TOKYO: USA's Kathleen Ledecky (right) reacts after breaking the Olympic record next to second-placed China's Wang Jianjiahe after heat for the women's 1500m freestyle swimming event during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo yesterday. – AFP

TOKYO: Ultra-fit Katie Ledecky powered through a major physical test yesterday, backing up from missing gold in the Olympic 400m freestyle to post the quickest time in the 200m heats and the fastest into the 1500m final. The American great was upset by arch-rival Ariarne Titmus over 400m, raced in the morning, after the Australian reeled her in to deny the 24-year-old back-to-back titles. It was a crushing blow, but she had little time to dwell on it during her eye-popping program in Japan.

Along with the 400m, Ledecky is swimming the 200m, 800m, 1500m, and possibly a relay, a huge task driven home by her schedule yesterday. She confidently handled the task with a controlled swim in her 200m heat, topping the timesheets in 1min 55.28sec. "I'll sleep well tonight, I'll tell you that," said Ledecky. "I was just happy how it went, happy it's over, and I got the job done."

Ledecky now has to navigate a 200m semi-final today before trying to recover for the 1500m final tomorrow. "I'm excited that after I get through tomorrow morning I get an evening off," said Ledecky. "I think that's all I need to get myself a little reset going into that next morning."

Titmus, who clocked the second fastest 200 in history last month, was fourth best into the semi-finals in 1:55.88, edged by fellow Australian Madison Wilson and Canada's Penny Oleksiak. But there was a scare for Italian veteran Federica Pellegrini, who still holds the world record she set in 2009. Now 32, she scraped through in 15th overall.

Titmus admitted it was tough after her morning exploits. "I had three hours back at the village, which was hard," said told reporters. "Tonight, I knew it was going to be semi-finals in the (Tuesday) morning, so there's a bit more room to move being top 16 going through. I just did what I thought I had to do and I'll go home and be back in the morning."

'Couldn't see'

While Titmus went home, Ledecky plunged back into the pool for the grueling 1500m, one of three new events on the Olympic swimming program this year, along with the men's 800 free, and the mixed 4x100 medley relay. She touched in an Olympic record 15:35.35, outside her own world record time of 15:20.48 but still the eighth fastest of all-time to ensure she is overwhelming favorite for tomorrow's final.

Elsewhere, Hungarian world record holder Kristof Milak, who crushed Michael Phelps' previous mark in 2019, cruised through the men's 200m butterfly heats in a table-topping 1:53.58 with the title seemingly his to lose. He has been on fire in 2021, with Taiwan's Wang Kuan-hung second fastest but nearly a second adrift. "I want to have a great final, win the gold and clock a time which leaves a mark," said Milak.

Japanese star Daiya Seto came ninth overall as he looks to make amends after sensationally failing to qualify for the 400m medley final as world champion. Despite that demoralizing result, he said his confidence was undented. "I still feel the plans I made to win the gold medal before the event aren't wrong but I couldn't see the other side of the pool in the last 100, otherwise I'd have done better," he said.

Hungarian great Katinka Hosszu, in her fifth Olympics, bounced back from losing her 400m medley crown to Japan's Yui Ohashi to comfortably make the 200 medley semis. Since winning in Rio she has been virtually untouchable in this event, claiming gold at the 2017 and 2019 world championships, and clocked 2:09.70 to be second fastest behind young American Kate Douglass (2:09.16). - AFP