GWANGJU, South Korea — Katie Ledecky’s ambitious program at the FINA world championships was upended Tuesday morning, when she decided to pull out of the 200-meter freestyle race, citing medical issues.
USA Swimming officials announced the decision about 90 minutes before the five-time Olympic champion was scheduled to hit the pool for a preliminary 200 heat. No decision had been made on Ledecky’s status for the 1,500-meter final, which was scheduled for later in the day.
“Katie has not been feeling well since arriving to Gwangju on July 17 and these precautionary measures are being taken to ensure her well-being and proper recovery, and to allow her to focus her energy on an abbreviated schedule,” Lindsay Mintenko, USA Swimming’s national team managing director, said in a statement.
Greg Meehan, the U.S. women’s coach, said Ledecky was suffering from a physical ailment and was working with the team’s medical staff. He was not certain of her exact diagnosis.
“We hope that she rebounds quickly. She was feeling a little bit better last night. We were hopeful today, [but] she woke up this morning and was not feeling well at all,” he said. “We’re just going to take it session by session and then day by day. If we can get her back in the meet at some point, that would be the ideal scenario.”
He said a decision wouldn’t be made on the 1,500 until closer to the race’s start time.
“I don’t necessarily want to put a percentage on it, but I’m hopeful we’re able to see her racing again this week,” he said. “But all that is is a hope at this point.”
The decision on the 200 came two days after the biggest loss of Ledecky’s stellar career: She was upset in the 400-meter freestyle race Sunday by Ariarne Titmus, an 18-year-old Australian. Ledecky was visibly disappointed with the result but said, “I felt great.” Asked at the time whether she had any physical issues, she said “no” four times.
Ledecky, a 22-year old Bethesda native, won Olympic gold in the 200 at the Rio Games in 2016 but hasn’t dominated that race as much as she has other distances. She took silver at the 2017 world championships and bronze at the Pan Pacific championships last summer. She was still a favorite to reach the podium here.
The 1,500 is one of her signature distances: A win would mark her fourth straight world title in the event. She has set or broken the world record six times and has posted the nine fastest 1,500 times on record.
Just 15 hours after the loss to Titmus, Ledecky returned to the Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center on Monday morning for the 1,500 heats, where she posted the fastest qualifying time (15:48.90). It’s a great mark for any other swimmer, but it was not the dominant rebound swim that Ledecky perhaps sought. At the world championships four years ago, Ledecky broke the world record in the qualifying heats with a time of 15:27.71. The next day she broke it again in 15:25.48.
She looked tired following Monday’s heat and didn’t talk to reporters afterward, which is uncharacteristic for her. She was not at the pool Tuesday as the day’s morning session began.
“I need to get my fight back,” she had said Sunday night.
Ledecky had planned to swim in six events — a total of more than 6,200 meters — at these world championships, the last big international meet before next summer’s Tokyo Olympics. She had been pleased with her training heading into the meet and had hoped to match her haul of five gold medals from the 2015 and 2017 world championships.
If she rebounds and is able to swim the 1,500 on Tuesday night, she still would have two more events on tap: the 800 and 4×200 freestyle relay.
“This is just brutal for her not to be competing, I’m sure,” Meehan said. “She’s such a tough competitor — she wants to be here, she wants to represent Team USA, and we hope that she gets the opportunity to do that as soon as possible.”
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