Katie Ledecky beat her own world record in the 400-meter freestyle on Sunday night, taking the USA’s first swimming gold medal of the 2016 Olympics with a time of 3 minutes, 56.46 seconds.
She finished almost five seconds ahead of Britain’s Jazz Carlin (4:01.23) and the USA’s Leah Smith (4:01.92).
The 19-year-old added to her silver medal from the night before in the 4×100 freestyle relay. Her swim was the third world record set in three finals on Sunday night, with the men’s 4×100 free relay yet to come.
Ledecky is set to swim in the 200 free on Tuesday night and defend her 2012 Olympic title in the 800 on Friday night.
Meanwhile, Michael Phelps is eager to get started on his fifth Olympics.
That will come Sunday in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay, a title the Americans are gunning to reclaim after getting chased down by the French in 2012.
Phelps’ expected debut would be one of the highlights on the second day of swimming at the Rio Games, though he’d have to share the spotlight with Ledecky.
Phelps, the most decorated athlete in Olympic history, wants to do his part for the men’s relay team.
“That’s something I’ve had the privilege to be a part of since 2004, and I’m hoping to have the opportunity again,” Phelps said. “It’s always super-fast and there are always some wild, crazy splits that take place.”
In 2008, the Americans memorably defeated the French when Jason Lezak rallied against Alain Bernard with the fastest 100 split in history, a victory that kept Phelps on course to win a record eight gold medals in Beijing.
Four years ago, the French got their revenge when Yannick Agnel caught Ryan Lochte on the anchor leg.
This time, it’s hardly a two-country race.
The Australians figure to be in the mix, especially riding the momentum of an impressive opening night at the pool. They captured two gold medals, also taking the men’s 400 free when Mack Horton held off defending Olympic champion Sun Yang of China, doubling up on the one gold medal they managed during their disappointing performance at the 2012 London Games.
“You can probably pick three or four teams that are going to have a chance to win that relay,” Phelps said. “The Australians made a significant charge over the past couple of years with their men’s and women’s teams combined. A lot of younger guys really stepped up, and that brings more excitement to the sport.”
The Americans are eager for gold after getting shut out on the first night of swimming, settling for three silvers. It was a first time they failed to win at least one race during an Olympic finals session at the pool since Aug. 14, 2008 — the lone day Phelps didn’t go for gold in Beijing.
The U.S. added a couple of bronzes early on Sunday night. Dana Vollmer got one in the women’s 100-meter butterfly when Sarah Sjostrom lowered her world record, winning in 55.48 seconds ahead of Canada’s Penny Oleksiak.
Later, Cody Miller set an American record in the 100-meter breaststroke, with a time of 58.87. He was also behind a world record performance — Adam Peaty lowered the record he set two days earlier, coming home in 57.13 seconds to beat beat out Cameron van der Burghe of South Africa.
Phelps has been part of the 4×100 free relay at the last three Olympics, even though the 100 free has never been one of his individual specialties. It would have been unfathomable for the Americans to leave off a swimmer with 18 golds and 22 medals overall, especially after a dismal performance at last year’s worlds when the U.S. didn’t even qualify for the final. Phelps had to sit out the meet as part of his punishment for a second drunken-driving arrest.
Also on tap for the second day of swimming is the men’s 100 breaststroke, where Adam Peaty of Britain already took down his own world record during the preliminaries.