She finished third at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. At the World Championships a year later in South Korea, Ledecky withdrew from the 200 due to illness. With other swimmers faster in the distance, it was unclear whether Ledecky’s best times were behind her.

Ledecky instead sent a warning shot on Friday that resulted in an easy 200-yard victory at the TYR Pro Swim Series meeting in Mission Viejo, California. Every time she took a dip in the pool over the weekend, she made it clear that if she gets to the starting blocks, no matter the distance, she is still a competitor.

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Ledecky won the 200 on Friday in 1: 54.40, the world’s best time of the year. It was also Ledecky’s fastest 200 since her 2016 Olympic title when she finished in 1: 53.73. Perhaps just as noteworthy was that her time on Friday was almost half a second faster than what she posted at the 2016 US Olympic Trials, setting a high bar for the next few months of racing.

“It was a good, confidence-building bath,” she said. “It’s exactly where I should feel and where I feel in training. So I was happy with it. “

The Mission Viejo meeting serves as a kind of dress rehearsal for Tokyo. There’s the same reverse schedule, with swimmers waking up in the morning and finishing the finals, rather than in the evenings when medal races are normally held.

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“Swimming every morning is a little test,” said Ledecky. “You want to be faster than the night before. So I passed the first test. “

Preparing for her third Olympic Games, Ledecky skipped the 800-meter race at Mission Viejo but set world-leading times in both the 400 and 1,500-meter races over the weekend. She finished the 400 on Saturday in 3: 59.25, the 20th time in her career she was under 4 minutes. And at the 1,500 on Sunday, Ledecky drove 15: 40.55, a full 17 seconds than any other swimmer this year (Ledecky also finished second in the 100 freestyle on Sunday, which is more of a tuning event.) If everything goes as planned , it will be her hunt for five medals in Tokyo, including four individual races and the 4×200 relay.

Her race on Friday – her fastest 200 on American soil – showed her striking blend of speed and consistency. She chased Abbey Weitzeil after the first corner and had the lead over the 100-meter mark. She was a full body length ahead of the field on the final corner and stepped her way to a 29.06 second split over the final 50 meters. Ledecky finished the race more than 3½ seconds ahead of runner-up Allison Schmitt, the US record holder in the 200 and gold medalist of the 2012 Olympic Games.

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Ledecky, 24, knew she was still capable at such a time, but with the competition schedule largely sunk due to the coronavirus pandemic – and the Tokyo Games, which were postponed for a full year – she didn’t have many Had opportunities to show everyone else.

“I like to be 1:54 in the season before the international match. It’s always good to feel that. I didn’t really have that expectation, however [Thursday’s preliminary] Swimming was a pretty easy feeling – 1:55 which is great, ”she said. “So I knew I could take a shot at 54. I was glad I was that low.”

In the more than four years since the Rio Games, Ledecky has remained dominant in the longer races, particularly the 800s and 1,500s. She holds the world record at both these distances and the 400. But at the 200 she has seen some rivals gain ground.

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Canada’s Taylor Ruck and Japan’s Rikako Ikee took first and second place in the Pan Pacs in 2018, and Federica Pellegrini, the world record holder from Italy, won the race at the 2019 World Cup. Ariarne Titmus and Emma McKeon, both from Australia, and Sarah from Sweden Sjostrom had also won Ledecky’s best time after Rio 200.

In other races on Friday, Lilly King easily won the 100m breaststroke in 1: 05.70, which was 0.68 faster than runner-up Lydia Jacoby.

Caeleb Dressel was a little fascinated by his program in Tokyo and apparently not ruled out winning eight Olympic medals this summer. He won the 100 Butterfly (51.61) and the 200 Freestyle (1: 47.57). The 200 wasn’t expected to be included in his plans for Tokyo, but Dressel said he would tackle it at the exams, which will give him a shot at the 4×200 season this summer and possibly the single event as well could.

“I don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to go swimming again at the Olympics. … I don’t want to say that I will promise anything, ”he said, noting that he hadn’t cemented his plans. “We’ll get our feet wet on exams.”