Five-time Olympic gold medallist Katie Ledecky is powering into the swimming World Championships in Budapest, leading a US team out to build on their latest Olympic show of strength in Rio.
To be sure some longtime standard-bearers are missing from the US squad — most notably the now-retired superstar Michael Phelps.
But in Ledecky the Americans have a sure-fire contender for multiple gold. The freestyle great is eligible for six events — the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m freestyles and the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays.
That gives her plenty of scope to match or break Missy Franklin’s record of six gold medals at the 2013 worlds, the most titles won by a woman swimmer at a single championships.
Ledecky won four golds and a silver at the Rio Olympics. She opted to maintain her amateur status, and delivered one of the best collegiate swimming seasons ever by a freshman, helping Stanford University’s women win their first national title since 1998.
Since then she’s made a seamless return to long-course competition in what, for her, has been a relaxed post-Olympic year.
“I haven’t really set time goals for this year,” Ledecky said at the US trials. “Just kind of putting together some good swims and having fun with it.”
Ledecky is the undisputed superstar of the US team in Budapest with Phelps out of the picture, Ryan Lochte having just finished a 10-month suspension and Franklin recovering from shoulder surgery.
Nathan Adrian is a veteran presence on the men’s side, set to contest the 50m and 100m freestyles and relays.
Adrian, whose five Olympic gold medals include the 100m free title at the 2012 London Games, admitted it was “weird” to find himself an elder statesman on the team.
Adrian won the 100m free at trials ahead of Caeleb Dressel, the first time two men have broken 48 seconds in the 100 free at a US championships.
Four-time Olympic medallist Matt Grevers, 32, also brings a wealth of experience after booking a berth in the 100m backstroke a year after failing to qualify for Rio.
A strong US supporting cast includes 2016 Olympic gold medalists Lilly King, Simone Manuel and Ryan Murphy — who helped the United States defy gloomy predictions and capture gold in half of the events in Rio.
With Manuel and US championships 100m winner Mallory Comerford in the mix, the United States are poised to challenge long-dominant Australia in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay.
King swept the breaststroke events at the US trials. Her 50m time was an American record and 2017 world leader, but the outspoken swimmer said she thinks there’s room for improvement.
“Setting a new American record is always great, but I hope I can do a little bit better and reach for breaking the world record in Budapest,” said King, who notched the second-fastest times of the season in the 100m and 200m breaststrokes at the national championships.
While Phelps’s absence will be felt in the butterfly, versatile 20-year-old Dressel notched a world-leading 50.87sec to win the 100m fly.
Dressel, who won two relay golds in Rio, is qualified in six events: the 50m and 100m butterfly, the 50m and 100m free and two relays.
Jack Conger will likely need to improve on his 200m fly time of 1:54.47 to challenge for a medal, but the 22-year-old says he’s up for the challenge.
“With Michael gone, that butterfly window is completely wide open,” Conger said.
That’s an attitude that pleases US men’s coach David Durden.
“You use some of that youthful energy to keep some of those veterans engaged, alive, energized, and the veterans help the young guys with the experience,” Durden said.
Peaty has won every 100m breaststroke race he has entered since the 2014 Commonwealth Games.