WOMEN’S 400 FREESTYLE
- 2015 Worlds Champ: Katie Ledecky (USA), 3:59.13
- 2016 Olympic Champ: Katie Ledecky (USA), 3:56.46
- World Record: 3:56.46 | Katie Ledecky (USA) | 8/7/16
We’re four years in to Katie Ledecky‘s reign in this event, a dominance that began with her gold in Barcelona at the 2013 World Championships. Despite it being half a decade with her name all over the headlines, Ledecky continues to find ways to get just a bit faster. We’re not seeing her blow out best times any more, but we still are seeing her break world records when she is at her peak, and she’ll be ready to go in Budapest.
Ledecky was nowhere near that peak in Indianapolis at Trials, and that was most obvious in her 100 free where she clearly had no easy speed. She was dominant, as usual, in the 200 and up, and there’s no reason to believe that she won’t put up new bests in Budapest. Does that mean a 3:56 low, with a couple tenths of drop? Or can she shock the clock with a full second drop or more? SwimSwam’s crystal ball is out of order right now, so we can’t say for sure. It seems certain, though, that we’ll be treated to a world record in this race with gold all but secured for the rising Stanford sophomore.
Leah Smith continues to get better, and if it weren’t for Ledecky, Smith would be the clear distance star for the USA. While Ledecky’s absurd progression in this event will dilute the successes of the women behind her to the casual swim fan, Smith is the 2nd-best textile performer, ever. Like Ledecky, her spot in this race on the Worlds team, as well as her spot in the other distance free races, was a pretty safe bet. She was definitely not tapered all the way down, if at all, so she should be close to the 4:00 barrier if not past it in Budapest, as opposed to dropping a big swim at Trials then adding a bit in Rio like she did last year.
A great swim by Smith is no guarantee for a silver, or even a medal, however. There are a few teenagers who have been great this year: Li Bingjie of China and Ariarne Titmus of Australia. Li swam a 4:02.52 at Chinese Spring Nationals, while Titmus was 4:04.82 at Aussie Trials. Both are on the rise, though neither have proven themselves on the international stage– yet. The door is open for new talent, as 2016 silver medalist Jazz Carlin of GBR bowed out of this meet, Canada’s Brittany Maclean retired, and Aussie Jessica Ashwood also chose not to race in Budapest to focus on 2018 and the years coming. All three of those women were in the Rio final last year, while other Rio finalists Tamsin Cook (taking time off) and Coralie Balmy (out indefinitely) won’t be in Budapest this summer.
Ajna Kesely, while not yet having shown the speed that fellow teenagers Li and Titmus have, could certainly be the next big Hungarian star. Swimming in her home country, Kesely will be fighting for a spot in this final. Her countrymate Boglarka Kapas, the national record holder in this event, is a medal contender after just missing the bronze last year. Both have been 4:06-low this year, right behind Spain’s Mireia Belmonte (4:05.76). Belmonte could be dropping this event in the midst of a busy schedule, but she will likely get a finals spot if she chooses to swim it.
China’s Zhang Yuhan just missed out on the final last summer with a 9th place finish in Rio, but she’s ranked 7th in the world this year (4:06.19) with a time that’s a tad faster than she was last summer. Meanwhile, we could see something out of either GBR’s Holly Hibbott, the 17-year-old who raced past 2016 Olympians Carlin and Eleanor Faulkner at British Trials this spring. Her 4:06.37 performance in Sheffield could be just the beginning for her, and the British women had some impressive swims at their trials– perhaps she can ride that momentum into Budapest.
Finally, Russian freestyler Veronika Popova is not to be slept on. She fired off a 4:06.82 in Canet that leaves her just out of the world’s top 10, and as a great 200 freestyler, she will be tough in Budapest.
|PLACE||SWIMMER||COUNTRY||BEST TIME SINCE RIO||PREDICTED TIME IN BUDAPEST|
|1||Katie Ledecky||USA||3:56.46||3:55.8 WR|
Dark Horse: Mary-Sophie Harvey of Canada. Harvey had a lot of great races in multiple events at the Arena Pro Swim Series this year. In Austin, she popped a 4:09.69– not a stellar time, considering the company in this article, but a stepping stone nonetheless. If she’s going to branch out on the international stage from her IMs, this race would be a great start.