Aug 9, 2014, 11:29 PM EDT
IRVINE, Calif. — Is there anything Katie Ledecky can’t do?
“I haven’t thrown up after a race yet,” she joked after breaking her third world record in the last two months Saturday. “Maybe that’s what I’ve got to shoot for.”
Ledecky, 17, won the 400m freestyle at the U.S. Championships in 3:58.86 to beat Italian Federica Pellegrini‘s record of 3:59.15 set at the 2009 World Championships.
“Honestly, I didn’t think about it too much,” Ledecky said. “I just wanted to put together a good swim and go a best time. That’s what I did. I’m happy.”
Ledecky now owns the world records in the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles. She’s the first woman since Janet Evans to hold all three simultaneously.
Evans held all three from 1998 to 2006.
“It’s hard not to have it on my mind, but it wasn’t in the forefront,” said Ledecky, who first met Evans last November at the Golden Goggle Awards, where she won Female Athlete of the Year. “I think that’s what played into a good swim tonight. I just didn’t let it get to me. I just wanted to relax and have fun.”
Ledecky took the 400m free world record for the first time. She first broke the 800m and 1500m free marks in winning the 2013 World Championships, then re-broke her own records in those two events in June.
She said her swim Saturday was pretty close to a perfect race.
“Just had to make sure I didn’t rush the first 100,” Ledecky said. “Right after the first 100, I could just go and race the last 300.”
Her coach, Bruce Gemmell, said there’s plenty of things she can do better.
“I don’t think there will ever be a perfect race,” he said.
The versatility — Ledecky is the current U.S. champion from 200m through 1500m — is astonishing like the records.
“Bo Jackson played baseball and football,” Gemmell said. “It’s not that type of thing, but it’s a two-minute race [for 200m] and a 15-minute race [for 1500m].”
Among those impressed at Woollett Aquatics Center — Michael Phelps, who broke his first world record at 15 and won his first eight Olympic medals at 19.
“She throws it on the line, she puts it out there,” Phelps, who trains 38 miles northeast of Ledecky, said after finishing sixth in the 100m backstroke, 90 minutes after Ledecky’s final. “To be at 1:56 to your feet at the 200 [Ledecky turned at 1:57.72 at 200], that’s moving.
“It’s good seeing somebody who’s hungry, somebody who wants it like her.”
Phelps was also astonished that Ledecky could go under four minutes twice in one day, in both the prelims and finals.
“He probably forgot that when he was 17 years old, he could do the same thing,” Gemmell said.
Ledecky showed more emotion than fans are used to seeing from the Bethesda, Md., native who repairs bikes for charity in her free time. She splashed the water and threw one of her caps off.
“Pure excitement. It never gets old, to break a world record,” said Ledecky, who doesn’t have a driver’s license yet.
Ledecky, the Olympic 800m free champion and reigning Female World Swimmer of the Year, has also been improving greatly in the 200m free.
The rising high school senior won the 200m free national title in 1:55.16 on Thursday night, 1.24 seconds faster than World champion Missy Franklin.
The world record in the 200m free is also held by Pellegrini, at 1:52.98. Allison Schmitt holds the American record of 1:53.61.
Ledecky said she won’t swim her last event at the U.S. Championships, the 1500m freestyle on the final day Sunday.
She next heads to the Pan Pacific Championships in Gold Coast, Australia, from Aug. 21-24, the biggest international meet of the year.
How will she celebrate this world record, before flying to Australia next week?
“Do some packing,” she said, smiling. “Maybe some laundry.”
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