Is “Ledecky Fatigue” Setting in?

katie ledecky
Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Commentary by Joe Johnson

This article is a counter-point to David Rieder’s article “Kathleen Baker Fulfills Big Expectations to Become Three-Time NCAA Champ

I will start this article by getting this out of the way first – this is in no way meant to demean the performance of Cal’s Kathleen Baker at the Women’s DI NCAA Championships. Baker swam a terrific meet and won three individual events. The only swimmer to do so outright, and she should be proud. But, Katie Ledecky was more impressive and deserved the “Swimmer of the Meet” that was awarded to Baker.

There, I said it. Katie Ledecky was the NCAA swimmer of the meet and she should continue to be the swimmer of every meet until somebody proves otherwise.

Ledecky’s performance in Indianapolis was masterful. In the 500 freestyle, Ledecky broke her own NCAA, American and US Open records she set just a few weeks before at the PAC-12 Championships with a blisteringly fast time of 4:24.06. Ledecky finished nearly 5 seconds ahead of Virginia’s Leah Smith (an extremely impressive 4:28.90 in it’s own right) to win the event.

In the 1650 Freestyle, it is arguable that any swim that Ledecky had – short of going sub 15 minutes – was going to be slightly disappointing to us in general. That’s where the level of expectations now resides. ANYTHING NOT UNDER 15:00.00 IS A DISAPPOINTMENT! Are you kidding me? Ledecky went out and swam the SECOND FASTEST TIME IN HISTORY. While I understand that her time of 15:07.70 wasn’t the swim WE were expecting after her 15:03.92 back in November at the Ohio State Invitational, It was 21 seconds faster than Smith, 43 Seconds faster than Stanford teammate Megan Byrnes and almost 17 seconds faster than anyone NOT NAMED LEDECKY HAS EVER GONE.

And finally, we have Katie’s 200 Freestyle. The fact the she decided to swim this event perhaps came as a bit of shock. Going into college, the one question surrounding Ledecky seemed to be “will she be able to sprint short-course?” During the course of her freshman season, the answer has been decidedly “hell yes!!”

Jaws dropped two years ago when Missy Franklin threw down a 1:39.10 in this event at this same meet. As they should have, it was as an impressive of swim as you’ll ever see.

But this year, Ledecky got up, went off the block and touched the wall at a “ho-hum” 1:40.36 (Can you feel the sarcasm? I’m laying it on pretty thick.) Don’t let the fact that Ledecky tied with Louisville’s Mallory Comerford fool you. They both went the 3rd fastest time ever – only behind Franklin. While Ledecky certainly has a ways to go to break Missy’s record, does anyone have any doubt that it will happen sooner rather than later?

Oh and let’s not forget the two more American/ NCAA records as part of Stanford’s relays.

So, what’s my point?

My point is this – Don’t take Katie Ledecky for granted. What we are witnessing here is nothing short of amazing.

Whether we’re just tired of seeing someone (Lebron James, Tom Brady) or just become apathetic to the seemingly impossible looking routine ( Tiger Woods, Randy Johnson), we take greatness for granted all the time. Just ask anyone outside of the Bay Area about the Golden State Warriors and you’re going to get an answer somewhere between “meh” and “Can they just go away?”

And while it’s only one award, at one swim meet, don’t let the Ledecky fatigue set in.

Ledecky HAS made the impossible seem routine. She’s quiet and unassuming and will never do anything to make you pay attention to her – nothing that is except drop massive swims on the biggest stages. Every swim we expect something never seen before, and more often than not, she delivers. Even if those swim are not the MOST AMAZING, they are still AMAZING.

Katie Ledecky is already the greatest female swimmer in history as far as I’m concerned. So lets sit back, enjoy the ride and soak in every moment while we can.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

45 comments

  1. Barbara Zeier Tokuz

    I think the two gold medalists, Ledecky and Manuel, should’ve shared it.

    • avatar

      For objectivity’s sake, putting aside overall event wins, American records and NCAA records, relay wins, and which team won the meet, (all of which favor Ledecky), here are USA Swimming power points totals for the three individual finals swims each at NCAAs:

      1. Ledecky total of 3349 (1128-1088-1128)

      2. Baker total of 3315 (1085-1140-1090)

      3. Manuel total of 3242 (1057-1077-1108)

  2. Albert Alejo

    Katie Ledecky should be the NCAA Swimmer of the meet…!!

