Remembering a First Glance at Katie Ledecky – Circa 2011

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Remembering a First Glance at Katie Ledecky – Circa 2011

Veteran Swimming World contributor Mike Stott penned this piece back at the 2016 United States Olympic Trials. As Katie Ledecky pushes toward a fourth Olympic Games, the piece is an enjoyable trip down Memory Lane.

While the name Katie Ledecky is now a global, household name, she didn’t really enter the American consciousness until 2012 with her near-wire-to-wire 800 freestyle Olympic victory in 2012. Many were surprised at that victory, none more so than defending champion and local favorite Rebecca Adlington. But not me.

Here’s why. I began researching a profile on her NCAP coach Yuri Suguiyama in spring 2012. Part of the article included an extensive discussion of an athlete the coach had in training. Suguiyama chose Ledecky. Not one to raise expectations, Suguiyama spoke in reserved but glowing terms of the daily training she was doing and a breakout performance at a recent Grand Prix meet. He admitted that in a yearly discussion of goals, he had raised the prospect of Olympic Trials. There was optimism in his voice especially as he commented on a “tremendous aerobic engine” that was allowing her to do sets that were challenging and, in some cases, she was beating the best males in his group.

A conversation with John Flanagan, another NCAP coach whom I have known for more than 30 years, piqued my interest even more. In viewing the competitive landscape for the women’s 800 free, we both saw a potential opening. And while Flanagan didn’t say outright that he thought Katie could make the Olympic team, based on a previous experience I viewed it as a distinct possibility.

Thirteen months earlier I had taken my middle school team from Richmond, Va., to the Metropolitan Washington Private School Championships, a meet in which we had enjoyed considerable success. I relished the possibility of starting the meet off with the 200 medley relay in which we had the top seeds in both the 50 back and 50 breast. My flyer, Campbell Brewer, finished high school as a 12x All-State athlete in three sports: swimming, field hockey and lacrosse. My freestyler was a solid performer.

Brewer, a bona fide stud, was admittedly tired. No matter, she hit the water with a 6.48 second lead over the second place team, Little Flower. 25.74 seconds later, our lead was down to less than .50 and we lost the race by .20. My assistants and I looked at one another with classic “what just happened” glances. What happened was we had just gotten smoked by Katie Ledecky. As it happened that 25.74 fly split was faster than all the female fly medley relay splits put up three weeks later in the Virginia Independent School State championships.

What Suguiyama had not dwelt upon when we did his profile in 2012 was Ledecky’s competitiveness. Believe me, he didn’t have to.

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