GWANGJU, South Korea — Federica Pellegrini began the countdown to the end of her stellar career in style.
The Italian defeated a field of younger competitors, minus ailing Katie Ledecky, to win the 200-meter freestyle at the world swimming championships on Wednesday night.
Pellegrini, who turns 31 next month, is competing at her final worlds. She’s aiming to make a fifth Olympics in Tokyo next year before retiring.
She overtook 18-year-old Australian Ariarne Titmus down the stretch to earn her fourth career gold — and record eighth consecutive medal — in her signature event. The Italian touched in 1 minute, 54.22 seconds.
“I’m not sad, I’m so happy,” Pellegrini said. “I’m so happy because it’s an amazing world championships, an amazing 200 and I hope next year, my last Olympic championship, and after that a new life.”
Sun Yang was back in the pool but with none of the rancor from the previous night when he was booed and shunned on the medals podium. The Chinese star with a history of doping failed to medal in the 800 free.
Pellegrini joined Katinka Hosszu of Hungary and Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden as the only women to win an event at least four times at the worlds.
“It’s amazing,” Pellegrini said.
Pellegrini’s run began in 2005 in Montreal, where she took silver. She earned bronze in 2007 and then won in 2009, setting a world record that still stands, and again in 2011.
She was runner-up in 2013 in Barcelona, Spain, and in 2015 in Kazan, Russia, where Ledecky won, before winning two years ago in Budapest, Hungary.
Pellegrini worked her way from seventh on the opening lap to fourth and then second before overcoming Titmus with a last time split of 28.90 seconds to the Aussie’s 29.51. “I am too old for this,” Pellegrini joked.
Titmus, who stunned Ledecky in winning the 400 free, took silver in 1:54.66.
“She’s a true champion, world-record holder,” Titmus said of Pellegrini. “For her to beat me, I’m OK.”
Sjostrom earned bronze in 1:54.78. She received oxygen on the pool deck after the race.
Ledecky hasn’t been at the pool since Monday. She withdrew from the 200 free heats and the 1,500 free final on Tuesday with an illness. The American star is being monitored by doctors, but no diagnosis has been disclosed.
While Pellegrini is winding things down, Kristof Milak of Hungary is getting started with a bang.
He broke Michael Phelps’ world record by nearly 0.8 of a second in winning the 200 butterfly.
Beth Harris is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/With-Katie-Ledecky-ailing-Federica-Pellegrini-14125546.php.