GWANGJU, South Korea — In her first particular person race since sickness knocked her out of two occasions this week at the world swimming championships, Katie Ledecky posted the second-fastest qualifying time within the 800-meter freestyle on Friday, behind her American teammate Leah Smith.
Ledecky, a two-time Olympic champion within the occasion who owns the 22 greatest occasions in its historical past, closed quick over the ultimate 150 meters to just about catch Smith, who was in an adjoining lane. Ledecky touched the wall in eight minutes 17.42 seconds, virtually 13 seconds slower than her world file and a blink behind Smith’s eight:17.23.
Ledecky appeared sapped by the hassle, continuing straight to the warm-down pool with out stopping to speak to reporters.
The remaining on Saturday will cap a turbulent week for Ledecky, one of many sport’s most dominant performers, and provides her a likelihood to salvage one gold medal from a meet the place she was favored to win at least three.
Ledecky, 22, got here to South Korea anticipating to select up the place she left off at the world championships in Budapest, Hungary, two years in the past, when she collected six medals, together with 5 golds, within the freestyle occasions.
But earlier than this meet began, she was ambushed by a mysterious ailment, after which, in her first remaining right here, the 400-meter freestyle on Sunday, she was passed on the final lap by Ariarne Titmus, an 18-year-old Australian.
So fierce is Ledecky with a lead, the way she lost was like watching a gazelle prey on a leopard.
The next day, Ledecky returned to the water for the 1,500-meter freestyle preliminaries, and even though she recorded the top time, she knew something was seriously amiss.
“I got to the 1,100 point of the 1,500, and I almost stopped and got out,” Ledecky said Thursday, adding, “I just kind of blanked out the rest of the race and tried to finish it, got over to the coaches and medical staff and told them, ‘I’m not myself.’”
Ledecky retreated from public view for nearly three days. She withdrew from the final of the 1,500, her best event, scratched from the 200-meter freestyle and surfaced only to participate in an abbreviated training session.
Ledecky returned to competition Thursday as a member of the United States women’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay. She helped the quartet, which also included Simone Manuel, Melanie Margalis and Katie McLaughlin, to an American record and a silver medal. With a time of 7:41.87, the Americans surpassed the existing world record, set in 2009 by China, but were beaten by Australia, which was timed in 7:41.50.
Swimming the second leg, Ledecky clocked a 1:54.61, which was the third-fastest split in the relay final, behind Titmus’s leadoff 1:54.27 for Australia and Penny Oleksiak’s 1:54.36 anchor leg for Canada.
“That went a lot better than I expected,” said Ledecky, who had to clear one last obstacle on her way to the 800. She had to provide a urine sample for doping control, which wasn’t easy given that she had been dehydrated, at times severely, all week.
“We don’t know exactly what caused this all,” Ledecky said, “but just feeling the effects of dehydration, loss of appetite, lightheadedness — just a lot of different things, to be honest — it just kind of created a perfect storm.”
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