Katie Ledecky Forced Out Of 1500m Free Final And 200m Heats By Illness

Pro Series: Katie Ledecky
Katie Ledecky. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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Katie Ledecky is out of the 1500m freestyle final: after withdrawing from the 200m freestyle heats at the World Championships in Gwangju this morning due to unspecified illness, the defending champion and world record holder has now forfeited her crown in favour of getting fit for a possible return to action in time for the 800m freestyle on Friday and Saturday.

Hard for any athlete to step back from the challenge, exasperating for a competitor with the drive and fight of Ledecky.

Greg Meehan, the head coach for the United States women’s team and Ledecky’s club coach at Stanford, told Karen Crouse of the New York Times:

“This is brutal for her not to be competing. She’s such a tough competitor, she wants to be here. If we can get her back in the meet at some point, that would be an ideal scenario.”

Meehan said that doctors had not diagnosed what was ailing Ledecky and that she did not want to make excuses for her lackluster start to the meet, which still produced a sub-4-minute effort in the 400m freestyle for silver behind Australia’s Ariarne Titmus on Sunday. That race marked Ledecky’s only defeat over 400m in international waters.

It now seems highly likely that there may have been more to Ledecky’s silver-medal showing in the 400 freestyle than simply a subpar race.

Just before the start of Day Three preliminaries at the World Championships, United States Swimming released a statement announcing that Ledecky was withdrawing from the 200 freestyle and that her status for the final of the 1500 freestyle would be determined at a later time.

“A decision has been made by Team USA in consultation with Katie [Ledecky], her coach and the team’s medical staff for her to withdraw from the 200-meter freestyle event on medical grounds,” said the statement, attributed to National Team Managing Director Lindsay Mintenko.

“The team will determine her participation in this evening’s 1500m final later in the day.”

Later today turned into a moment before the prelims on day 3 were done. Ledecky out, Spanish ace Mireia Belmonte, ninth in heats yesterday, enters the showdown tonight.

The nature of Ledecky’s illness has not been given but it appears that the Olympic 200, 400 and 800m champion  arrived at the championships with a potential problem in tow.


Katie Ledecky after the 400 – Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

“Katie has not been feeling well since arriving to Gwangju on July 17 and these precautionary measures are being taken to ensure her well-being and proper recovery, and to allow her to focus her energy on an abbreviated schedule,” said Mintenko in a USA Swimming Statement.

Ledecky’s withdrawal deprives the 1500m of its superstar: the American has the best eight times in history, topped by her otherworldly world record of 15:20.48 from last year.

Ledecky first won the 1500m world title in 2013 at Barcelona in a stroke-for-stroke battle with Denmark’s Lotte Friis. Subsequent victories in 2015 and 2017 were much lonelier victories, rivals well back from her blistering pace.

This is the kind of top-of-range swim we will not now witness in Gwangju: top 8 spectrum of 1500m finals 2013 – 2017, Ledecky the winner each time:

  • 15:31.82 – 16:22.87 Budapest 2017
  • 15:25.48WR – 16:09.57 Kazan 2015
  • 15:36.53WR – 16:09.65 Barcelona 2013

In Budapest two years ago, Ledecky claimed the 1500m crown in 15mins 31.82 to become the first woman to take the 1500m crown three times. She did so with the biggest margin of victory since the 30-lap battle was added to the women’s world-championship program in 2001.

The silver went to Mireia Belmonte (ESP), the bronze to Simona Quadarella, the Italian who is now among favourites for gold in Gwangju.

Ledecky’s 1500m trailblazers:

  • 15:36.53 World Championships, Barcelona, 30 July 2013
  • 15:34.23 Woodlands Senior Invitational Meet Shenandoah, USA, 19 June 2014
  • 15:28.36 Pan Pacific Championships Gold Coast, Australia, 24 August 2014
  • 15:27.71 World Championships, Kazan, 4 August 2015
  • 15:25.48 World Championships, Kazan, 5 August 2015
  • 15:20.48 Pro Swim Series, Indianapolis, May 167, 2018

Victory in Kazan in 2015 stood out as a timewarp moment in the sport.

