INDIANAPOLIS – Katie Ledecky joined an elite club Tuesday night, earning her sixth trip to the world championships with a dominating victory in the 800-meter freestyle at the U.S. nationals.
Ledecky was under her own world-record pace for much of the race before settling for the victory in 8 minutes, 7.07 seconds — her third-fastest time in the grueling event, which she has dominated over her long career with the 30 fastest times in history.
She was clearly pleased with the performance, flashing a thumbs-up and a defiant shake of the head when she turned and spotted the time.
Ledecky will head to Fukuoka, Japan, next month as only the sixth U.S. swimmer to make the world championships for the sixth time, joining Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Natalie Coughlin, Elizabeth Beisel and Nathan Adrian.
No one else was even close to Ledecky. When she touched the wall, the closest swimmer was more than a half-lap behind.
Seventeen-year-old Jillian Cox claimed the second spot on the worlds team in a major surprise. She finished in 8:20.28 — more than 13 seconds behind the winner.
Ledecky didn't seem the least bit surprised by the performance, which was her fastest showing since the world record of 8:04.79 she set at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
Next month in Fukuoka, Ledecky will attempt to become the first swimmer ever to win the same event at six world championships. She's already the first to claim five consecutive titles, having started her streak of 800 triumphs a decade ago at the worlds in Barcelona.
“I've been feeling good," Ledecky said. "I thought I would be pretty good tonight. I didn't expect a world record or anything. But felt I could be at least what I was last summer at worlds ( when she won her fifth straight 800 title in 8:08.04 ). I'm really pleased with that. And really pleased with how it felt, as well.”
At age 26, Ledecky shows no sign of slowing down — even though she's been on top of the world in distance freestyle swimming since her surprising gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
Next summer in Paris, she'll be expected to add to an already impressive haul of seven gold medals and three silvers at the last three Olympics. Her medal record at worlds is downright staggering: 19 gold medals and three silvers.
Ledecky seems rejuvenated by her move to Florida after the Tokyo Olympics to join a training group led by coach Anthony Nesty.
“Training's been great. Just every day, chipping away and putting in really good work,” she said. "Of course, there are ups and downs and days that makes you a little worried. But Coach Nesty always knows how to calm me down."
In other finals on the first night of nationals:
— Defending Olympic champion Bobby Finke broke a nearly 15-year-old U.S. Open record with a winning time of 14:42.81 in the men's 1,500 free. Charlie Clark claimed the second spot for Fukuoka in 14:50.84.
— Regan Smith cruised to victory in the women's 200 butterfly at 2:05.79, with Sun Devil Swimming teammate Lindsay Looney also earning a trip to worlds at 2:07.35.
— Carson Foster claimed the men's 200 fly title in 1:54.32, while 16-year-old Thomas Heilman established himself as a rising star in an event Michael Phelps long dominated by rallying to take the second spot in 1:54.54.
—- Olympic medalists Kate Douglass and Abbey Weitzeil went 1-2 in the women's 100 free to punch their tickets for Fukuoka. Douglass won with a time of 52.57, followed by Weitzeil at 53.11.
— After defending Olympic champion Caeleb Dressel flopped in the men's 100 free prelims, the finals were wide open. Jack Alexy took the title in 47.93, while Chris Guiliano surprisingly claimed the second worlds spot from lane one in 47.98.