  3. Jessica Bauer

    Love this part: “Ledecky HAS made the impossible seem routine. She’s quiet and unassuming and will never do anything to make you pay attention to her – nothing that is except drop massive swims on the biggest stages. Every swim we expect something never seen before, and more often than not, she delivers. Even if those swim are not the MOST AMAZING, they are still AMAZING.”

    You’re so right.

  4. Mark Schwartz

    You hit the nail right on the head. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was ever so slightly disappointed that she didn’t crack 15 minutes in the 1650. It is astonishing how she seems to accomplish the amazing every time she jumps in the pool. We are all a little spoiled I guess.

  5. avatar
    Dave

    Amen!

  6. Mary-Helen Hopkins

    I totally agree with the writer of this article! I am an avid Ledecky fan and I often think of “channeling my inner Katie Ledecky” even though I’m 66 years old and Katie could pretty well swim circles around me.

  7. avatar
    flutterby

    She also broke the NCAA record for the 1000 free on her way to winning the 1650.

  8. avatar

    THANK YOU…..i’ll bet if you counted all the fans swimmers….etc….this is the ARTICLE that should of been written the day AFTER the MEET…..but to be honest..its the ONLY major award Baker will ever get….so she can have this one and we will see who’s who””’ Nats and Worlds are soon to be here..and that will SHUT up the OH>>> Katie tied…ohhhh KATIE lost swimmer of meet…OHHH Katie looks BORED…people

  9. avatar
    Bill Bell

    At the risk of being called a “nattering nabobs of negativism” ( hmmm, where havre heard that before?) I say Baker is more than deserving of the award. She won three individual races, besting the defending champ in two of ’em and the American/ NCAA record- holder in a third, had the second- fastest 100 back in history leading off the 400 MR, and was key to keeping Cal w/ in striking distance of Stanford for the team title.
    Ledecky had a great meet but Comerford tied her in the 200 and she DIDN’T go sub-15:00.0 in the mile so I say Baker had the better overall meet.
    Besides: Ledecky wins these types of awards every tine she dives off the blocks so spread the wealth a bit and give Baker her due.
    She had a helluva meet and is more than deserving of the award.
    Ledecky’ll win Swimmer of Championships @ Budapest when she goes 1:45 (200), 3:45 (400), 7;50 (800) and 14;45 (mike) so no matter what Hossszu does shell get it so let that be enough for the year.

    Oh and if the female GOAT opts for the 400 IM this summer ( diversity?) she should go sub/4:00 — essily!

    • avatar
      flutterby

      I agree with Bill.

    • avatar
      Eric Patrick

      — “Besides: Ledecky wins these types of awards every tine she dives off the blocks”

      I think that’s kinda the point.

    • avatar

      Ledecky bested the two-time defending champ in two of her races and Olympic gold medalists in all 3 of her indiv races, including the fastest American sprinter ever. I think I saw that it has been something like three decades since a swimmer swept titles in the 200-500-1650 Free at NCAAs like Ledecky just did and very few swimmers have walked away ftom NCAAs with five titles overall. Plus Ledecky had an individual American record, 2 relay American records and 4 NCAA records. Also, Ledecky outsplit Baker in both relay finals in which they both swam, with Stanford winning both. Hard to argue iwth that. Cal lost by more points than any runner-up team in the last 14 years, so Baker was not keeping them within striking distance of anything, Cal had to battle to hold on to 2nd place.

  10. avatar
    Dale

    Great article ! Seriously people, be present and enjoy this.

  11. Georgean Wegrzyn

    Totally agree! She is the greatest! My swimming hero

  12. avatar
    Barry

    I think we’re tired of Brady because he and his team cheat. We’re tired of cheating.

  13. avatar
    YY

    Can anybody explain what was the good purpose to be tapered for the Pac-12 and to not be at the peak at NCAA? Team’s interests? She is 20 yo already. It’s time to be a little bit selfish. What do we prefer: Stanford winning in numerous dual meets and conferences? Or we want the rarest talent in sport to compete at the most prestigious and challenging competitions and to be trained correspondingly. Katie you have this “college team swimming” experience for one year. It’s enough. You won’t get anything new if you continue to swim for the Meehan’s glory. Go to the environment where people understand what they are dealing with and help you to progress while it is still possible. There were practically no changes in SCY results since you graduated high school. And all these little changes are just reflection of great form achieved in 2016 working with Bruce Gemmell.

    • avatar
      Jay

      She didn’t taper for Pac-12s….

