Ledecky makes stunning comeback from illness to win goldKatie Ledecky appeared to have it all wrapped up. With 50m left in the women’s 400m freestyle final at the FINA World Championships in Gwangju on July 21, Ledecky, the American star going for her fourth straight title, was in the lead by 0.62 seconds over Ariarne Titmus of Australia.
It didn’t seem possible that Ledecky, the world record holder in the event, could be caught. But Titmus gave a final spurt that would define a career.
Titmus won the gold in 3:58.76, beating Ledecky by 1.21 in the first and perhaps the biggest upset in the pool. It was that kind of a competition for both Titmus and Ledecky in Gwangju.
With all due respect to athletes in other aquatic sports, swimming remains the king at world championships with the most medals at stake and the most recognizable stars in action.
Before the competition, Titmus might not have garnered much attention, but she left Gwangju as a new star with five medals, including gold in the 400m free and 4x200m freestyle relay. Upsetting Ledecky in the 400m free was Titmus’ crowning achievement.
Ledecky, one of the faces of the sport, was going for a sweep of the 400m, 800m and 1,500m freestyle titles for an unprecedented fourth straight championship.
But the bid was foiled right from the start, and Ledecky came down with a mysterious illness that forced her to withdraw from the 1,500m and 200m free races. Ledecky returned in time to win silver in the 4x200m freestyle relay, and while fighting headaches and nausea, claimed gold in the 800m freestyle on Saturday for her only title.
While Ledecky’s reign at the top of women’s swimming came to an abrupt halt, fellow American Caeleb Dressel continued to rule the men’s competition.
Dressel won six gold medals and two silver medals in Gwangju, falling just one title shy of matching the record total of seven golds for a single competition.
Dressel was hoping to become the first swimmer to win seven titles at back-to-back worlds but ended up taking two silvers in relay events.
Ten world records were set or matched in swimming. Adam Peaty broke his own world record in the 100m breaststroke, clocking 56.88 in the event’s semifinals. He went on to win the gold there later.
Kristof Milak of Hungary shattered Michael Phelps’ world record in the men’s 200m fly with 1:50.73. Phelps’ mark of 1:51.51 had stood for 10 years.
In the men’s 200m breaststroke, Matthew Wilson of Australia equaled Ippei Watanabe’s 2017 record of 2:06.67. Wilson did so in the event’s semifinals last Thursday, and in the final the very next day, Anton Chupkov of Russia improved that record by 0.55 to win the title.
Australia won the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay with a world record time of 7:41.50, breaking the previous mark of 7:42.08 set by China in 2009.
Dressel broke the 100m fly record with 49.50 in the semifinals last Friday, and on the same day, fellow American Regan Smith set the record in the women’s 200m breaststroke with 2:03.35 in the semifinals.
The U.S. mixed 4x100m freestyle relay team won gold last Saturday with 3:19.40, beating the country’s own previous mark by 0.20.
The final two world records in Gwangju came in the very last race of the competition. The U.S. captured the women’s 4x100m medley relay gold in 3:50.40, 1.15 faster than the previous mark. Regan Smith’s opening backstroke leg of 57.57 was also recognized as a world record.
There were other pieces of history made in Gwangju. Katinka Hosszu of Hungary won her fourth consecutive title in the women’s 200m individual medley, becoming the first female swimmer to win a single event at least four straight times. Hosszu then matched her own feat by winning her fourth consecutive 400m medley title.
Federica Pellegrini of Italy won gold in the women’s 200m free for her eighth medal overall, becoming the first swimmer with eight medals in a particular individual event, and Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom claimed five medals, including her third straight title in the 50m fly.
Swimming, diving and artistic swimming were held in the first week, with China and Russia each coming up one gold medal shy of title sweeps.
China collected 12 out of 13 gold medals in diving. In artistic swimming Russia got the nine out of the 10 titles up for grabs.