Katie Ledecky swims the butterfly leg of the 200-meter individual medley finals at the Atlanta Classic swim meet at Georgia Tech, Sunday, May 15, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
John Bazemore
May 15, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) After a pair of dominating wins, Katie Ledecky finally met her match at the Atlanta Classic.

It wasn't exactly a fair fight.

Ledecky finished third in the 100-meter freestyle Sunday, failing to catch Simone Manuel or Lia Neal after a sluggish start. Manuel won in 54.11 seconds, holding off Neal on the return lap. The runner-up touched in 54.31, followed by Ledecky at 54.55.

Ledecky was sixth at the turn and couldn't make up the gap, even though she posted the second-fastest time (27.89) on the return lap. Then again, she was competing about 50 minutes after finishing fifth in the 200 individual medley, an event that won't be part of her program at the U.S. Olympic trials next month.

''I feel great where I am heading into trials,'' Ledecky said, standing on the deck at Georgia Tech's aquatic center after her warmdown. ''I got a lot of good information, swam well, and I'm excited for the next couple of weeks.''

Ledecky easily won the 200 and 400 free over the first two days of the meet, to go along with a third-place showing in the 400 IM. The competition was much tougher in the 100 free, with a final that included four other Olympic medalists as well as Manuel, who has won relay golds at the last two world championships.

The 19-year-old Ledecky failed to match her best time in the 100, a 53.75 at the Austin Grand Prix in January. That had been the fastest for an American women this year until Dana Vollmer beat it Sunday, posting a time of 53.59 in the morning prelims at the Charlotte Grand Prix.

''It was a good swim,'' Ledecky said. ''That's a good time for me right now. Moving forward, we'll just work on the little things for that, and it should come together.''

Ledecky came to Atlanta thinking this would be her last meet before the trials, which begin June 26 in Omaha, Nebraska. But coach Bruce Gemmell said Sunday he might change things up, throwing out the possibility of entering either an invitational meet in Austin or a USA Swimming Grand Prix event in Indianapolis, both scheduled for the first weekend of June.

''I'll do whatever Bruce thinks is best for me moving forward,'' Ledecky said with a shrug.

Manuel was pleased to come out on top in a field with so many top competitors, but she didn't think it was one of her best performances.

''I definitely think I have some things to work on,'' said Manuel, who is taking a year off from Stanford to pursue her Olympic shot. ''But sometimes the best you can do is get your hand on the wall first, so I'm happy about that.''

Nathan Adrian added another victory as well, dominating the men's 100 free after taking the 50 free the previous night.

The defending Olympic gold medalist in the 100, Adrian finished strong in the down-and-back dash for a time of 48.29 - about a half-body length ahead of Brazil's Marcelo Chierighini. Afterward, the winner went for a long massage and was one of the last swimmers to leave the building, rushing out just before nightfall.

''It was not very easy,'' he said. ''Right now, we're at that point where you have to work for everything. There's not anything that's coming easy. Even talking to some of my teammates, we're like, `Dang, I didn't feel like I was going that fast.' Which is a good thing, right? But being swimmers, the nature of the sport, we always want to be better, faster, stronger all the time.''

Gemmell said his main focus now is ensuring that Ledecky is at her best for the Olympic trials, where she will likely be entered in four freestyle events.

She is the world record-holder and a huge favorite in the 400 and the 800, and now looks like the swimmer to beat in the 200. The 100 is more of a wild card, with Gemmell figuring there's a dozen swimmers with a legitimate shot to earn a shot on the Olympic team.

The top two in each event will qualify for the Rio Games, while the top six in the 100 and 200 earn a spot in the pool of swimmers eligible for the freestyle relays.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Ledecky said. ''I'm happy.''


Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry

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