Katie Ledecky (USA) and Lotte Friis (DEN), the swiftest pace-maker in history, swam through a time warp on the way to a sensational 15:36.53 world record and 15:38.88 European record silver to take women’s world-title 1500m freestyle into a new era.
Their speed at Barcelona’s Palau San Jordi did much to pave the way for the 30-lapper’s inclusion in the Olympic programme one fine day soon. If they cracked open the 15:42.54 at which the world mark had stood to American Kate Ziegler since 2007, then bronze almost got there too, Kiwi Lauren Boyle on 15:44.71.
The race, the speed, the battle – all sensational, breathtaking indeed. For Ledecky, victory delivered a second gold medal in just three days after a pioneering 3:59 win over 400m in the championship curtain-opener. Consider the pace of the lead pair who fought all but stroke for stroke until Ledecky settled the argument with a last 100m bolt that Friis could not cope with:
Swimming Through A Timewarp
- It was August 1973 when Stephen Holland (AUS) became the first man inside 15:40 with a world record of 15:37.80.
- At the 100m, Ledecky on 58.75, Friis on 59.15, they raced at the 100m world-record pace of Shane Gould in 1971
- At the 200m mark, Ledecky a touch ahead, they raced at the 200m world-record pace of Kornelia Ender in 1975-76
- At the 400m mark, Friis now ahead by a touch, they raced at the 400m world-record pace of Janet Evans in 1987
- At the 800m mark, Friis still a touch ahead, they raced inside the 800m world title pace of Olympic champ Rebecca Adlington in 2011
Shanghai 2011: Adlington prevailed in a stroke-for-stroke battle of her own with Friis, the 800m crown won by Britain’s double champion of Beijing 2008 in 8:17.51. Going through the 800m with 900m to go: Friis, 8:17.17; Ledecky, 8:17.33 [Photo: Patrick Kraemer]. Adlington, commentating for the BBC, was, doubtless, left speechless for a moment.
The splits compared:
- 58.75; 2:00.05; 3:02.97; 4:05.89; 5:08.70; 6:11.39; 7:14.29; 8:17.33; 9:20.48; 10:23.66; 11:26.91; 12:30.27; 13:33.48; 14:36.06; 15:36.53 Ledecky WR
- 59.15; 2:00.71; 3:02.86; 4:05.26; 5:07.97; 6:10.68; 7:13.98; 8:17.16; 9:20.47; 10:23.61; 11:26.85; 12:30.11; 13:33.54; 14:36.54; 15:38.88 Friis ER
- 1:00.49; 2:03.46; 3:06.74; 4:09.87; 5:13.01; 6:16.48; 7:19.63; 8:22.57; 9:25.42; 10:28.74; 11:31.70; 12:35.17; 13:38.54; 14:41.85; 15:42.54 Kate Ziegler 2007
- 59.39; 2:01.83; 3:05.14; 4:08.49; 5:12.11; 6:16.02; 7:19.90; 8:23.94; 9:27.69; 10:31.51; 11:35.30; 12:38.95; 13:43.11; 14:46.95; 15:49.59 Lotte Friis 2011 gold
Out of respect for her and a home defence of the Olympic 800m freestyle crown last year, Americans placed on hold their campaign to have the 1500m replace the lesser distance at the Games until London as out of the way. Ledecky claimed the London crown just shy of Adlington’s 8:14.10 world record, the 2008 champion third behind Mireia Belmonte (ESP), who finished fourth in the 1500m this evening in a Spanish record of 15:58.83.
Said Belmonte of Ledecky and the world record: “She’s very fit. Impressive. She was probably made in the same factory as Michael Phelps.”
The sensational battle between Adlington’s former foes will surely go a long way to persuading the International Olympic Committee that the time has come to bring the men’s and women’s swimming programmes into line for the first time since the modern movement began in 1896.
- Katie Ledecky (USA) 15:36.53 WR
- Lotte Friis (DEN) 15:38.88
- Lauren Boyle (NZL) 15:44.71
- Mirela Belmonte (ESP) 15:58.83
- Xu Danlu (CHN) 16:04.40
- Kristel Kobrich (CHN) 16:01.94
- Boglarka Kapas (HUN) 16:06.89
- Chloe Sutton (USA) 16:09.65
Given Ledecky’s age and development curve, it may seem a stretch too far to suggest the first sub-15mins is in sight for women but if anyone will lead the way to a day of sensational barrier-breaking of that magnitude, Ledecky is first in the queue.