The splits – WR for gold in the final

  • 59.04; 2:00.52; 3:02.46; 4:04.69; 5:06.89; 6:09.19; 7:11.38; 8:23.25C; 9:15.26; 10:17.23; 11:19.24; 12:21.24; 13:23.43; 14:25.62; 15:25.48 

The Timewarp:

  • at 2:00.5 she had made up the bulk of the margin by which she would break the world record she set in the heats the day before (see below); was a stroke away from the world-record pace of the first sub-2-minute ever seen over 200m solo, clocked by Kornelia Ender (GDR)* for 1976 Olympic gold. Only 15 women cracked 2mins over the solo 200m in the year of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games; more than 100 have done so this year, Ledecky qualifying for the 200m final after her 1500m world record and on the way to a 1:55.1 victory over four laps the next day.
  • on 4:04.69 at 400m, Ledecky would have finished 6th in the eight-lap final (she won in 3:59) on day 1 at a pace just 0.31sec slower than Lauren Boyle’s eight-lap solo effort; Ledecky’s split time would have won the solo 400m world title in all years from 1973 to 2005 inclusive.
  • on 8:13.25 at the 800m mark Ledecky was faster than any other swimmer has even swum 16 laps barring herself – and 3sec up on the pace the world record had stood to Janet Evans (USA) – 8:16.22 – between 1989 and 2008
  • at 800m, she was inside the 2008 world record of 8:14.00 clocked by Britain’s Rebecca Adlington for Olympic gold in Beijing; and inside the 8:15.54 that stands yet as to the 2nd best performer in textile ever (beyond Ledecky’s best eight efforts), Jazmin Carlin (GBR)
  • And then she came home in 8:14.10 from 700m to 1500m.
  • By the close of play, she stopped the clock inside the time in which Stephen Holland (AUS) set the men’s world record (15:27.79) for the Commonwealth crown in 1975; her world record pace would have ranked her 18th in the world among men in 1990; by the year of her birth, 1997, the pace would have ranked her 19th in the world among men; and in the past season, a sprinkling over 100 of her male distance contemporaries would manage to keep her at bay.
  • * – GDR athletes were fed banned substances to boost their performances as part of the systematic doping program known as State Plan 14:25: an estimated 10,000 athletes were affected. In swimming most were teenage victims of systematic abuse that led to criminal convictions among doctors, politicians and coaches in the DDR doping trials of 1999-2000.  

Ledecky had set a new pace in prelims the day before with this world record:

  • 59.09; 2:01.83; 3:04.01; 4:06.415:08.95; 6:11.18; 7:13.42; 8:15.29; 9:17.76; 10:19.55; 11:21.84; 12:23.58; 13:25.50; 14;27.51; 15:27.71 (30.73, 29.47)

The Timewarp:

  • at 2:01.8 she was inside the world-record pace at the start of the Babashoff/Ender duel over the solo 200m in the 1974;
  • on 4:06.41 at 400m, she would have finished 6th in the eight-lap final (she won in 3:59) last night and was just off the pace at which Tracey Wickham set the world 400m record in 1978;
  • at the 800m mark she was faster than Janet Evans (USA) ever went over 16 laps, the Americans 8:16.22 standard having stood between 1989 and 2008
  • at 800m, she split in a time that no other swimmer has ever clocked over the distance in a textile suit, 8:15.54 the 2nd best beyond Ledecky’s best seven efforts, courtesy of Jazmin Carlin (GBR)
  • And then she came home in 8:14.29 from 700m to 1500m.
  • By the close of play, she stopped the clock inside the time in which Stephen Holland (AUS) set the men’s world record (15:27.79) for the Commonwealth crown in 1975


  1. Halim Yussuf

    It’s time for Katie to heal up and come back stronger for the Olympics in 20.

  2. Jodie Murphy Lowe

    Hope you feel back to normal soon!
    This couldn’t have been an easy decision.

  3. Dave Hoover

    Wow. I guess I’ll sleep in and not get up at 4am to see the finals. Good luck Katie on hopefully swimming again before the end of the meet.

