By Iain Rogers
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Missy Franklin blazed the brightest trail at the world championships in Barcelona with a record six golds but Katie Ledecky was not far behind with a rare treble of distance titles, two world records and a relay triumph.
Two years younger than her 18-year-old American compatriot, Ledecky even came away with the trophy for best female swimmer to add to her four golds.
Like Franklin, she seems poised to be the dominant force in her events for many years to come and prompted one rival to exclaim this week: "She must be made in the same factory as Michael Phelps".
Ledecky began the opening day of racing in Barcelona with gold in the 400 meters freestyle, becoming only the second woman after Italian world record holder Federica Pellegrini to break four minutes.
The Bethesda native followed that up by smashing the 1,500 meters world best to win gold on Tuesday and capped a stellar week with the 800 meters title on Saturday, finishing well inside the previous world record set by Britain's Rebecca Adlington to win gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The 800 title was Ledecky's fourth of the week - she also swam in the victorious U.S. 4x200 freestyle relay team - and she is only the second woman to win all three distance freestyle titles at a single world championships.
German Hannah Stockbauer won the treble at the 2003 edition, also in Barcelona.
"It means a lot to me to get this award," Ledecky, who is about to start her junior year at high school, said at a news conference on the final day of competition.
"I just had an incredible week and a lot of fun doing it.
"It was such an honor to be on this team with all these great swimmers. It was just one of the best weeks and I just had a ton of fun."
Ledecky paid generous tribute to Franklin before discussing what will come next after her triumphant trip to the Catalan capital.
"Missy deserves this probably more than I do," she said pointing to the trophy on the table next to her microphone.
"Missy definitely had an incredible week and we're all so proud of her.
"She's an amazing person and what she did this week we were all sitting there in awe every time."
Ledecky, who shot to prominence by claiming Olympic 800 freestyle gold in London last year, said she would sit down with her coach Bruce Gemmell to find ways of going even faster.
"It's definitely going to be tough to improve my times but we'll find ways and I'll just keep working harder and see what I can do next," she said.
Swimming the 200 freestyle individual event and possibly the 100 may be on her agenda at some point.
"We'll see where my career leads me.
"Right now I'm definitely sticking with these (distance) races and maybe adding the 200 if the schedule allows.
"I don't think I'll get down to the 100 quite yet but maybe down the road."
Her immediate concern is a more practical one: getting her driving license.
"I'm planning on getting my permit in the next week or maybe two weeks but definitely by the end of the summer before school starts," she said.
"I could have got my permit in December but I kept putting it off so hopefully I'll get my permit soon and start working towards that license."
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)