2021 Trials Vision: Katie Ledecky Striving For Inaugural 1500 Freestyle Gold

Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Katie Ledecky striving for the first 1500 free gold medal.

Each day during the pre-scheduled days of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials, Swimming World will take its readers back four years to the 2016 Trials in Omaha to recap each event, and will offer some insight into what the events will look like in 2021.

The women’s 1500 freestyle will be making its long anticipated Olympic debut in Tokyo in 2021. Katie Ledecky will likely be a little bit busier in Tokyo with the addition of arguably her best event to her schedule. Ledecky is the world record holder and 18 seconds faster than the second best performer in history. To call her anything other than an overwhelming favorite is an insult – no man or woman in the last 30 years has dominated a race like Ledecky in the 1500 freestyle. She has won three world titles in this event as she was unable to swim the final this past summer at Worlds due to an illness. Ahead of the first women’s 1500 at the Olympics, it should be the Ledecky show.

The Favorite

Katie Ledecky blasted a 15:29 in March at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Des Moines. Although she was nine seconds off her world record, Ledecky was the only American to break 16:00 this year, and one of two women in the entire world to break that mark since September. So yes, it would be a shock if Ledecky did not win. That leaves everyone else fighting for one spot.

The Contenders


Erica Sullivan. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Erica Sullivan, who was fifth in the 25K at the 2019 Worlds, was the second fastest American at 16:01 which she swam in January. Sullivan has been steadily improving the last few years as she also blasted a 15:23 in the yards 1650 last December, which was the fastest time anyone not named Katie Ledecky has ever swum. Sullivan did not swim this event fully rested last summer as her 15:55 in June came at a Pro Series meet a month before the World Championships. That swim would have placed her fifth at Worlds last summer.

The other major contender is Ashley Twichell, who is already on the Olympic Team by virtue of her sixth place finish in the 10K at last year’s World Championships. Twichell was fourth at last year’s Worlds in the pool 1500 with a 15:54, coming off a long week of open water racing the week prior. Since she is already qualified for Tokyo in open water, Twichell may choose not to swim this event in hopes of saving her best for the 10K where an American has never won a gold medal in the short history of the event. But if Twichell does decide to gun for a Tokyo spot in the pool, she would be a popular pick for the second spot behind Ledecky.

The Longshots

Last year’s national champion Ally McHugh may have a better shot at making the team in the 400 IM, but she has had success recently in the mile, most notably winning the 2019 NCAA title in the 1650. McHugh has not swam this event since September so she is a bit of an unknown, but she has been known to stay poised in a long and stressful race like the mile and could sneak in to the second spot if she swims the perfect race.


Sierra Schmidt. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Another wild card here is Leah Smith. In 2017, she won the national title and has often been the #2 distance swimmer behind Ledecky the last few years. Smith was a 16:16 in March earlier this year, but with a busy schedule already lined up with the possibility of the 400 IM, 400 free, 200 free and 800 free, Smith may end up dropping this from her program. But if given a lane in the final, Smith should not be counted out.


Kensey McMahon. Photo Courtesy: Jeff Hanson / Alabama Athletics

There were a couple other college swimmers that were expected to factor into the Olympic Trials here in Alabama’s Kensey McMahon and Michigan’s Sierra Schmidt. Both were favorites to take the NCAA title before the meet got canceled and both had really big swims last summer at Nationals. McMahon was 18th in the world last year while Schmidt was right behind her in 20th. Both have steadily improved and may just be able to slip in to the top two.

2021 Trials Vision

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2 years ago

She’s worked hard hope she gets that chance.