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Swimming stunner: U.S. star Ledecky suffers 1st career loss at worlds

Swimmer Federica Pellegrini extended her medal run at the world championships Wednesday, clocking one minute 54.73 seconds to upset reigning Olympic champion Katie Ledecky in the women's 200-metre freestyle final in Budapest.

Italy's Federica Pellegrini overtakes reigning Olympic champ to win women's 200m

Italy’s Federica Pellegrini upset Katie Ledecky of the United States in the women’s 200m freestyle on Wednesday. 2:05

Federica Pellegrini extended her medal run Wednesday in the women's 200-metre freestyle at the swimming world championships while ending 2016 Olympic champion Katie Ledecky's gold reign.

The 28-year-old Pellegrini came on strong in the final 50 at Duna Arena, touching the wall in one minute 54.73 seconds in Budapest to become the first swimmer in world championship history to win seven medals in a single individual event.

Her run in the 200 free began at the 2005 worlds in Montreal, where she grabbed a silver. She was third in 2007 at Melbourne, then won the event at back-to-back worlds, including a world-record performance in 2009 (1:52.98) that still stands from the rubber-suit era.

Ledecky, the U.S sensation who was seeking her 13th career victory at worlds, was second to Australia's Emma McKeon for much of the race. Both swimmers touched the wall second in 1:55.18.

"I knew it was going to be a tough field and that I'd have to have a really good race and I just didn't really have it today," Ledecky said. "I can't complain really with the silver medal."

While Pellegrini covered her mouth in delight and climbed atop a lane rope to celebrate, Ledecky stared blankly at the scoreboard. She had never seen a "2" beside her name at the world championships.

But there it was in Budapest, where Ledecky's unbeaten streak in the second-biggest swimming competition after the Olympics finally came to an end.

Katie Ledecky of the United States looks at her time following the women's 200-metre freestyle final at the swimming world championships in Budapest on Wednesday. Ledecky and Australia's Emma McKeon, top, finished in a tie for second in one minute 55.18 seconds. Italy's Federica Pellegrini won in 1:54.73. (Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

"I didn't really feel at the end that I had that extra gear that I normally have," said Ledecky, who hails from the Washington, D.C., suburbs. "I didn't really see much for the last 50, so I was just trying to put together a good race."

Wednesday's result spoils Ledecky's chances  of matching Franklin's female benchmark of six gold at the 2013 worlds in Barcelona.

Perhaps Ledecky, who won the 200 two years ago at worlds in 1:55.16, was feeling the effects of competing in Tuesday's 1,500 free final, a race the 20-year-old won in a comfortable 19 seconds over Spain's Mireia Belmonte.

"I have seen many others struggle much more than she did with this double," said CBC Sports swimming analyst Byron MacDonald of Ledecky. "Notice she has not set a world record here and is a bit off her best times [in all events], so this double was going to be a challenge … and is magnified by her not being quite 100 per cent.

"This is certainly a small setback, but a tip of the hat to Pellegrini for capitalizing."

Favourite in 800 free, 4x200 free relay

Ledecky opened her six-race schedule in Budapest with a pair of victories. She dominated the 400 free, clocking 3:58.34, more than three seconds ahead of teammate Leah Smith but nearly two seconds behind her world record time of 3:56.46 in Rio. Ledecky also put the U.S. ahead to stay in the 4x100 free relay.

She'll be a heavy gold medal favourite in her last two events, the 800 free and 4x200 free relay.

MacDonald said Ledecky has experienced a longer adjustment period after changing coaches from Bruce Gemmell to Greg Meehan, who has worked to make the swimmer's stroke a bit longer and more efficient since she started attending Stanford University last fall.

"There is the school of thought that maybe it's not a great idea to change what is working so well," said MacDonald. "I'm not so sure I would have changed [Ledecky's stroke]. The worst thing you can do is set doubt in the athlete's mind that they might not be doing the right thing.

"But maybe [her being in less than top form] isn't the stroke at all. Maybe she just overtrained to try and get ready for such a huge schedule of events. [Meehan] is a superb coach and will likely chat with [Gemmell] and they will solve this."

Wednesday's race was a measure of revenge for Pellegrini, who set the current world record time of 1:52.98 in Rome on July 29, 2009.

Following a close defeat at the hands of Ledecky two years ago at the world championships in Kazan, Russia, the Italian entered the Rio Olympics last summer with a season best 1:54.50 before falling six-tenths of a second to fourth place in the final behind McKeon, who finished third in 1:54.90.

Late in Wednesday's race, Ledecky and McKeon had little left for the final lap after dueling with each other. Pellegrini's closing 50 metres, on the other hand, was a blistering 28.82 — nearly a full second faster than both Ledecky and McKeon.

"Everything seemed to be in slow motion to me in the water," Pellegrini said. "At 150 metres on the turn we were all there, so I closed my eyes. But I didn't think I was ahead in the last strokes. I was seeing the splashes …

"It's incredible. I didn't believe I would make it. I still can't believe it."

Peaty breezes in breaststroke

Britain's Adam Peaty cruised to victory in the 50-metre breaststroke, a non-Olympic event, but his time was a bit of a letdown.

After breaking the world record in both the preliminaries and the semifinals — the latter in 25.95 — Peaty settled for only the second-fastest time ever (25.99) in the final. Brazil's Joao Gomes Junior claimed the silver and South Africa's Cameron van der Burgh took bronze.

With files from The Associated Press

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