U.S. breaks world record ... and doesn't win gold

TOKYO — A Katie Ledecky-led U.S. relay broke the world record in the 4x200-meter freestyle on Thursday ... and lost.

The race was expected to be a showdown between the favored Australians and the Americans, and to some degree it played out that way. Both bested the world record (7:41.50) set by Australia in 2019. But so did China, bettering the two powerhouses in a somewhat stunning upset.

China came in at 7:40.33, just head of the Americans (7:40.73) and Australians (7:41.29).

The Chinese led at the jump, but the Aussies took the lead on the second leg. The Americans, meanwhile, languished in a battle for third with Canada for much of the race. By the third leg, China and Australia were locked in what looked like a two-team battle for gold. By the time Ledecky launched herself off the blocks on the anchor leg, the Americans were 1.94 back.

But Ledecky is a legend for a reason, even if she'd been dethroned in the 200 by Australia's Ariarne Titmus. Ledecky caught Australia's Leah Neale at the 100 mark, then set her sights on China's Binjie Li. Ledecky nearly caught her, clocking a blistering final leg of 1:53.76, .61 faster than anyone in the field and nearly two seconds faster than she swam in the individual 200m free final where she lost to Titmus. But ultimately she ran out of room.

For the American foursome of Ledecky, Allison Schmitt, Paige Madden and Katie McLaughlin it was a world-record effort that ended in a silver medal.

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