Katie Ledecky’s Era of Dominance

Photo Courtesy: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

By Kevin Donnelly, Swimming World College Intern.

In her first meet as a professional swimmer, Katie Ledecky stunned the world with remarkable swims and silenced a lot of her recent critics at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Indianpolis. She put up a new world record in the 1500 freestyle and strong world-leading times in the 400 and 800 freestyle races. Her 1500 ended the longest world record drought of Ledecky’s career, clocking in at 642 days between world records.

Since the 2012 Olympics, where she burst onto the international swimming scene with her gold-medal-winning performance in the 800 free, Ledecky has dominated the face of women’s distance swimming. In six long course international competitions (including the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, the 2013, 2015, and 2017 World Championships, and the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships), Ledecky has accrued an astounding 24 gold medals and two silvers. The lone blemish to her international career came last summer in Budapest at the 2017 World Championships, where she took the silver in the 200 free.

A common understanding across the swimming community is that when you’re racing Ledecky, you will likely be fighting for second place. It seems that Katie Ledecky’s era of dominance has no end in sight. But just how dominant is she compared to the rest of the field? Let’s take a look at the three current long course world records Ledecky currently holds.

400 Free


Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Her current world record in the 400 free stands as a 3:56.46, set at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. At those Olympics, Ledecky finished a whopping 4.77 seconds ahead of silver medalist Jazz Carlin. Since 1988, no woman has ever won the Olympic title by more than three seconds over the silver medalist. Janet Evans was the last woman to finish more than two seconds ahead of the field; she won the gold in 1988 by 2.09 seconds, which is not even half of Ledecky’s margin.

Following her performance from last week, Ledecky now holds all 10 of the top performances in history in the women’s 400 free. Only one other woman in history has broken the 4:00 barrier, that being Frederica Pellegrini of Italy back at the 2009 World Championships in Rome.

800 Free


Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

The current world record in the 800 free is a 8:04.79, set at the 2016 Olympics in Rio by Ledecky. She won this race by over 11 seconds, again over silver medalist Carlin. Only two other 800s since the 1988 Olympics have been won by more than four seconds; Janet Evans defeated Hayley Evans of Australia in 1992 by 4.82 seconds, and Rebecca Adlington won over her closest challenger by 6.13 seconds in 2008.

Adlington is currently the closest to Ledecky in the event, with her winning time from the 2008 Olympics of 8:14.10 being the only swim in history to come within ten seconds of Ledecky’s swim in 2016.

1500 Free


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Ledecky’s win in the 1500 free in Indianapolis this past week pushed her world record all the way down to a 15:20.48. That time stands an impressive 18.40 seconds ahead of Lotte Friis’s swim from the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, which puts Friis as the second-fastest performer in history. Fewer than 25 women in history have broken the 16:00 barrier in the 1500 free; Ledecky has broken the 16:00 barrier on twelve separate occasions, including breaking the 15:30 barrier on four – a feat that no other woman has ever accomplished.

Ledecky has taken women’s distance swimming to completely new heights since she emerged into the swimming world. I’m sure I speak on behalf of the rest of the swimming world that I am extremely excited to see how she continues her success as a professional swimmer.

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

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
4 years ago

She is amazing! She is personable and down to earth.
I got a glimpse of her when the Rio Olympic team visited San Antonio on their way to Rio.

4 years ago

Silver is a blemish???

4 years ago

Awesome, seems super nice!

Jim C
4 years ago

To be fair, if you disqualified the East Germans, Janet Evans would have won the 400 free by 4.31 s in 1988.