OMAHA (Nebraska) • Freestyle phenomenon Katie Ledecky is on her way to the Rio Olympics, after blazing to victory in the 400m freestyle at the US swimming trials in 3min 58.98sec.
Seizing the race by the throat, she got off to a pace more than two seconds quicker than she swam at the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia in 2014, when she set the world record of 3:58.37.
She remained under world-record pace with 50m to go before settling for the third-fastest time in history.
"I could tell I was tightening up a little bit, but just knowing I had to get my hand to the wall pushed me through that," the American said, admitting that she had trouble sleeping in anticipation of her first race at the trials despite her dominance over the past two years.
"It was a little hot going out," Ledecky's coach Bruce Gemmell conceded. "Sometimes we forget she's a 19-year-old girl. She gets excited."
It was the first step towards what could be a historic Olympic campaign. Ledecky, who exploded onto the international scene with an 800m free triumph in London four years ago, is entered in the trials in every freestyle event from 50m to 800m.
Number of freestyle events - from 50m to 800m - Katie Ledecky is attempting to qualify in for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Leah Smith, a relay gold medallist at last year's World Championships, clung to Ledecky's heels all the way, slicing nearly three seconds off her personal best to finish second in 4:00.65. That makes her the fourth-fastest performer ever and promises a formidable US one-two punch in Rio - a fact not lost on Ledecky as she celebrated with her rival.
Kelsi Worrell earned her ticket to Brazil with a 100m butterfly victory in a sizzling 56.48sec.
Her time is the world's second fastest in the category this year behind Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom.
Elsewhere in the men's trials, Kevin Cordes - who trained in Singapore last year as part of the Singapore Swimming Association's (SSA) Foreign Athlete Sparring Programme - is also headed to Rio after winning the 100m breaststroke in 59.18sec, beating Cody Miller to the wall by 0.08sec.
Hampered by a pulled groin, a battling Ryan Lochte fought through the pain to qualify for the 200m freestyle final in 1:47.58.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS