BUDAPEST, Hungary — Katie Ledecky started a very busy week at the world championships with a dominating performance in the preliminaries of the 400-meter freestyle Sunday.

The 20-year-old American set a meet record with a time of 3 minutes, 59.06 seconds, nearly 3 seconds ahead of the next-fastest qualifier, teammate Leah Smith (4:02.00).

Barely breathing hard, Ledecky eclipsed her winning time of 3:59.13 from the world championships in Kazan two years ago. She heads into the evening final as an overwhelming favorite to defend her title, the only bit of drama being whether she can break her world record of 3:56.46 from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“It’s good to get the first swim out of the way,” Ledecky said. “You’re always a little bit nervous for the first swim. Now I can kind of carry that momentum forward through the rest of the meet.”

Ledecky is hoping to win six gold medals in Budapest with a daunting schedule that would require her to swim a total of 6,300 meters. She won five gold medals at Kazan.

“I know how to manage a meet like this,” Ledecky said. “I’ve worked toward this meet all year. Just trying to put it all together now.”

In other preliminaries on the first day of swimming at Duna Arena, home country favorite Katinka Hosszu led the women’s 100 individual medley, world-record holder Adam Peaty of Britain dominated the men’s 100 breaststroke, Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom paced the women’s 100 butterfly, Austria’s Felix Aubock topped the men’s 400 freestyle and Ukraine’s Andril Govorov was fastest in the men’s 50 fly.

Also qualifying for the men’s 400 free final were China’s Sun Yang, South Korea’s Park Tae-hwan and Australia’s Mack Horton. Yang and Park have served suspensions for doping and drawn the ire of Horton, who doesn’t think anyone caught using performance-enhancing drugs should be allowed to compete.

“I think everyone knows how I feel about that,” Horton said Sunday, not backing down.

In the relays, the United States was fastest in the women’s 4×100 free relay while Brazil topped the men’s 4×100 free, followed by Australia and the Americans.

Ledecky and Olympic gold medalist Simone Manuel are expected to join the U.S. women’s relay for evening final.

“That’s all up to the coaches,” Ledecky said.


Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry


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