KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Katie Ledecky is making the most of her return to the city where she and the rest of the U.S. Olympic swim team trained before the 2012 Summer Games.
Ledecky won a rare 500-yard freestyle matchup with fellow Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin on Thursday to highlight the opening day of the Winter National Championships at the University of Tennessee's Allan Jones Aquatic Center.
Ledecky, a 16-year-old from Bethesda, Md., won in 4 minutes, 32.37 seconds. Franklin was second with a time of 4:34.63.
For the first half of the race, Ledecky was on pace to break the American record of 4:30.47 set by Katie Hoff in 2007.
"I think I went out a little quick," Ledecky said. "I wasn't able to hold on. It's something I can learn from."
Franklin also swam with her University of California teammates on the winning 400 medley relay team (3:29.91) and the second-place 200 freestyle relay team (1:28.44). Franklin, Elizabeth Pelton, Rachel Bootsma and Marina Garcia set a meet record in the 400 medley relay.
Competing with Ledecky in the 500 freestyle was something new for Franklin, who typically races shorter events. Franklin says college has given her an opportunity to enter events she typically hasn't raced in the past.
"I don't swim against Katie very often because our events are really different," Franklin said. "I've swum against her in the 200 free a couple of times, but I think that was the first longer one. I was so excited. How many opportunities do you have to swim against someone who's best in the world at something?"
This week represents a homecoming of sorts for both swimmers. They worked out in Knoxville before heading to the 2012 Summer Olympics, where Franklin won four gold medals and Ledecky earned gold in the 800-meter freestyle. Franklin said they're even staying in the same hotel.
"We got to the hotel and I was flooded with all these memories," Franklin said. "The barista at the hotel remembered my order at Starbucks."
This week's meet caps a productive year for both Ledecky and Franklin.
Ledecky set world records in the 800-meter freestyle (8:13.86) and 1,500-meter freestyle (15:36.53) in August at the World Championships in Barcelona. Franklin set a women's record by earning six gold medals at the World Championships. Franklin is about to complete her first semester at California and says she's still deciding on a major.
"If you asked me a few years ago I was going to do what I did this summer, I wouldn't have believed it," Ledecky said. "I've been working hard, and I was really happy with this year."
The first day of the Winter Nationals featured other notable performances from Olympic gold medal winners.
Natalie Coughlin won the women's 50 freestyle in 21.51 seconds. Nathan Adrian won the men's 50 freestyle in 18.89 seconds. South Africa's Darian Townsend won the men's 200 individual medley in 1:41.88.
Franklin wasn't the only California swimmer to stand out. Pelton won the 200 individual medley in 1:54.15 to edge California teammate Celina Li by a tenth of a second.
The men's 500 freestyle featured a Michigan flavor.
Connor Jaeger, a Michigan senior, posted a winning time of 4:14.05. Michigan sophomore Anders Nielsen was third. The second-place finisher was 26-year-old Michael Klueh, who swam collegiately at Texas and now trains on Michigan's campus. Michigan senior Michael Wynalda finished sixth.
"We're crazy competitive with each other," Jaeger said. "When you're racing against teammates, it kind of takes the nerves off just a little bit because they're your friends or whatever, but we're such crazy competitors with each other that it doesn't matter if it's practice, a dual meet, short-course nationals or whatever, everyone is stepping up to the block to win every time."
Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones teamed up with Tim Phillips, Dax Hill and Eric Knight to win the 200 freestyle relay in 1:17.06 while representing SwimMAC Carolina. The SwimMAC Carolina team of Madison Kennedy, Kelsi Hall, Katie Meili and Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace won the women's 200 freestyle relay in 1:27.19. Both times were meet records.