For most of the way, Friis [photo: arena] and Ledecky [photo next to result: Patrick B. Kraemer] powered around 5sec inside Ziegler’s world record pace [splits to come soon]. At the 1300m mark, Ledecky gave warning that she was not keen to stay second, flipping over first just for the first time since the 250m mark, albeit by just 0.06sec. Two laps later and the gap was 0.48sec and the writing was on the end wall: Ledecky drove from glide to stroke like a killer whale about to bite a seal in two before sprinting away from the Danish battler.
The American’s advantage at the last turn was 1.07sec. If that came off fifth gear, she found a sixth: 29.47 delivered the 15:36.53 that made her the first to win the crown in world record time since the event was introduced at Fukuoka in 2001.
Ledecky and Friis, not to mention Boyle, have tripped the switch on the inevitable progress we can expect in the ranks of the 1500m if the American campaign to have the 30-lap race replace the traditional (1968 onwards) 800m freestyle at the Olympic Games in a move that would bring the men’s and women’s programmes into line for the first time since 1896, when swimming was among the sports that launched the modern movement in Athens.
Still catching her breath, Ledecky reflected the run of events at the start of the race and paid plaudits to Friis when she said: “It was really tough, my hardest race ever. I knew we were swimming really fast and I figured that whoever was gonna come out on top would break the world record. I just had to be careful.” All had expected the 400m champion and, last Sunday, the first woman ever to break 4mins over eight laps in a textile suit, to set the pace and lead from the start.
Friis knew as much and refused to let go. Ledecky [photo: Patrick Kraemer] had the speed to sprint away at that point but there was no sign of panic as she held tight to her race plan, sticking to the Dane like a limpet. Said the American schoolgirl coached by Bruce Gemmell at Bethesda, Maryland, after Yuri Suguiyama, the mentor on the way to London, moved to Cal:
“If I pushed too early, or too late, it might have [gone a different way] and I wanted to touch the wall first. At about 200m to go I knew I could take off when I needed to.”
“It means the world to me,” Ledecky said straight after the race. “Kate Ziegler is from my area and I have looked up to her my whole life. I am really honoured to break that world record and to keep it in the Potomac valley. I’m still 16 so I hope I have plenty years left of swimming and I guess we’ll see where my limit is.”
“It is just really nice to be in the big races and it was great to be part of it,” said Friis, who admitted she had mixed emotions when Ledecky was awarded a special plaque for her world record but could not accept the $25,000 world-record bonus from FINA without sacrificing her college career (unlikely).
“They (emotions) were really big when Katie got the plaque up there because I think I deserve one too,” said Friis. “I am not that frustrated, because I swam so much faster than I expected and I was really happy with my race. From what I have been told it was really exciting.”
Right and right again. It was thrilling. A plaque, please, for the battle alone.
“I was really happy I kept up with her for as long as I did, Katie is a great swimmer and I think we will have a few races in the coming seasons,” added Friis [Photo: Gian Mattia D'Alberto/lapresse/arena]. Fifth over 800m in London last year, Friis, 25, said that she felt she had to prove herself. “Katie and I are both very competitive, Katie came off a great performance in London and wanted to maintain that, I came off a disappointing race and wanted to prove I can still compete.”
Boyle, meantime, celebrated a second bronze – after 400m – and a new status as New Zealand’s most successful world-championship swimmer among women.
“I don’t have much experience in the 1500m and between yesterday and today I’ve taken more than half a second off my time,” said the 25-year-old through a beaming smile. “It’s not just me other people are improving their times. New Zealand swimming is getting a lot stronger. I knew the race was going to be fast with Ledecky and Friis, I had to make sure I didn’t go too fast in the beginning.
“I was quite surprised I could see their feet by the last 500m, its really an honour to race those girls and really glad to have been a part of it,” said Boyle [photo: Ian Macnicol].