2017 U.S. Worlds Trials Preview: Leah Smith’s First 1500 Since 2014

Find links to all of our event-by-event previews here.


  • Tuesday, June 27th-Saturday, July 1st
  • 50-Meter Course
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Meet Info

There’s only one spot on the Worlds team in the women’s 1500 free – and that spot has a 99.99999% chance of falling into Katie Ledecky‘s hands. Not that she hasn’t worked for it, but she’s simply so far ahead that there’s no way someone is catching her. Since 2015, her 15:25.48 from Kazan Worlds is still almost forty seconds ahead of Becca Mann‘s 16:05.42 from the 2015 Charlotte Pro Swim Series. Mann has been dealing with injury of late, and hasn’t actually swum a 1500 since that 16:05 from two years ago.

The gap between the rest of the field and Ledecky will likely be shortened by Leah Smith. She’s been the closest thing to Ledecky out of any American, and while she hasn’t swum this event in three years, she’s in great position to finish 2nd here. Her best time, from 2014 Summer Nationals, is a 16:27.37. She’s progressed significantly since ’14, of course, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see her smash through the 16:00 barrier. Some important times to keep in mind while Smith’s racing:

  • Lotte Friis (2nd-best performer all-time) – 15:38.88
  • Kate Ziegler (previous AR/WR holder before Ledecky) – 15:42.54
  • Janet Evans (AR/WR holder for nearly 20 years before Ziegler) – 15:52.10

Meanwhile, the chase pack will be made up of a bunch of familiar names in the American distance swimming landscape.

Hannah Moore of NC State and G Ryan of Michigan have both been in the 16:20’s this year, and they rank #2 and #3, respectively, behind Ledecky (for Americans). Moore (16:22.96) has a best time which is just under 16:20, while the 16:25.64 is Ryan’s lifetime best, done at the Atlanta PSS this past May.

With Ledecky comes a couple other Stanford rising sophomores in tow– Leah Stevens and Megan Byrnes continue to improve after making the move to Palo Alto, and both are in the 16:30’s. So are Sierra Schmidt and Chenoa Devine. Schmidt’s best time (16:12.84) is much faster than anyone besides Ledecky has ever been, but she hasn’t been able to come very close to it since. Meanwhile, the other three all went lifetime bests, in the same race, at the Santa Clara PSS. Recent Auburn graduate Ashley Neidigh won the SEC title in the yards version of this race, and she’s due for a big drop. Her personal best is a 16:53, and she dropped almost 17 seconds in the 1650 from 2016 to 2017– something in the 16:30’s wouldn’t be surprising.

Taylor Ault and Madelyn Donohoe raced at the 2017 Mel Zajac meet, going 16:41.01 and 16:46.37, respectively. Meanwhile, Erica Sullivan, also a teenager, posted a 16:46.26 in May, as well. Her and Joy Field went 1-3 in this race last summer at Jr Pan Pacs, and while Field hasn’t even swum this event this spring, both girls could easily sneak up for a top 3 or 4 finish.

It’s unclear whether or not open water stars Ashley Twichell and Haley Anderson will contest this event, or if they’ll even race in the pool this summer. If they choose to, then both have the chops to make the final, but it’s still up in the air so they won’t be in our top 8 predictions.


1 Katie Ledecky 15:25.48 15:29.0
2 Leah Smith N/A 15:40.2
3 Hannah Moore 16:19.65 16:09.4
4 Sierra Schmidt 16:12.84 16:14.7
5 Erica Sullivan 16:25.92 16:26.1
6 G Ryan
16:25.64 16:27.2
7 Megan Byrnes 16:36.31 16:29.3
8 Ashley Neidigh 16:58.79 16:34.5

Dark horse: Leah Braswell of York YMCA. Braswell, at 16, won the 2017 YMCA SC title in the mile after touching 2nd in the 1000. She’s been 16:48.34 this past May, which was a drop of more than 20 seconds and her first venture under 17 minutes.

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Coach Mike 1952

Wow, ambitious prediction for Leah, hope she does it! That would make her 3rd all time then, right?

Ex Quaker

Indeed! As well as the second fastest American of all time. Not bad- couple seconds faster and she’d be the non-Ledecky world record holder.


I like it. You coined a new term that will be used widely to describe swimmer’s achievement or rank or status. We have already multiple measures like “shiny suit world record” and “textile world record”. Now you added another category: “non-Ledecky world record”.
Be sure there is no sarcasm. It is very descriptive.


Unfortunately for Leah, we live in a Ledecky world.

Ex Quaker

Indeed! Wouldn’t be a bad swim at all. Couple seconds faster and she’d be the non-Ledecky world record holder.


Leah’s freestyle technique, is well… an abomination. Atleast compared to ledecky. It’s a miracle as it is she’s able to be 4:00 in the 400. I think as she gets older it’ll be harder and harder for her to get by with it.

15:40? Not unless she make a serious change in her stroke and doesn’t look like she’s swimming backstroke facedown.

the swolefessor

3 words: janet evans

Coach Mike 1952

Janet Evans is two words, though! LOL


Janet Evans’ freestyle technique relied on a pretty significant strength/weight ratio to keep her skimming the top of the water. When she put on just a little bit of weight in her late teenage years as women often do when they finish puberty (see also Ye Shiwen) it got a lot harder for her to hit her top times.


What’s so wrong with it?


that’s a pretty bizarre comment; the laws of physics don’t let you swim a 4:00 400 if your technique is an abomination. I mean, unless she were literally twice as strong as her competitors.


In a 400 4:00 isn’t very fast, 3:40 is fast, look at hortons, thorpes, hacketts, yangs, and tae hwans technique. High bent elbows and long up front.


If only Ledecky was fast…

tea rex

I am no scientist, but I expect most women could improve their personal bests if they were 6’5″ with male testosterone levels.


East Germans

Coach Mike 1952

Chinese too a while back after the E German coaches migrated there, remember?


Park is 6’0 last time I checked, I think his PB is 3:41. Mack is 6’2 and 3:41


that proves it; clearly all world class men have much better technique than the women.


If you look closely (but not that close to be slapped in the face) you will also notice some differences in body forms and shapes that effects
women’s technique. 😀
P.S. I’m wondering: what is better to have at the end: great body or great technique? 🙂

Big Calves


Big Calves

What? It’s blazing fast. Faster than 99.9% of male swimmers


It’s what happens under the water that matters…and as other’s have said…Janet Evans


I think there will be a few surprises, not at the top of course. Also Leah Smith won’t be entered with a 1500 time (she hasn’t swum it since 2014), so she won’t be swimming with Ledecky, right?

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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