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Ledecky, Franklin advance to showdown final at Nationals

Aug 7, 2014, 3:14 PM EDT

Missy Franklin AP

IRVINE, Calif. — The most impressive U.S. swimmers in recent history are in the spotlight at the National Championships on Thursday. And we’re not talking about Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.

On Phelps’ only day off at the five-day meet, the women’s 200m freestyle is the marquee event.

Female headliners Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin were the top two qualifiers from the morning heats into the final Thursday night at 9 p.m. ET.

Ledecky won her heat in 1 minute, 55.75 seconds, the fourth-fastest time in the world this year. Franklin won hers directly after in 1:57.83. Olympic 200m free champion Allison Schmitt was not fast enough to make the eight-woman final.

In other events Thursday, Ryan Lochte advanced to the men’s 200m freestyle final with the third-fastest time.

Franklin and Lochte both advanced to the 200m backstroke finals, where they are the reigning World champions.

The 200m free is the meet-up event for Franklin, a 100m and 200m swimmer, and Ledecky, the world record holder in the 800m and 1500m.

They are the last two Female World Swimmers of the Year. When Franklin won a female record six gold medals at last year’s World Championships, Ledecky was named the meet’s best female swimmer for breaking two world records.

Ledecky was second to Franklin at last year’s U.S. Championships in the 200m free but did not swim the event at Worlds due to a hectic schedule.

The schedule opens up at the Olympics, though, which could create an interesting storyline going to Rio de Janeiro.

U.S. women haven’t gone one-two in an event at an Olympics or Worlds since 2000. In that same span, U.S. men have done so 25 times.

The U.S. Swimming Championships are a qualifying meet for the biggest international competition of the year, the Pan Pacific Championships in Gold Coast, Australia, from Aug. 21-24. There, the U.S. will face top swimmers from Australia, Japan, South Africa and other non-European nations.

Phelps seventh in 100m freestyle

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