OMAHA, NEB. — Katie Ledecky owns the 800-meter freestyle to a degree no other swimmer owns any other race.
She holds the nine fastest times in history and most recently set a world record in January at an otherwise uneventful meet in Austin, Texas. In Friday morning preliminaries at Olympic Trials, she swam the best time by more than 10 seconds.
So realistically, the rest of the field is competing for a coveted second 800 spot in Rio de Janeiro. Saturday evening's final will include two North Baltimore Aquatic Club swimmers: Cierra Runge and Sierra Schmidt.
A third NBAC swimmer, Becca Mann, missed the final by one spot. Mann came into the event as the second seed, but she injured her back two weeks ago and swam with a herniated disk and three bulging disks.
"It came at the worst time," she said.
Mann endured a bitter disappointment last summer when she finished 15 seconds out of the top-10 spot she would have needed to qualify for the 10-kilometer open water event in Rio. Mann has always seen herself as an open water swimmer first, so she was stunned to fall short in the bruising race in Kazan, Russia.
The Illinois native shifted her focus to indoor trials, remaining in Baltimore this year to train with Bob Bowman's successor at NBAC, Erik Posegay. She posted the ninth-best 800 time in the world in January, about 18 seconds behind Ledecky's world record time in the same race.
Mann is one of the more intriguing characters at trials. At age 18, she has already published a young adult fantasy novel, and she will pursue a screenwriting career when she goes to USC's exclusive film school in the fall.
She also plans to be an Olympic contender again in 2020 after the disappointments of this year.