- Associated Press - Sunday, July 28, 2013

BARCELONA, Spain — Katie Ledecky of the United States has started a grueling program at the world swimming championships with a dominating win in the women’s 400-meter freestyle.

The 16-year-old Ledecky just missed a world record with a time of 3 minutes, 59.82 seconds Sunday. Italy’s Federica Pelligrini set the mark of 3:59.15 at the 2009 worlds, but that time comes with a bit of an asterisk — she was wearing a rubberized suit, and those are no longer allowed.

“I’m still in shock over the time,” Ledecky said. “The U.S. has such a great tradition of distance swimmers, so I’m just trying to do my best to live up to that.”

Ledecky, of Bethesda, Md., was a breakout performer at last summer’s London Olympics. Now, as she gets ready to start 11th grade, she’s become one of the biggest stars on the U.S. team. She’ll also be favored to take gold in the 800 and 1,500 free.

It looks likes Ledecky can handle the load, her star still on the rise after a stunning gold medal in the 800 at the London Olympics when she was a complete unknown internationally.

“It is easier,” she said. “I am a lot more relaxed on the international stage after having the Olympics as a first international competition. It’s just great to get back to a top international competition and to do well.”

Melanie Costa of Spain took silver in 4:02.47, while the bronze went to New Zealand’s Lauren Boyle in 4:03.89.

“I really wasn’t expecting to go that fast, that wasn’t my focus,” Ledecky said. “I just wanted to get into a race with the other girls and do my best.”

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