BUDAPEST, HUNGARY — On a night when Katie Ledecky returned to a more familiar spot — the top rung of the medal podium — the U.S. men's team began passing the torch to a new generation at the world championships.
Step aside, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. You've got a worthy successor in Bel Air's Chase Kalisz.
Sorry, Nathan Adrian. It's Caeleb Dressel's time to shine.
Kalisz extended American dominance in the 200-meter individual medley Thursday with a bit of Olympic redemption, ably filling the void left by Phelps' retirement and Lochte's absence in Budapest.
“Big congrats to my little bro!!!” Phelps wrote on Instagram to his former training partner at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. “Love ya dude!!!”
The 20-year-old Dressel put the United States back on top in swimming's glamour event, pulling away to a dominant win in the 100 freestyle while Adrian settled for the silver.
“He crushed it,” said Adrian, the 100 gold medalist at the 2012 London Olympics. “He's going to be incredible for years to come.”
Kalisz extended American rule of the 200 IM with his first major international championship. The Americans have won the event at eight straight world championships, not to mention at the last four Olympics — with Phelps or Lochte winning every time.
“The U.S. has always been dominant in IMs, and that's been one of our proudest traditions,” Kalisz said. “Michael and Ryan have been the centerpiece of that for almost 15 years now.”
But Kalisz is still miffed about a silver medal in the 400 IM at Rio , a setback that ended America's Olympic dominance of that event stretching back to the 1992 Barcelona Games.
“It took a toll on me for a few months,” he said. “The second I turned it around into motivation was kind of when I started making leaps forward. I think of that moment every single day. I never forget it.”
The American reign of the 200 IM began with Phelps' coming-out at the 2003 worlds in Barcelona.
Lochte had won the last two world titles.
Neither is in Budapest, of course.
While it was Phelps' choice to step aside, Lochte missed out on a chance to qualify for the U.S. team because of a suspension for his embarrassing antics at last summer's Olympics .
Kalisz made sure the Americans didn't miss a beat, finally breaking through on a big stage. He had a bronze and a silver at the two previous worlds.
His first gold was a huge surprise. Kalisz was only fifth after the opening butterfly lap but stormed back to win in 1:55.56. Japan's Kosuke Hagino claimed the silver, with the bronze going to China's Wang Shun.
“If you had told me that this would be my first world title, I would have definitely laughed at you,” Kalisz said. “Four months ago, I was over three seconds slower. I know that I was going to be able to go faster than that time, but to get to the level where I am right now like I said, I probably would have laughed.”
Ledecky, of Bethesda, earned her fourth gold of the championships by anchoring the U.S. victory in the 4x200 free relay, taking over with a slight lead before powering away to win by a full body length.
About 24 hours after settling for silver in the 200 free, when she was passed on the final lap by Italy's Federica Pellegrini , Ledecky returned to form on a team that also included Leah Smith, Mallory Comerford and Melanie Margalis.
“I knew I would have a big race,” said Ledecky, who now has 13 golds in the world championship career, along with that lone silver. “I had an off day yesterday. It happens. You just try to bounce back as best you can from it and move forward.”
The U.S. was just 0.13 of a second ahead when Ledecky took over for Margalis. The Americans finished in 7 minutes, 43.39 seconds with a comfortable 1.57 margin over China. Australia took the bronze.
“Diving in when our anchor is a multi-time world-record holder just gives you the most confidence you can have,” said Smith, who led off.
Also Thursday, Olympic champion Mireia Belmonte of Spain stayed on top in the women's 200 butterfly, finishing strong to deny Katinka Hosszu another gold before the home crowd. Hungary's “Iron Lady” was leading at the midway point, sending the packed house at Duna Arena into a frenzy, but Belmonte blazed past her to win in 2:05.26.
Germany's Franziska Hentke grabbed the silver, leaving Hosszu to settle for bronze.
Also, Brazil's Etiene Medeiros took gold in the women's 50 backstroke, which isn't an Olympic event. The silver went to China's Fu Yuanhui, while Aliaksandra Herasimenia of Belarus earned the bronze.
Dressel got off to a blistering start and won in a relative rout in the down-and-back race, touching in 47.17. Adrian surged from behind over the final strokes to claim the silver in 47.87, edging France's Mehdy Metella — the fastest qualifier from the semifinals and swimming between the two Americans — by just two-hundredths of a second.
Dressel climbed up on a lane rope and pounded the water with both fists.
Adrian glided quickly from two lanes over to embrace the new world champion.
“I'm very excited about that,” Dressel said. “But more importantly, Americans went 1-2. I think that's more exciting than any time that could be shown on that board.”