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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bobo gigi
5 years ago

I didn’t know that only 1 swimmer qualified for worlds in that event.
So I don’t see why Leah Smith would swim it. Useless. And no way she would swim 15.40. I’m not even sure she would break 16 minutes.
KL can really swim at these trials with 0 rest and still train 20 km each morning. 1.56/4.03/8.20/16.00 would be well enough to make the team in each event. But she doesn’t know how to swim “slow” so she will go 1.55 low/3.58/8.08/15.30. Useless to go that fast but she can’t do otherwise! 🙂

Reply to  bobo gigi
5 years ago

The thing is she goes even faster at big meets.

5 years ago

As only one swimmer in this event advances to Worlds, it would probably be smarter for Leah to not swim it and focus on the 400 and 800. She hasn’t swam it in years, so why waste valuable energy on it?

tea rex
5 years ago

Is it correct that the 1500 free is selected like the 50 strokes? (The winner of the 800 free automatically gets a mile spot). Way back in 2014, Ledecky locked up her spot at nationals in the 800 and then scratched the 1500.

Reply to  tea rex
5 years ago

I think only the winner of the 1500 (for women, and 800 for men, as well as 50s of each non-freestyle stroke) makes the team, and the coaches add a second swimmer based on who has already made the team. So Ledecky was the obvious choice for the second spot for the 1500.

Reply to  tea rex
5 years ago

Well that was Pan PAC trials, so when you qualify in one event you can enter other events that you didn’t qualify for.

5 years ago

Leah Smith’s profile.
100 free: pb- 55.93 (1 sec improvement this season); Rank – #579
200 free: pb – 1:56.47 (6/28/2016); Rank – #33
400 free: pb – 4:00.65 (6/27/2016); Rank – #4
800 free: pb – 8:20.18 (7/2/2016); Rank – #17
1500 free: pb – 16:27.37 (8/6/2014); Rank – #129

It is hard to find another so unversatile swimmer in terms of so sharp distribution of ranking around very high point of one event only.
The distribution curve is pretty much symmetrical and I think reflects some biological specifics of this swimmer. To expect her to be suddenly #3 at 1500 is unreasonable from my point of view.
To be fair I… Read more »

5 years ago

chase travis, the 14 year old from nations capital, could also have a major time drop. 16:44 this month in this event- untapered

5 years ago

I predict that female swimmers will start catching up to Ledecky in a few years. I don’t know if it will be enough that Ledecky will lose though. But in this event, the 1500, it may be her best event.

5 years ago

eliot kennedy, the 14 year old from waves bloomington, could also have a major time drop. 16:48 last summer in this event.

5 years ago

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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