Does Swimming Need a Schedule Change for Paris 2024 for Katie Ledecky? 

Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Katie Ledecky (USA) prepares for the women's 200m freestyle heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher -- USA Today Sports

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Does Swimming Need a Schedule Change for Paris 2024 for Katie Ledecky?

Most people watching swimming on Tuesday night were shocked at what they saw in the two women’s freestyle finals contested. 

In the 200 free, Katie Ledecky missed the podium, and in the 1500, while winning the event, Ledecky was almost 20 seconds off her world record, and for the first time in a long-distance event, swimmers were within touching distance of her. 

After witnessing those performances, many people questioned what’s going on with the six-time Olympic champion. The answer is simple: nothing.

Leadup to Tuesday Night

Let’s look at her mileage before attacking the grueling double. Within 12 hours, she swam two 400 freestyles, one being her second fastest swim ever and the fourth-fastest performance all-time. 

Later that day, she swam the 200 free and 1500 free prelims, with about two hours in between events. 

The following morning, while all her competitors in the mile were resting, she was putting in another shift in the 200 free semifinals, posting the third-fastest time heading into finals. 

Finally, after four sessions of straight racing, where she racked up 2700 meters of competition, she finally got a session off. 

Compare that with all the women that beat her in the 200. Gold medalist Ariarne Titmus had the most yardage under her out of the four women with 1200 meters. Bronze medalist Penny Oleksiak had the second most with 600, while silver medalist Siobhan Haughey and fourth-place finisher Yang Junxuan each had 400. That’s up to 2300 meters less than Ledecky swam, not accounting for her longer warmup and cool down due to her event lineup. 

The Dirty Double

Swimming almost 3000 meters intensely in just over 48 hours puts a lot on the body, so it’s not surprising that she was a second and a half off her best in the final. 

In terms of the 1500, she only had a little over an hour between the 200 and that final. The 200 is considered a longer sprint, which means it requires relying heavily on legs. No matter how much cool down and recovery she did between races, Ledecky would still feel the fatigue from the shorter event in the mile. Combine that with the emotions of not winning gold in her second Olympic final in as many days and the overwhelming Olympic atmosphere, and no one should have expected her to be near to her best. I know it might be hard to believe, considering what we’ve seen from her over the past nine years, but she is human. 

Keeping that in mind, in future international meets, either the 200 free or the 1500 should be moved, so they do not clash with each other to accommodate Katie Ledecky. 

The men’s events do not conflict, so why should the women’s? 

Previous Olympic Schedule Adjustment

Additionally, while not in swimming, events have been moved to accommodate star athletes. Think back to Atlanta 1996 when track legend Michael Johnson wanted to attempt to complete the 200 and 400 meters double. Those two events traditionally have clashing rounds as the 200 meters start in the middle of the 400 meter rounds. Johnson requested the change, and the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF), now World Athletics, granted it, citing that Johnson becoming the first man to complete the double could boost Americans’ interest in track and field. 

Allyson Felix, the most decorated women’s track and field athlete, got a similar accommodation ahead of Rio, but she didn’t make the U.S. Olympic team in the shorter event. 

Given the precedent, FINA could do the same for Ledecky in future meets. The possibility of her completing a historical Olympic 200/400/800/1500 quadruple would drive interest in the sport not only in the United States but internationally. 

Ledecky’s performances so far this week should not be a cause for concern. It just shows that everyone is human, and there is only so much the body can endure. 

If we want to get the best out of Ledecky in her shortest and longest events, the 2024 Olympic schedule needs revamping.