Kazan: There aren`t enough superlatives to describe Katie Ledecky`s freestyle dominance at the world swimming championships, and for superstar Michael Phelps no words at all to describe the struggles of the rest of the US team.
"Honestly, I really don`t know what to say about what I`ve seen over there," said Phelps, the 18-time Olympic gold medallist who is watching the worlds in Kazan, Russia, from afar as part of the sanctions handed down in the wake of his drink-driving arrest in September.
Phelps was stunned to see the US men fail to qualify for the 4x100m freestyle relay on the opening day of competition in the pool.
It`s an event the United States have won in 11 of 15 prior world championships.
"It`s kind of an interesting place for USA swimming to be in," said Phelps, competing this week at the US championships in San Antonio. "We`ve never been in a spot where we`re trying to get back to the top."
He said it would make for a "challenging" Olympic year in 2016.
"I don`t know what to say, where we`re going to be next year," Phelps said. "I`m going to do everything that I can to make sure that I`m as prepared as I can be and the rest will fall into place."
Thank goodness for Ledecky, the 18-year-old whose three victories accounted for all of the US gold through four days of competition in the pool.
With her 200m free triumph on Wednesday treble world record-holder Ledecky proved herself not only a distance great but a freestyle phenomenon.
"Otherworldly" was the word Phelps`s coach Bob Bowman used to describe Ledecky, who added the 200m free to her 400m and 1500m victories.
She can become the first swimmer to sweep four freestyle world titles from 200m-1,500m with a win in the 800m free.
"She`s doing what you have to do at that level and that`s continuously get better," Bowman said. "She`s done that since 2012, not only leading up to 2012, she didn`t miss a beat. She`s just continually prepared and improved. That`s what it takes to do stuff like that."
Phelps -- trying to extend a glittering Olympic career that reached its zenith with his record eight gold medals in Beijing in 2008 -- said he remembers what it`s like to dominate as Ledecky does.
"A long time ago, but been there," he said, drawing a laugh.
"She wants it. She`s hungry. It`s good to see her just continually dominating."
Phelps expects Ledecky to make it "pretty challenging" for the rest of the world as the Rio Games approach.
But in other areas it could be the USA, long a powerhouse in the pool, being challenged.
Bowman predicted that the prestigious men`s 4x100m free relay will only get tougher, with other nations putting their top sprinters in the heats.
"We`re going to have to have other people step up," Phelps said.