      • avatar
        YY

        Sure, and bettering American record at 500 and improving personal best at 400IM by 3sec setting with that new American mark and swimming with the smile her personal best at 200 right immediately after that and struggling to improve her personal best just two weeks later having at the same time deceptive feelings that she can do much more (by her words) – all that strongly suggests that she was still at hard training at the beginning of March.
        Or it indicates that she had same physical abilities both at conference and championships, that her tapering process started prior Pac-12 conference and that she was overtapered last week.
        But of course I haven’t had conversation neither with Katie nor with her coach and everything is unique about her. So you may be right and Ledecky started unusually unsuccessful tapering process right after Pac-12 conference or wasn’t tapered at all.

    • avatar
      CJ

      Ledecky has stated several times that she is enjoying the college experience. She just turned 20 years old. Ledecky needs to do what makes her happy. She is easily the most dominant LC female swimmer….EVER, and her enjoying being a collegiate athlete….by choice…. won’t change that. She is awesome in ANY pool! She’s not swimming for Meehan’s glory. She chose to swim in college because it is what she wants to do. It is not unusual for athletes to struggle to some degree when they transition from home to college. Overall, Ledecky has done well (better than most). Kudos to Ledecky for doing what makes her happy.

      • avatar
        YY

        If that is what makes her happy then let it be, regardless what fans want from her. She did already enough. But from my point of view of selfish fan that is a wasting of talent that comes in generations.
        Regarding “Meehan’s glory”: his two leading swimmers who were the major contributors to Stanford’s win left the meet being unsatisfied and from what I saw from stands not really happy. The coach WAS happy. Very happy. Strange combination.
        It’s true that Katie many times told that contributing to team’s success makes her happy. Have you ever heard from Greg Meehan what his plans about Katie are. I haven’t. Maybe it is a great secret. Or maybe there are no particular plans. The situation is quite different from what it was with Bruce Gemmell, who also was responsible for many swimmers but was deeply involved professionally and emotionally into Katie’s development.

  14. Jocelyne Humbert O

    No way, she is amazing and changing women’s swimming for the best while putting distance on the map

  15. Sherry Rodvold

    Never get tired hearing about this amazing athlete and human being? such an inspiration

  16. avatar

    Great article. I think the question that should be asked is “Did Ledecky just have the best NCAA season of any swimmer ever?” 9 American Records and 12 NCAA records broken across 5 individual events and relays by one swimmer? 4 Pac-12 titles with 2 ARs? 5 NCAA titles with 3 ARs? Are you kidding me? Has that ever been done before? And that Stanford team–Meehan had those gals rolling. Total juggernaut.

  17. Eric Belt

    right; easy to find flaws in someone else rather than concentrate/focus on yourself.

  18. Meg Murphy

    Love this woman and what she has done for swimming!

  19. avatar
    Leander

    Who scored more individual points, Katie Ledecky or Kathleen Baker? Kathleen Baker.

    Who swam on more relays, Katie Ledecky or Kathleen Baker? Kathleen Baker.

    Why would you give the swimmer of the meet award to the swimmer who scored fewer individual points and contributed less to her team’s relays?

    • avatar

      then change the AWARD to swimmer of the MEET…..not SWIMMER of the YEAR

    • avatar

      Probably because they had the same number of individual titles, Ledecky’s swims were objectively faster overall via power points, Ledecky set an individual American record at the NCAA meet (something Baker has never done in any meet), Ledecky was on 2 winning relays, Baker was on one, in the head to head relay matchups Ledecky outsplit Baker and the Stanford team won both relays, Ledecky beat Olympic gold medalists in each of her three individual NCAA events in which she had to swim 3050 yards to Baker’s 1000 in the meet, Ledecky had 4 NCAA records and 4 NCAA Championship meet records (2 indiv, 2 relays) and for the entire season broke 9 ARs and 12 NCAA records across 5 individual events and relays, broke 7 Stanford team event records, and 3 Cal-Berkeley pool records at the Stanford-Cal dual meet. And Ledecky’s Stanford team won its first NCAA Championship since 1998 and beat runner-up Cal by the largest margin of victory in an NCAA meet in 14 years. So it’s probably fair that Ledecky be called “NCAA Swimmer of the Year”. I hope that answers your questions.

  20. avatar
    Jim C

    I would have given the award to Manuel. She was amazing in the 100 free, and as the greatest freestyle sprinter she was super valuable in the relays. One problem for both Ledecky and Manuel is that Stanford won so easily. California needed Baker to finish second, but there was no single swimmer Stanford needed to win.

