- Associated Press - Sunday, August 10, 2014

IRVINE, Calif. — Katie Ledecky broke the world record in the 400-meter freestyle at the U.S. national championships Saturday night, impressing a downtrodden Michael Phelps who lost for the third time this week.

Ledecky, a 17-year-old from Bethesda, Maryland, won in 3 minutes, 58.86 seconds, becoming the first woman since Janet Evans to hold world marks in the 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyles at the same time.

“That is some serious speed,” marveled Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history.

Ledecky bettered the old mark of 3:59.15 set by Italy’s Federica Pellegrini at the 2009 world championships in Rome, when a raft of records were broken during the apex of the high-tech suit era. Those suits were banned the following year, making world records harder to achieve.

Phelps had another bummer of a night, finishing sixth in the 100 backstroke behind Olympic champion Matt Grevers, who won in 52.75 seconds.

Phelps was seventh at the turn and touched in 53.95.

“I hate this,” he groused. “Anything to be able to change this.”

Phelps’ only good bit of news was that he officially qualified to swim in the Pan Pacific Championships this month in Australia by virtue of his earlier second-place finish in the 100 butterfly. He was seventh in the 100 free, having launched his comeback four months ago.

“I’m not going to use the excuse of taking off a year and a half to two years,” he said. “When there are workouts I need to be at every one and that’s the bottom line.”

Ledecky’s hard work was evident.

She went under world-record pace the entire race, dropping a whopping 1.71 seconds under at 250 meters. With one lap to go, she was still 1.53 seconds under.

“Just tried to make sure I didn’t rush the first 100,” she said. “It was probably pretty close to perfect.”

After hitting the wall, the normally reserved Ledecky pounded the water and smiled broadly as the crowd cheered.

Ledecky swam the third-fastest time ever in the morning preliminaries, clocking 3:59.82.

“I thought it was going to be really tough to get under four minutes twice,” Phelps said. “It’s good seeing somebody who’s hungry and somebody who wants it like her. She puts it all out there and she does the work.”

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