By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
By now, you know what happened. Two of America’s biggest surprise teenage superstar swimmers, Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky, swam against each other in the 200 freestyle at the Arena Grand Prix at Mesa. They battled all the way until the final five meters, with Ledecky using her distance expertise to pull out the win. Ledecky won the race by .03, just edging out Franklin over the final few meters. Swim fans stood on their feet, the announcer roared, and Rowdy Gaines got almost as excited as he did during last summer’s Olympics. Among all the professional swimmers at the Arena Grand Prix at Mesa, it was two amateur high schoolers (and, of course, two Olympic champions) who won over the crowd.
“I guess I’ll continue to focus more on the 200,” Ledecky said after the race in this video.
It was nearly a two-second personal best for the teenage Nation’s Capital Swim Club swimmer. Though Ledecky is more known for her prowess in the 400 and especially the 800 freestyle (the event in which she won Olympic gold last summer), Ledecky proved that she can not only compete in the 200 free, but also win.
“It’s almost a two-second best time,” Ledecky told Swimming World, “which is really good mid-season.”
Ledecky versus Franklin ended up being the race of the meet. Not only because it was a thrilling come-from-behind victory for Ledecky, but it also gave swimming fans a reason to believe that the USA’s 800 freestyle relay will continue to be as internationally competitive as ever. Factor in that Ledecky scored such a substantial personal drop in a race that happened just mid-season, and you begin to wonder what else the teenage phenom can accomplish.
Challenge the 200 freestyle field this summer for a national championship?
Make the 800 free relay in 2016?
Rowdy Gaines, providing commentary this weekend for Universal Sports, said right before the race started that Katie Ledecky told him, “It would be a dream of mine to be able to make that 800 free relay.” You have to believe that dream received a significant confidence boost.
Ledecky continues her assault on the rest of the swimming world throughout 2013. After dominating the high school circuit and setting a now-legendary high school record in the 500 freestyle, she turns her focus to this summer and racing the rest of the nation – including Missy Franklin.
“It was a great race with Missy,” Ledecky said just seconds after the race, catching her breath. “It was a lot of fun.”
But what’s even more fun, especially as swimmers begin to say goodbye to short-course training and short course championship season and turn their eyes to long course (and this summer), is to speculate just how great of a race this women’s 200 freestyle will continue to be. Swim fans have seen the fruits of amazing races last summer with Phelps vs. Lochte in the 200 freestyle. But on the women’s side, the 200 freestyle -- with so many fierce competitors (including defending Olympic champion Allison Schmitt) -- could be a race you’ll never want to miss.
So, what did we learn this weekend? Ledecky’s 200 freestyle emergence and two-second drop adds just one more name to an already competitive field. It’s rare to see two-second mid-season drops for anyone who has won an Olympic gold medal. But it’s exciting to watch.
“That definitely gives me a lot of confidence,” Ledecky said.
If you want to check out the race (and other races you might have missed from last weekend’s incredible swimming) you can watch along here. And be sure not to miss the next installment of the Arena Grand Prix, which will take place at Charlotte May 9-12th.