United Kingdom on Monday.
The busy two weeks of swimming, interspersed with end of term examinations more common for a high schooler, may have caught up with her in Glasgow.
The loss was a demoralizing blow to the young American team, who find themselves down, 68 to 54, after day one of competition in the rarely contested short-course meters format.
“Today was a little bit of a punch in the jaw to Team USA,” said Tyler Clary, three-time veteran of the Duel in the Pool.
“As a group we always come onto any pool deck and expect to light it up, and sometimes you have some adversary,” said Team USA captain Cullen Jones, who at age 29 is among the oldest swimmers for the United States. “We’re going to have the ability to come in tomorrow, not super confident, but determined to win.”
The two-day dual meet kicked off with a rock concert-like atmosphere before a sellout crowd complete with bagpipes, screaming guitar and pyrotechnics. Belmonte and Aimee Willmott of Great Britain went 1-2 in the women’s 400 individual medley to open the scoring barrage for the European squad. Bemonte touched in a winning time of 4:24.58, eliciting a roar from the pro-Europe crowd.
The European All-Stars would carry that energy throughout the meet as they stunned the United States in several events, including a 1-2 finish by Glasgow-native Michael Jamieson and Germany’s Marco Koch over American record holder Kevin Cordes in the 100 breaststroke.
Jamieson and Koch leaped out to an early lead over Cordes, who found himself in fifth place after 100 meters. Cordes came back in the second half of the race, but by then the crowd had come alive to urge the hometown son onto victory. Jamieson put forth a 31.12-second final split to touch out Koch, 2:01.83 to 2:01.90. Cordes finished in a new American record time of 2:02.38.
“I was out a bit too slow and had a bit too much left at the end to be honest,” Jamieson told the associated press. “I’m delighted about the result but I had it in my legs to go a bit quicker.”
Michelle Coleman of Sweden won the women’s 100 free in her Duel in the Pool debut in a time of 52.65. Coleman broke free from the pack in the final 10 meters to out-touch Shannon Vreeland (52.73) and Olivia Smoliga (52.74), who finished second and third for the United States.
France’s newest freestyle superstar Yannick Agnel smoked the field in the final 25 meters to win men’s 100 free in 47.13. Adam Brown of Great Britain touched second (47.24) followed by Anthony Ervin of the United States in 47.36. Agnel also finished second in the men’s 400 freestyle behind the United States’ Michael Klueh, who won the event from lane one in a time of 3:39.94. Angel touched second in 3:40.19, followed by Dwyer in 3:40.24.
Eugene Godsoe and Clary went 1-2 in the men’s 200 backstroke. Godsoe touched in 1:52.14, just ahead of Clary, who slipped at the start and had to put forth a huge second 100 meters to finish second in 1:52.27. At event later, Micah Lawrence and Breeja Larson would also finish first and second for Team USA in the women’s 200 breaststroke. Lawrence finished in 2:19:15; Larson in 2:22.20.
Daryna Zevina of Ukraine won the women’s 200 back (2:01.62). 16-year-old Kathleen Baker of SwimMAC Carolina made her Duel debut in the event where she finished third in 2:05.08.
Claire Donahue of the United States looked like she had the victory in the women’s 100 butterfly locked up with 25 meters to go, but Denmark’s Jeanette Ottesen-Gray roared back in the final 25 meters to win the race by .05 seconds. Ottesen-Gray won in 56.78. Tom Shields won the men’s race for Team USA in 49.80.
The European team of Simona Baumrtova (Czech Rep.), Moniek Nijhuis (The Netherlands), Ottesen-Gray and Francesca Halsall (Great Britain) won the women’s 4×100 medley relay in an unofficial European record time of 3:49.14. Because the swimmers are from different nation’s the time will not count.
The meet concluded with a much-needed victory by Team USA in the men’s 4×100 medley where Godsoe, Cordes, Shields and Jimmy Feigen put forth a winning time of 3:23.24 to beat the Europeans by over two seconds.
We’ll come out fighting tomorrow,” U.S. coach Carol Capitani told broadcaster Sky Sports. “Let’s go out and show some gumption.”
The U.S. was missing several of it’s strongest swimmers from its world championships squad, namely Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin. Lochte is out with an injured, while Franklin opted not to travel for this meet due to conflicts with college swimming and finals.