OMAHA, Neb. — Katie Ledecky, the most decorated woman in swimming history, qualified for her third Olympic team with ease Monday night in the 400 freestyle.
But her time of 4:01.27 was underwhelming, surprising her and likely ensuring she will not be favored for the 400 freestyle gold medal in Tokyo next month.
“It wasn’t the best-feeling 400,” said Ledecky, who was more than two seconds off her best time of the year, nearly five seconds slower than her world record of 3:56.46 set at the Rio Olympics and well behind the 3:56.90 swum by rival Ariarne Titmus at the Australian Olympic trials Sunday.
“I thought it was a lot faster than that, so I was a little surprised by the time,” she said right after her race. “It’s pretty tough for the first race here. I always remember five years ago, it was not a fun race. It’s just good to check the box and hopefully have some good swims the rest of the week.”
Ledecky gave those comments on a quick Zoom call immediately after she swam and in a pool-deck interview with NBC Sports. She did not come to the interview room later as is traditional for a newly minted Olympian.
When asked why Ledecky did not show up, a USA Swimming spokeswoman said Ledecky’s coach, Greg Meehan, made the decision.
Ledecky, 24, has a busy schedule at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, including heats in the 200 free and 1,500 free Tuesday morning. She also has the 800 free later in the week.
Ledecky took the lead in the 400 free from the get-go Monday night and never relinquished it. Paige Madden, 22, of the University of Virginia, finished second in 4:04.86.
Ledecky has been the world-record holder in the 400 for nearly seven years, last lowering her mark at the Rio Olympics five years ago. She is a three-time world champion in the 400 and settled for the silver medal at the 2019 worlds behind Titmus while battling a stomach virus.
Ledecky has won five Olympic gold medals and 15 world championship titles, and is considered a favorite to win several more gold medals at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Katie Ledecky makes US Olympic team for Tokyo with win in 400 free