By James Hemker
Former Stanford women’s swimming team members Simone Manuel and junior Katie Ledecky returned to the Farm this weekend with five national titles from Team USA’s Winter Nationals.
The meet began with a dominant win for Ledecky in the 800-meter free race. She immediately swam to a body-length lead by the end of the first 50 meters. From that point, her lead slowly yet surely grew over the next 750 meters until she stopped the clock at 8:14.40, which was almost 14 seconds faster than second place. Since the meet was still early in the season, this marked just her 20th fastest time, yet it was .3 of a second off the world record for any women not named Katie Ledecky. Of course, none of this mattered to her.
“I wasn’t really focused on time. I was more just focused on the structure and how I was swimming it,” Ledecky said. “I just barely negative split it, which was good, which was what I was trying to do. I qualified for Omaha, so that’s good.”
Holding the top 12 times in the world, Ledecky had a similar race in the 400-meter freestyle. She claimed another body-length lead in the first 50 meters and sliced through the water to a 4:00.35 finish. This time second place trailed by only nine seconds.
The 200-meter freestyle reunited the former teammates; Manuel held the second-best prelim time behind Ledecky. After 50 meters, Ledecky was again leading the pack while Manuel sat half a length behind her. Ledecky (1:55.32) ultimately won by a comfortable two-and-a-half-second margin over Manuel (1:57.92), who in turn led third place by over a second.
Ledecky commented on racing with Manuel after the race saying, “It’s fun. We do Thursday morning 200-free work together. That’s what we’ve been doing this year, and it’s a lot of fun. That’s the one practice where we’re doing the same thing. It’s always fun to have somebody that’s really competitive, driven and going for the same goals.”
Manuel got her revenge over Ledecky in the much faster 100-meter free. The American record holder torpedoed to a 53.38 gold medal, besting second place by a full second. Ledecky (54.76) was relegated to a rare fifth-place finish.
Manuel picked up her other national title in the electric 50-meter free. Despite a slow reaction off the blocks, she was able to grab the lead through her sheer strength and technique and win by half a second. Manuel’s 24.39 was her eighth-best time ever, and internationally it ranks as the fourth-best time of the year. Still, she recognized it is early in the season, and there is more work to be done.
“I thought it was pretty solid. There is definitely room for improvement, but my focus was on some of the aspects that I’ve really been working on in practice, the new things that I’ve been tinkering with,” Manuel said after the 50-free. “I think it’s a good benchmark to see where I can improve later in the season.”
More important than their national titles the duo qualified for the 2020 Olympic trials in every event they swam. This means they will have the chance to compete against the nation’s best, or rather the rest of the country will have a chance to race them, to earn a spot on the 2020 Olympic Team.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu