GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) — The long, deep breaths were a sign: Elation, satisfaction, relief. And just a touch of exhaustion.
Katie Ledecky had just wiped almost six seconds off her own world record in the 1,500-meter freestyle to win her fifth gold medal of the Pan Pacific championships, rounding off a phenomenal season of competition.
She now owns the world records in the 400- – she lowered her own mark at that distance the previous night – the 800- and the 1,500-meter freestyle events and is the world champion in all three.
And she’s still in high school.
Before the Pan Pacific championships, the bulk of the attention focused on the return to international competition of Michael Phelps, the most decorated swimmer of all time. Ledecky’s performances made sure Phelps had to share the spotlight.
Phelps, who won eight Olympic gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games and retired after lifting his tally to 18 golds by the end of the London Games in 2012, was frequently asked about his 17-year-old teammate.
“She’s a stud. It’s unbelievable,” Phelps said of Ledecky after she lowered her record in the 400, describing her reaction to all the fuss over her times as “so nonchalant.”
“Watching her swim is remarkable,” he said. “She throws it on the line – she’s very talented, she works hard, and it shows.”
Ledecky enjoys swimming the 1,500, but it’s not an Olympic event for women so it’s not a big part of her longer-term plans beyond the world championships next year. She likes the challenge of it. Her reaction to winning the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle golds were fairly subdued and self-effacing.
Although she said it was “kind of cool” to be the first to set a world record at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre’s new outdoor pool, she said she also loved playing a role in a winning 4×200 freestyle relay for the Americans.
All of her records came in some pretty difficult weather conditions – steady rain and a cold wind off the nearby Pacific Ocean during most of the sessions. It was a final, and uncharacteristic, blast of the last few weeks of the southern hemisphere winter in this part of Australia.
After completing the 30 laps in 15 minutes, 28.36 seconds – her third world record in 15 days – she really let her emotions show, slapping the water in delight after an intense final lap when she pushed harder and harder to the wall.
“That was probably one of my most painful races,” Ledecky said. “But it paid off in the end. I figured pretty early on in the race that I was on world-record pace. I wasn’t sure about the middle if I fell off too much, because it did really hurt. I was pretty sure I had it, but breaking it by six seconds was pretty surprising.”
It was the third time in 13 months she’s set the mark in the 1,500, and the second within three months since her 15:34.23 in June.
“The 1,500 is not a huge priority of mine because it’s not an Olympic event – (but) it’s certainly one of my favorite events,” she said. “It was the last day of the meet – last time I broke it, it was the first day of the meet – so pretty different.”
Now, for a change, the 2012 Olympic 800-meter champion will get a well-earned break from competition before training picks up again for the 2015 world championships.