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Katie Ledecky heading to her fourth Olympics, wins 400 freestyle at US swimming trials

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Katie Ledecky is heading to her fourth Olympics, an accomplishment that seemed unimaginable when she was a 15-year-old kid in London.

These days, it wouldn’t seem like a Summer Games without her.

As steady as ever, Ledecky cruised to victory in the 400-meter freestyle at the U.S. swimming trials on Saturday night.

She makes qualifying for the Olympics look so much easier than it is. Ledecky became just the ninth U.S. swimmer to qualify at least four times for the sport’s grandest stage.

“I pride myself on that consistency,” she said. “Sometimes it can be tough to feel you’re not having a breakthrough. But being really consistent is something I’m really happy with. I’ve learned to really enjoy training and take advantage of the moment.”

Cheered on by a crowd of 20,689 at the home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, Ledecky touched the wall in the temporary pool in 3 minutes, 58.35 seconds.

She improved on her time of 3:59.99 in the morning preliminaries and set herself up to make a run at another gold against a loaded field at the Paris Games.

The Australian “Terminator,” Ariarne Titmus, is the defending Olympic champion and world-record holder in the 400 free. Canadian phenom Summer McIntosh is also expected to contend for the top spot on the podium.

In Tokyo, Ledecky settled for the silver behind Titmus — the first individual loss of the American’s Olympic career.

She’ll have her work cut out for her in Paris, as well.

Titmus is coming off an Australian trials where she broke the world record in the 200 free and barely missed knocking off her own mark in the 400 free, winning with a time of 3:55.44 — nearly 3 seconds faster than Ledecky’s pace in Indianapolis.

“It’s going to be a great field,” Ledecky said. “I’ve always done a pretty solid job in the period between the trials and the games at being faster at the games. The goal is no different this time around. Hopefully, that will put me in a good position in the 400.”

The 27-year-old Ledecky is set to swim four events at her nation’s trials, all of them freestyle events ranging from 200 to 1,500 meters. She already has six individual gold medals — more than any female swimmer in Olympic history — and an overall haul of 10 medals that includes seven golds.

“I never thought I would make it there,” Ledecky said, remembering her Olympic debut at the 2012 London Games. “I never dreamed of that as a young kid.”

After winning a surprising gold in her only event, the 800 free, Ledecky was determined to reach ever greater heights.

“I wanted to get back to that level, prove that I wasn’t just a one-hit wonder,” she said. “But at the same time, I reminded myself that anything more than that is just like icing on the cake, the cherry on top.”

That makes her appreciate a fourth trip to the Olympics even more.

Then there’s Aaron Shackell, a local favorite from suburban Carmel, who will be heading to the Olympics for the first time after winning the men’s 400 freestyle.

Shackell touched in 3:45.46 to hold off Kieran Smith, the bronze medalist in this event at the Tokyo Olympics. Smith used a strong finishing kick to claim the runner-up spot in 3:45.76, which should be enough to get him back to the Summer Games.

The top two in each individual event are expected to make the powerhouse American team, which also bodes well for Paige Madden, the runner-up behind Ledecky in 4:02.08.

Ledecky and Shackell were both overshadowed on the opening night of the trials by Gretchen Walsh. The 21-year-old from the University of Virginia set a world record in a semifinal heat of the 100-meter butterfly with a time of 55.18.

Walsh was more than a half-second under world-record pace at the turn and finished strong to eclipse the mark of 55.48 set by Sweden’s Sarah Sjöström at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“There has been a little bit of a buzz out there,” Walsh said. “I think going into tonight, you know, like I knew it would take a (55) point-4 or I guess point-5, but I didn’t think I was going to do it tonight. I just knew I wanted to go a fast time and now here I am — a world record holder.”

Walsh held her hand over her mouth as she looked at the scoreboard in disbelief, a “WR” beside her name. But she’s still got some work to do to make her first Olympic team.

The 100 fly final Sunday night also includes Torri Huske, Regan Smith and Claire Curzan — all medalists at the Tokyo Games. Shackell’s sister, Alex, also advanced to the final and will be looking to join her sibling on the Olympic team.

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics

By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP National Writer

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