(Video) Katie Ledecky Still Aiming to Be Exceptional

katie ledecky
Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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By David Rieder.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Katie Ledecky is expected to qualify for a major international meet in a bunch of different freestyle events. Coming into this week’s U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, Ledecky is the top seed in the 200, 400, 800 and 1500 free, and she enters ranked sixth in the 100 free.

Sounds familiar, but much has changed. Nationals marks Ledecky’s first long course championship meet since her record-shattering Olympic performance in Rio, when she became just the second woman in history to ever sweep gold medals in the 200, 400 and 800 free.

Since the most prolific and emotional meet of her life, Ledecky has since moved across the country to start college at Stanford and left her teenage years behind. It would be perfectly understandable if she had taken a step back this year and was not in record-breaking form. Plenty of time before 2020, right?


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

But she didn’t. The last time she was in Indianapolis, she led Stanford to an NCAA championship, crushing her own American record in the 500 free in one of her three championship performances.

And after her abbreviated long course season of just three meets, Ledecky already owns the top times in the world in the 200, 400, 800 and 1500 free, most of them by comfortable margins.

It’s often tough to maintain that level of excellence coming off an Olympic Games, and Ledecky credits her coaches, Bruce Gemmell of Nation’s Capital and Greg Meehan of Stanford, and her teammates’ combined goal of winning a team championship for giving her the push she needed.

“I think that’s a testament to the coaches I’ve had, both Bruce and Greg, just having that smooth transition and communication between them,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed that team culture of working towards an NCAA championship. Having that to focus on right as I got back in September coming off an Olympic year goal got me fired up and got me going.”

The NCAA championship, Stanford’s first in women’s swimming in 19 years, surely helps the adjustment, but Ledecky has bought fully into the school’s culture.

She had to adapt to biking everywhere around campus—though she now calls herself a “great biker”—but she fit in right away on a campus where excellence—exceptionalism, even—is the standard.

In Rio, Andrea Lee, one of the top-ranked amateurs in the world, introduced herself to Ledecky and informed her they would be in the same dorm, and Ledecky also met Swiss golfer Albane Valenzuela, another Stanford freshman-to-be.

No wonder Ledecky found motivation to continue to surpass herself in that environment.

“I think everybody at Stanford is really special in what they’re passionate about,” she said. “And I think that’s what attracted me to Stanford, people striving to do their best at what it is they’re interested. For me, that’s swimming and school, and I could really devote my time to that this past year.”

Oh yes, there was plenty of school as well. Ledecky just finished up spring quarter in the three weeks before coming to Indianapolis. She didn’t offer any specifics on grades, only insisting that she “did really well” and “was happy with how my first year went.”

For the rest of the summer, it’s all swimming, all the time. And as difficult as was her program of events at the Rio Olympics, she figures to add in one more with the 1500 free. Ledecky is already the reigning World champion and world record-holder in the mile, but the event figures to be an increased priority now that is an Olympic event.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Ledecky wasn’t sure if she will swim the 1500 this week at Nationals—she might not need to, since the winner of the 800 free has first choice to swim the event at Worlds. Interestingly, she even seemed hesitant to commit to swimming the 1500 in its inaugural Olympic appearance in 2020.

“I was happy to see it. I think adding the 1500 was a long time coming, and it’s good that there’s parity in the women’s and men’s distance events right now. I don’t know how it factors into my swimming yet. It’s a discussion I have to have with Greg,” she said.

“The 1500 has to be in the conversation now. It makes things more challenging, having that in the schedule.”

But first things first, take care of business at Nationals and get back on the World Championships team. Get back on Team USA, so she can challenge the male distance swimmers during practice at training camp—which Ledecky admitted was happening on occasion during last year’s Olympic training camp.

“Uhh, yeah, a little bit,” Ledecky said sheepishly. “I do enjoy having those opportunities. Hopefully, this summer, if I make the World Championships team and I get to training camp, I can push some of them.”

If she makes the World Championship team? Uhh, yeah, we like her chances. A little bit.

Watch a full replay of Ledecky’s pre-meet press conference at U.S. Nationals:

Watch more pre-meet press conference videos by clicking here.

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Michael Maloney

    KL…like a BOSS….