    • avatar
      Bob

      Sorry, but I have to disagree. I think Ledecky was the difference maker. Stanford has had great swimmers like Manuel and Neal and DiRado and Lee and Eastin and Haase and Hu and Howe on the squad, together in various combinations over the past several years and didn’t win NCAAs (and yes, last year perhaps only because of the relay dq). But don’t underestimate the impact Ledecky had on the training discipline (esp of the Stanford distance group, which ended up putting three swimmers in the Top 4 of the 1650 Free) and on her pushing of others to faster times all around. In addition, the Stanford 800 Free relay set an American record at Pac-12s without Manuel, and with Ledecky anchoring with the fastest split. It’s amazing what having someone like freshman Ledecky come in and be able to sweep the 200-500-1650 free, swim an occasional American Record 400 IM, and anchor relays can do towards winning an NCAA title, LOL.

    • avatar
      Oren

      Hard argument to make given that Manuel lost to Ledecky in the 200 Free. Ledecky and Manuel were on two of 3 Stanford winning relays together. I saw interview online prior to 100 Free where Manuel admiittedly stated she was having a real disappointing meet.

    • avatar
      YY

      It’s true that Manuel’s record at 100 free SCY is very impressive. And that is practically all that we can say about it. Should she break the record with let say 46.03 and Ledecky should go under 15 min everything would look completely different. You will say that Ledecky had an excellent season and Manuel had just a good one. It isn’t the criteria that should be used.
      200 yards (180m) with four extra turns and twice longer under water part of the race is a competition for sprinters. I would say that it is rather closer to the 100m LCM than to 200LCM. Katie won this race convincingly.
      Also Manuel’s attitude towards relay is kind of strange. It is a well established pattern that elite swimmers like Pellegrini, Sjostrom, Franklin, Campbell, Ledecky, Heemskerk, you name it, perform very strongly in relay races and in most cases better than in individual ones. It’s quit a different situation with Manuel. Significantly slower. It was observed in Rio, it happened this year again. Just enough for the win.

      • avatar
        CJ

        Manuel owns the fastest 50 AND 100 yard relay splits. She faced a 2.2 second deficit as a FRESHMAN on Stanford’s 400 med. relay at NCAAs 2015 and managed to win it. She faced a deficit again at PAC 12 this year on the 200 med relay and delivered again. And in Rio, she anchored the 400 med. relay in 52.4….faster than her individual swim AND, her relay lead off in Rio was the fastest she had been in 2 years at that point. Lilly King was about a second slower on the relay yet she’s not slammed. Look at the NCAA results.
        Simone isn’t the only swimmer who swam the 100 free and led off the 400 free relay. So did Smoliga but it’s Manuel who gets called out. In fact, her relay lead off was good enough to win the 100 free title and was the 2nd fasted 100 free ever (back to back swims #12 & #13). She anchored Duel in the pool 2013. She also anchored the 400 medley relay At Duel in the pool in 2015. While she has her up and downs, ( just like other swimmers), I don’t see her as someone who doesn’t give her all and I’m sure her coaches would agree. Manuel, as well as her coach, admitted that she didn’t have the smoothest meet.

        At NCAAs I think Ledecky should have won swimmer of the meet; especially if it is considered “swimmer of the year”. But if the criteria is points scored, then it should be Baker. However, if they strictly go by placement and points scored, why didn’t Manuel get swimmer of the meet at PAC 12s where she won 3 individual events and all four relays?

        Finally, ALL of these athletes train hard to purse their dreams and represent their schools and country by giving their all. I don’t think ANY of them hold back. They are not perfect. They are ALL awesome athletes and we need to celebrate their accomplishments and not always look for something to criticize or nit pick. Ledecky, Manuel, Baker, and many other have accomplished what 99.9999% of athletes and 99.99999% of those who post on here won’t.
        They are ALL champions in book!

      • avatar
        YY

        @Cj: In no way I wanted to make Simone’s achievements to look lesser than they are. Quite an opposite: Americans got finally a sprinter of elite caliber.
        More over I sympathize her because a real sprinter who’s speciality is a few ( or frequently just one) short disciplines will never win “the best swimmer of …” award at the places where points and number of medals determine the winner. No matter how phenomenal the performance can be.
        But when I see the difference 0.6sec between individual and relay races at the same meet I’m looking for explanations.

  21. avatar
    Dave

    The award says swimmer of the YEAR, not the NCAA meet.
    This award to anyone other than Ledecky is an injustice.
    SHAME ON THE NCAA!

  22. avatar
    Eva

    KATIE LEDECKY should be the swimmer of the meet

    • avatar
      CJ

      Agreed!