By Philip Hersh, Tribune reporter
11:47 AM EDT, August 23, 2014
Forget all the fancy superlatives.
It takes just one three-letter word to assess Katie Ledecky.
In pouring rain Saturday at the Pan Pacific Championships in Southport, Australia, the 17-year-old from Bethesda, Md., broke the world record in the 400-meter freestyle for the second time in two weeks and staked an absolute claim to the title of best active swimmer in the world – of both genders.
Ledecky won in 3 minutes, 58.37 seconds, shaving .49 from the mark she set Aug. 9 at the U.S. Championships. She swam this one differently, covering the final 100 meters in 59.63, nearly a second faster than her pace at nationals.
It was her fourth gold medal of the Pan Pac meet, after those in the 200, 800 and 4x200 free relay, and Ledecky is a lock in the 1,500 if she swims it as scheduled Sunday.
It was Ledecky’s fourth world-record swim of 2014, the first two in the 800 and 1,500 at a Texas meet in June.
"It's a great feeling," Ledecky said. "It never really gets old."
She won the Olympic 800 free in 2012 and the 400, 800 and 1,500 at last year's world championships.
Tweeted Winnetka freestyler and Olympic champion Conor Dwyer: "Hats off to Katie Ledecky. #BeastMode."
Ledecky has swum the 400 more than five seconds faster than the No. 2 swimmer on the 2014 world list. Her halfway split in Thursday's 800, 4:04.54, would have been good enough for second place Saturday, and only three other women have swum a 400 faster than that split this season.
"Watching her swim, it's remarkable," said the greatest swimmer of all time, Michael Phelps. "She's very talented, she works hard, and it shows."
Phelps, meanwhile, claimed the first significant win of his comeback by taking the 100 butterfly in 51.29, a time no one else in the world has beaten this year but a little slower than his world-leading 51.17 from the heats at the national meet He had left nationals without winning a medal for the first time in 12 appearances since 2000.
"It feels good to be able to be back up there," Phelps said. "It's been a struggle coming back. It's big for the confidence being able to show I can swim faster at night (after failing to do it in three of four events at nationals.) I think I'll be able to sleep a little easier."
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