BUDAPEST, Hungary — Former Virginia swimmer Leah Smith captured the bronze medal in the 800-meter freestyle at the FINA World Championships on Saturday.
Smith recorded a time of 8:17.22 for third place in the event. The swim broke her previous best performance in the 800m freestyle by three seconds (8:20.18).
Smith has now captured three medals at the world championships. She earned gold with the 4x200m freestyle relay team and silver in the 400m freestyle. Smith will compete in the 400m individual medley on Sunday.
On Saturday, Smith joined Katie Ledecky on the 800m podium for the U.S. national team. Ledecky placed first with a time of 8:12.68, nearly 8 seconds off her world record at Rio de Janeiro, for her fifth gold medal at worlds. China’s Bingjie Li finished second with a time of 8:15.46.
Despite winning five gold medals, Budapest will be remembered as bit of a disappointment for Ledecky, the star of the 2016 Summer Games, who settled for silver in the 200 free and didn’t come close to breaking any of her personal bests.
“I’ve never walked away from a season completely satisfied, even last year,” she said. “I can really take what I’ve learned and use it moving forward. It gets me really excited. If that was my bad year for the next four years, then the next couple years are going to be pretty exciting.”
On the men’s side, 20-year-old Caeleb Dressel established himself as America’s newest star of the pool Saturday, becoming the first swimmer to win three gold medals on a single night at either the worlds or the Olympics. Not even Michael Phelps managed such an audacious feat.
“The comparisons are probably inevitable,” Dressel said. “But I’m not the same person as Michael.”
Yet it was downright Phelps-like the way he pulled off a remarkable night of swimming at Duna Arena. Dressel raced three times over the course of about two hours — and won every time. Not to mention, he had to find time to warm down and get to three medal ceremonies.
“I think I only had to run twice,” Dressel said with a smile.
The University of Florida student — yep, he’s got an algebra exam coming up Monday that he’ll be taking online — has won six golds medals in Budapest.
That gives him a shot at moving into more rarified territory: Phelps is the only swimmer to win seven golds at a world championships, which he did at Melbourne in 2007 as a prelude to his record eight golds the following year at the Beijing Olympics.
Dressel will be a virtual lock to win his seventh when he competes on the 4x100 medley relay Sunday, the final event of the championships.
Again, those comparisons to Phelps.
“It’s a tough question,” Dressel said. “I don’t know if I welcome them. But I know they’re going to come. I don’t think it puts any pressure on me. I just want to keep doing my thing at this meet and for the future.”
Dressel started the night with a furious dash from one end of the pool to the other, adding the 50 free world title to the 100 free he already had. He came back about a half-hour later to nearly break Phelps’ world record in the 100 fly, posting a time of 49.86 that was just four-hundredths off the mark set in 2009 at the rubber suit-aided championships in Rome.
The final relay was merely a coronation, the Americans romping to gold in 3 minutes, 19.60 seconds — eclipsing by nearly 3 ½ seconds the mark they set two years ago at worlds.
“Man, that was a lot of fun,” Dressel said.
Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom was another standout, bouncing back from a disappointing loss the previous night to win gold in the 50 fly and set a world record in the semifinals of 50 free. Her time of 23.67 broke the mark of 23.73, set in 2009 by Britta Steffen.
In the women’s 200 backstroke, Emily Seebohm of Australia shrugged off the roaring Hungarian crowd to take gold over home-country favorite Katinka Hosszu.
Sjostrom set her second world record of the meet, having already established a new standard in the 100 free while swimming the leadoff leg of the 4x100 free relay.