Ledecky, Franklin lead youthful charge

BOUNCING BACK::After disappointment on Monday, the US team picked up a clutch of gold medals amid another strong showing at the World Swimming Championships

AP, BARCELONA, Spain

Thu, Aug 01, 2013 - Page 20

US teenager Katie Ledecky smashed the world record in the 1,500m freestyle for her second gold medal at the World Swimming Championships on Tuesday.

Looking stronger at the end of the grueling race than she did at the beginning, the 16-year-old obliterated the world record in the 1,500m freestyle by more than six seconds on Tuesday night for her second gold medal at the championships in Barcelona, Spain.

“She’s absolutely fit,” said Mereia Belmonte of Spain, who finished far back in fourth. “Impressive. She’s probably made in the same factory as Michael Phelps.”

Fellow US swimmer Missy Franklin picked up her second gold medal, as well. Cruising through a demanding double, the 18-year-old star of the London Olympics easily won the 100m backstroke, then returned about an hour later to post the second-fastest time in the semi-finals of the 200m freestyle.

“It’s tough, but it’s fun,” Franklin said. “I’m super happy with my 100 back. It really got me pumped up for the 200 free.”

It was a good night for the US team after they failed to win gold the previous day. Matt Grevers and David Plummer went 1-2 in the 100m backstroke for the third US victory of the session. Conor Dwyer picked up a silver behind France’s Yannick Agnel in the 200m freestyle, while Jessica Hardy chipped in with a bronze in the 100m breaststroke won by Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte.

The only disappointment for the US was Ryan Lochte, who labored to a fourth-place finish in the 200m freestyle.

“It wasn’t my night, but I have to put it behind me because I still have many races to swim,” the three-time Olympian said.

Lochte hopes to compete in seven events in Barcelona, despite not being able to train as much as usual this year while taking part in his reality television show What Would Ryan Lochte Do?

No such concerns for Ledecky, who is clearly in top form. She went stroke for stroke much of the race with defending world champion Lotte Friis, the Danish swimmer, slightly ahead and both well under the world-record pace set by Kate Ziegler in 2007.

Ledecky edged out front at the 1,300m mark and began to pull away, touching in 15 minutes, 36.53 seconds. A woman ran through the crowd with a blue flag that proclaimed: “World Record” — Ziegler’s mark of 15:42.54 never standing a chance.

Friis also went under the old record at 15:38.88, but it was only good enough for silver. New Zealand’s Lauren Boyle took the bronze.

“Around the last 200, I knew I could take off,” Ledecky said.

The 1,500m is a non-Olympic event — the longest women’s race at the Summer Games is the 800m — but that made the achievement no less impressive.

Ledecky looks even stronger than she did last year while winning Olympic gold in the 800m freestyle, a stunning breakthrough for someone barely known on the international stage.

“It was really tough, my hardest race ever,” Ledecky said. “I knew we were going pretty fast and I figured that whoever was going to come out on top was probably going to get the world record. So I just had to be careful not to push it too early or push it too late and just touch the wall first.”

Franklin breezed to victory in the 100m backstroke in 58.42 seconds. After capturing four golds and a bronze at the London Olympics, the recent high-school graduate is trying to join Phelps as the only swimmers to win eight events at a major championship.

She is now two for two at the Palau Sant Jordi, adding to her gold in the 4x100m freestyle relay.

Australia’s Emily Seebohm was next in 59.06, with the bronze medal going to Japan’s Aya Terakawa in 59.23. After the medal ceremony, Franklin hustled off to get ready for the 200m freestyle semi-finals.

She only just qualified for the final of that event in London, and was edged out for a bronze medal by 0.01 seconds. Franklin has spent much of the past year working to improve her freestyle, and the results showed in the semis. Franklin easily qualified for the final with the second-fastest time, 1:56.05, trailing only world-record holder Federica Pellegrini of Italy.

“Hopefully, I will keep the momentum going,” Franklin said. “Hopefully Team USA will, too. We’ve had an absolutely incredible evening, and I’m so proud of all my teammates.”

Agnel blew away the field — Lochte included — in the men’s 200m freestyle. The big Frenchman pushed the pace right from the start and never let up. He touched in 1:44.20, a full body length ahead of the field, setting off another wild celebration from the large French contingent in the crowd.

The US team did pick up a medal, but not necessarily from the swimmer they expected. Dwyer, a friend and former training partner of Phelps, took the silver in 1:45.32. Danila Izotov of Russia claimed bronze in 1:45.59. Lochte missed a spot on the podium by 0.05.

Agnel is a training partner of Dwyer’s, having moved recently to the North Baltimore Aquatic Club to work with Phelps’ longtime coach, Bob Bowman.

“I am so surprised,” said Agnel, the reigning Olympic champion. “I did not expect such a result.”

Meilutyte just missed the world record she set the previous night in the semi-finals of the 100m breaststroke, winning in 1:04.42. Russia’s Yuliya Efimova was next in 1:05.02, while Hardy — the former world-record holder — pulled out a bronze in 1:05.52.

“Maybe the excitement and wanting to win altered my stroke,” Meilutyte said. “I was dying toward the end of it. There’s still things to improve, which is great.”