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Ledecky leads strong U.S. squad at Tokyo Pan Pacs

AFP TOKYO (AFP-Jiji) — Swimming superstars Katie Ledecky and Caeleb Dressel lead a powerful U.S. team against a world-class field at this week’s Pan Pacific Championships, hoping to gain valuable pre-Olympic experience in Tokyo.

Five-time Olympic gold medalist Ledecky arrives in Tokyo in spectacular form, after clinching the 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyle titles at the U.S. nationals last month, and breaking her 14th world record in May.

The 21-year-old will be the one to beat in those three events at the Pan Pacs, while also competing in the 1,500 freestyle.

In the 200, Ledecky is poised for a heavyweight clash against Canadian teen sensation Taylor Ruck, who bagged a record-equaling eight medals at this year’s Commonwealth Games.

Ledecky has clocked the two fastest times of the year over that distance, but Ruck is only a few tenths of a second behind her and the race promises to be a thriller.

The high-class field also includes rising Japanese star Rikako Ikee, Ledecky’s American rival Allison Schmitt and 17-year-old Australian Ariarne Titmus, who won a Commonwealth relay gold.

The Australians will be hoping to build on their Commonwealth success on the Gold Coast — where they preserved a meet win record that stretches back to 1978 — against a U.S. team that traditionally carries all before it in international competition.

The Aussies feature Olympic gold medalists Cate Campbell, who swims in the 50 and 100 freestyle, and Emily Seebohm, who competes in the 100 and 200 backstroke as well as the 100 freestyle.

Outside the pool, Seebohm has been embroiled in a high-profile and acrimonious break-up with Olympic silver medalist Mitch Larkin that has served as a distraction to the squad.

The Australian team for the Aug. 9-14 event also includes Rio Olympic gold medalists Mack Horton and Kyle Chalmers.

On the men’s side, two-time Olympic gold winner Dressel will be hoping to turn around his form after a lackluster effort at the U.S. nationals.

He dominated the 100 butterfly but was beaten in the 50 freestyle and finished a disappointing sixth in what he called a “horrible” 100 free.

“There’s a lot left in the tank,” said Dressel, who is racing in six events in Tokyo.

In the backstroke, American Ryan Murphy will be hoping to repeat his clean sweep in the 100 and 200 that he achieved in Rio.

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