Katie Ledecky Excited to be Part of ‘Meaningful’ Gender-Equal Olympics: ‘I Hope I Can Carry the Torch for USA’

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Katie Ledecky; Photo Courtesy: TYR

Katie Ledecky Excited to be Part of ‘Meaningful’ Gender-Equal Olympics

With an extra year heading into the postponed Tokyo Olympics, Katie Ledecky has had an extra year of training to prepare. She also has had an extra year to realize the impact that the upcoming Olympics will have for gender equality.

The 2021 Tokyo Olympics will be the first in which women’s swimmers will compete in the 1500 freestyle and the men in the 800 freestyle. Those events have been split up over the years with the men swimming the longer event. Now — finally — both genders can swim both events.

It is something Ledecky, a five-time Olympic gold medalist and record 15-time world champion — has been looking forward to. And not just because she is the world record holder in the 1500 free, but because she is part of a generation that is fighting for gender equality.

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Katie Ledecky. Photo Courtesy: TYR

“It is really exciting. It has been a long time coming. There is that history of why the 1500 free wasn’t an Olympic event for women for so long,” Ledecky said. “It is nice that there is the parity in the schedule between the men and the women. It is meaningful to me knowing so many of the great freestylers didn’t have that opportunity (and now we have it). To be able to be one of the first to have that opportunity is exciting to me and I hope I can carry the torch for USA Swimming in that event and get us started on the right note.”

That made it all the more difficult for Ledecky and female athletes around the world to hear the derogatory comments made recently by now-ousted Tokyo Olympics president Yoshiro Mori, essentially saying that women talk too much.

His comments, coupled with the feeling of many internationally that Japan has lagged behind other countries in gender equality in government and leadership roles, received immediate international backlash. He apologized before resigning.

“I don’t agree with those comments,” Ledecky said. “I think women in the Olympic movement deserve a voice and a seat at the table. Moving forward there will be good conversations that will come out of this, and there have been the past couple of weeks. I really respect Japan and how they have approached these games and hopefully we can come together and put together a good games.”

Having gender equality among swimming events will help showcase the issue.

As far as training goes, it means Ledecky will be training for both the 800 and 1500 in the same meet, something that doesn’t happen often. It is a big change for Ledecky’s possible schedule at the Olympic trials and the Games.

“It just changes the schedule a little bit,” she said. “The 200 and 1500 free prelims and finals are on the same day so that is two doubles for me potentially. That is a big range and something I am training for. I am getting ready for that. It doesn’t change too much in training, but I am doing the things that get me ready for that double.”

Ledecky, like all swimmers, had her training altered by the pandemic, but she said her training is going well.

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Katie Ledecky. Photo Courtesy: TYR

“I have been training pretty normally right now,” Ledecky said. “The first three months of the pandemic, I was training in a backyard pool, so that was very different. But since about Mid-June, I have been mostly training in my normal training environment at Stanford. We have been tested multiple times a week and staying one to a lane except people in the same households. I have gotten a big block of training in, and I am definitely someone who benefits from that, so I am trying to look at the positives that can come from this.

“From what I have seen the past couple of months, there has been a lot of fast swimming and we are seeing times just as fast or faster than last year or the year prior. It will be a very high level of competition. Personally, I am feeling really good in the water with where I am at. I trained really well last year and I have been able to keep that momentum going this year.”

One of the biggest differences has been the lack of travel.

“I am traveling to a meet for the first time in about a year next week in San Antonio. I am excited for that. I am looking forward to that meet and doing it safely and successfully,” she said. “There is a different feel to it some days, but not traveling has been the biggest. I haven’t traveled since the Des Moines pro series meet last March. I definitely miss seeing everyone at meets.”

That includes her friends as well as competitors. Ledecky has been the gold standard for distance swimming for several years, but international contenders have emerged. Ledecky has been defeated or pushed to the brink by Italy’s Simona Quaderalla (800 free), Australia’s Ariarne Titmus (400 free) and Canada’s Taylor Ruck (200 free) at major competitions since the Rio Olympics.

That adds up to women’s distance swimming being as strong as it has ever been.

“It is really exciting for everyone. It pushes me — and all of us,” Katie Ledecky said. “The standard in some of the races have elevated in the past couple of years, and it is a really deep field from all over. There are going to be a lot of great contenders in those races. It is a challenge. I respect all of those athletes as competitors and people. There is a great range of ages, too. Some athletes in distance swimming are older and some are younger than me. So we all meet in the middle and race. I am excited to see what everyone can do.”

The last time all of the international contenders competed was the 2019 World Championships. Ledecky was severely ill in Gwanju, South Korea, and didn’t have the meet she hoped for. Little did she know she wouldn’t have another big international meet for two years.

“It didn’t take me very long to get past it. It feels like a really long time ago, honestly,” Katie Ledecky said. “I knew I had good training going into it. It was disappointing and frustrating. Everyone gets sick, and I got sick at the wrong time. I was fortunate that it hadn’t happened sooner. I just got back into training and I was driven for the Olympic year. I miss competing at that level and it has been a while now. I think that just heightens the excitement even more for the summer.”

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Gay Shemorry Williamson
1 year ago

Katie is an exceptional young woman from an exceptional family. Lucky Team USA.

James Barney
1 year ago

I’m happy to see that the 1500 is being add to the women’s Olympic lineup, it should have happened a long time ago. I am a big Katie Ledecky fan so I hope she does well in this event.

1 year ago

I’m curious to see if the 800 and 1500 routinely have the same medalist or if a distinction develops between the two events.