    • Donna Pim

      Dave Hoover your lucky our coverage of this meet in UK is shame full
      We see the odd rave
      Some only snips and usually 1 to 2 days after we already no the results

    • Anita Steins

      Donna Pim you can find the FINA coverage on Youtube but it costs 25 usd

    • Emily Daniels

      Bryce Whitehead and another douche in the pack. Meaning you… you’re the douche.

    • Barbara Harris

      Bryce Whitehead And you’re supposedly a missionary? Your comment tells everyone everything they need to know about what kind of person you are.

    • Bryce Whitehead

      Whoa whoa what’s with all the hate. I truly meant what I said. I had really good swimmers who would always win and when the lost it would truly affect them psychologically and physically.

      • avatar

        It’s ok, apparently the swimming world can’t take criticism. I feel the same way you do Bryce.

    • Barbara Harris

      Bryce Whitehead I’m 52. Swam through 1988 Trials. My husband swam and is a coach. My kid is an elite swimmer. Someone like you describe doesn’t make it out of 10&under much less to being the GOAT. Pelligrini is the reigning world champ in 200m free, which means she beat Katie at last Worlds

  4. Jocelyne Humbert O

    Our poor Katie, some other swimmers are feeling ill. Let’s hope they get better soon.

  5. Alexander B Gallant

    Katie take a break you earned it. Olympics next year, be smart. If you shut it down and let you body rejuvenate. You come back and kick butt. Love Ya.

  6. Pamela Wu

    Hope she is alright and feel better soon! ?

  7. Steve Skidmore

    Hey when you’re sick your sick..she’s a class act…in and out of the pool..bummer for her..

  8. avatar
    Igor Omeltchenko

    Kornelia Ender was a GDR (East Germany) swimmer.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord

      Just so … and * for – GDR athletes were fed banned substances to boost their performances as part of the systematic doping program known as State Plan 14:25: an estimated 10,000 athletes were affected. In swimming most were teenage victims of systematic abuse that led to criminal convictions among doctors, politicians and coaches in the DDR doping trials of 1999-2000.  

  9. avatar

    She’s really going to some great lengths to make it look like the reason she lost the 400 wasn’t because the better swimmer won lol

    • Emily Daniels

      Ivan Picado seriously? Contrary to the past few years but the girl HAS lost before in her life. She can handle that. Why are people giving her so much shit for it? If Michael was still swimming and he lost people would be all about “he lost but….he has 20something medals”. Katie lost this ONE race… give the kid a break and don’t be a douche.

    • Katie McNerney

      Ivan Picado she has lost before, people get sick. Have a little respect.

  10. Rachel Thomson

    What’s going around the village, with 2 other top swimmers withdrawing from the 200 free???

    • avatar
      Craig Lord

      Rachel, seems Katie arrived with whatever is troubling her – and Taylor isn’t ill. There’s no suggestion from teams of any sickness in the ranks. That all three withdrawals were in same race this morning seems to be a coincidence not part of a wider picture, as things stand.

  11. Paul Osborne

    Get well soon and come back stronger ?‍♀️?‍♀️?‍♀️

  12. Patti Day

    Team Katie…??
    Take care of yourself!

  13. Heidi Ho

    Laurie Ann O’Shea

  14. Norwo Ezra John

    too bad dont worry u still the champ. speedy recovery for 2020 tokyo

  15. Sharon Dees Hopper

    Oh no, so sad! Get well soon Katie, we love watching you!!!

  16. Kadie Sluss

    Feel better soon and swim fast!

  17. Laura Ashton

    Blake Ashton. Remember the time you puked in the hotel lobby

  18. Pamela Dewsnap

    Oh dear!! But it happens even to the great ones. Take heart xxxx

  19. Andrea Walter Ballard

    I am disappointed- I love watching her swim but could tell something was off in the 400. I cannot imagine how disappointed she is. Praying for a quick recovery for her and the others who are battling being ill. Never fun to work that hard and have to pull back.

  20. Eileen Kees

    I hope you get well quickly and come back even stronger!

  21. Danielle Denicola

    I could tell there was somthing off with the 400…I hope she feels better ❤️