BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — A year after her breakout performance at the Olympics, Ruta Meilutyte is even faster than before.
The 16-year-old Lithuanian set a meet record in morning heats of the 100-meter breaststroke at the world championships Monday with a quicker swim than the ones that got her gold in London. Meilutyte hit the wall in 1 minute, 4.52 seconds, Jessica Hardy of the United States was second in 1:05.18 and Yuliya Efimova of Russia touched third in 1:05.24.
At the Olympics, Meilutyte won in 1:05.47, although she swam faster in the semifinals at 1:05.21. Meanwhile in other prelims, American teenager Missy Franklin got her first individual event off to a strong start by leading the 100 backstroke in 59.13 seconds.
Defending champion Lotte Friis qualified first in the marathon-like 1,500 in 15:49.18, just ahead of American favorite and 16-year-old Katie Ledecky, who was 0.08 behind. In a low-key 200 free without Olympic silver medalists Sun Yang and Park Taei-hwan, Robert Renwick of Britain qualified first in 1:46.88, Olympic champion Yannick Agnel of France advanced in sixth and defending champion Ryan Lochte reached the semifinals in ninth.
Also, Ashley Delaney of Australia led the men's 100 back in 53.60. Four finals were scheduled for the evening session on Day 2 in the pool: the men's 100 breast, the women's 100 butterfly, the men's 50 fly and the women's 200 individual medley.
There could also be some more fireworks from Meilutyte. If the Britain-based Lithuanian swims just 0.08 quicker in the semifinals later or in Tuesday's final, she'll break Hardy's world record of 1:04.45 set in 2009 at the height of the rubberized suit era.
However, Meilutyte doesn't have two-time defending champion Rebecca Soni to push her, as the American is taking the year off. But Hardy appears in form. "I blew my expectations out of the water already, so it's going to be fun," Hardy said. "That was just getting the first-race jitters out."
Franklin got her jitters out by leading off when the Americans won the 4x100 free relay Sunday. That was first up in her Michael Phelps-like load of eight events. "It was a perfect way to start off the meet," Franklin said. "But I'm really excited to get some backstroke in. So 100 back is the perfect event to come off the relay from."
Katinka Hosszu of Hungary qualified second behind Franklin in 59.40 and Elizabeth Pelton of the U.S. was third in 59.94. "Awesome. I'm good with that, 59.1 is definitely better than I wanted to be this morning," Franklin said.
Hosszu plans to scratch from this event to focus on racing China's Ye Shiwen in the 200 IM final. Franklin won the 100 back in 58.33 at the London Games. Can she approach the world record of 58.12 set by Britain's Gemma Spofforth in 2009?
"I haven't even thought about it," Franklin said. "I'm just going to go out there and swim and have fun. When you focus too much on a number you kind of lose what swimming is all about. So I'm just going to go out there and see what I can do."
Ledecky, however, is clearly eyeing Kate Ziegler's world record of 15:42.54 in the 1,500 — a non-Olympic event. "I definitely have a lot left in the tank," Ledecky said. "I just wanted to win my heat and swim a controlled race."
Ledecky won the 400 free in a dominating performance Sunday. "I just carried the energy and excitement from last night into this morning and recovered well," she said.