- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 15, 2021

OMAHA, Neb. — Katie Ledecky touched the wall far ahead of everyone else at the U.S. swimming trials.

No surprise there.

But the 24-year-old Bethesda, Maryland, native was taken aback by the time. It wasn’t as fast as expected, raising the stakes for an expected showdown in Tokyo with a younger rival known as the Aussie Terminator.

Ledecky earned a trip to her third Olympics with a never-in-doubt victory in the women’s 400-meter freestyle Monday night.

She was a good 3.6 seconds ahead of runner-up Paige Madden, touching the wall in 4 minutes, 1.27 seconds.

But the winning time was far off Ledecky’s world record of 3:56.46, which she set almost five years ago at the Rio Olympics.

Another time on everyone’s mind: Ariarne Titmus won the 400 free at the Australian trials on Sunday with the second-fastest performance in history — 3:56.90.

Ledecky wasn’t close to Titmus’ performance, either.

“Very much a blur,” Ledecky said. “I thought I could go a little faster than that, so I’m a little surprised. But I’ll take it for now.”

Titmus, the 20-year-old whose nickname is “The Terminator,” has made it clear that she’s not intimidated by Ledecky’s longtime dominance in the distance events.

Titmus told reporters Down Under that the American superstar is “not going to have it all her own way. I can’t control what she does, (but) if I do the best I can and put myself in the position to win a gold medal, it’s going to be a tough race.”

Ledecky made only brief comments after her race in the virtual mixed zone, declining to attend the usual in-person news conference for those who make the Olympic team.

“It was just good to be here and lock in my spot,” she said, her muted comments a striking contrast to Titmus’ bravado.

While Ledecky is a familiar face on the U.S. team — she’s won five gold medals and one silver at the last two Summer Games — the trials in Omaha, Nebraska, this week have signaled that there is a changing of the guard under way among the Americans.

Two Olympic rookies also locked up their spots for Tokyo on Monday. Teenager Torri Huske captured the women’s 100 butterfly, while Michael Andrew held on to win the men’s 100 breaststroke.

Huske, an 18-year-old from Arlington, Virginia, was under world-record pace at the turn but faded just a bit on the return leg. Still, she touched first in 55.66 seconds, breaking the national mark of 55.78 that she set the previous night in the semifinals.

She just missed the world record (55.48) set by Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom in Rio.

Huske is one of the swimmers who benefited from an extra year of training when the Tokyo Olympics were postponed a year because of the pandemic.

She is set to attend Stanford in the fall.

“I feel like [the one-year delay] really helped me because I was able to work on my strength training,” Huske said. “I feel like it makes a big difference in my second 50. I tend to fly and die – how fast can I go out and hang on.”

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