U.S. Olympic Trials, Day 1 Finals: Katie Ledecky Makes Fourth Olympic Team With Dominant 400 Free Victory (VIDEO)

Katie Ledecky -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. Olympic Trials, Day 1 Finals: Katie Ledecky Makes Fourth Olympic Team With Dominant 400 Free Victory

In her first race of her fourth Olympic Trials, her first inside cavernous Lucas Oil Stadium, Katie Ledecky brought the crowd of swimming fans to life as she raced in the final heat of the women’s 400 freestyle, a not-so-subtle acknowledgement of Ledecky’s remarkable accomplishments since she burst onto the scene with a victory in the 800 free at her first Trials.

Since then, Ledecky has become an Olympic gold medalist at age 15, a world-record holder in three different events and only the second swimmer to sweep the 200, 400 and 800 free at a single Olympics. She has captured 16 individual world titles, with her win in the 800 free last year making her the first to ever win six consecutive world titles. She is one of only four swimmers to win three consecutive Olympic titles in the same event.

Now, Ledecky has joined another exclusive club: four-time Olympian. Not that there was ever much doubt of Ledecky’s ability to qualify for the Paris Games, not with her times in three longest freestyle events all far superior to any other American (and her 800 and 1500-meter times still well ahead of the rest of the world). But she has now joined as group of U.S. female four-timers that previously included only Jill Sterkel, Dara TorresJenny ThompsonAmanda Beard and Allison Schmitt.

“It’s special,” Ledecky said. “I remember three years ago trying to process being a three-time Olympian, and now being a four, I tried to enjoy each moment tonight. It was pretty exciting this morning just to feel the atmosphere, kind of get those first-race jitters out of the way. It was pretty loud for a prelims. Tonight, I just felt a lot more comfortable walking out on that pool deck. Felt like I could enjoy the crowd that was there and enjoy the atmosphere and just try to soak in every moment of the process, the process of getting to the Olympics.”

And in ensuring her qualification for Tokyo, the first woman to officially book her ticket at these Trials, Ledecky showed vintage form. In prelims, she hinted at a potentially special meet to come when she covered her final 50 meters in 28.87 to slip under the 4:00-barrier, already more than one second quicker than she clocked in winning this event at Trials three years ago (4:01.27).

In the final, as Ledecky led from start-to-finish, she recorded a time of 3:58.30 the fifth fastest effort for her career. She has only recorded quicker times in the 2016 and 2021 Olympic finals, at a 2018 Pro Swim Series meet in Indianapolis and at the 2022 World Championships — but never at previous Olympic Trials.

As is usually the case in her domestic races, Ledecky was ahead by more than a bodylength after 100 meters, and she was even flirting with the world record, swimming slightly under Titmus’ pace through 150 meters. She fell off considerably after that, but the victory was never in doubt. After a few sluggish splits, Ledecky found her kick and tempo for the final length as she pulled away to secure the win and elite time.

Coming to Olympic Trials and securing her place on the team might be consistent routine for Ledecky at this point in her career, but she shared later in the evening that she refreshed by the challenge of staying consistent and working to repeat or make slight improvements on her times. Perhaps more than any single medal or record that Ledecky has achieved, maintaining her level of excellence without any dips has been the most satisfying.

“I feel like I enjoy this more and more each year,” Ledecky said. “I think it’s a testament to the people that I have around me, the people that I’ve had around me my whole career in Bethesda, Maryland, out at Stanford and now in Florida. Just really great communities that keep me excited about the sport, great teammates that push me every day, great coaches that believe in me and push me to continue to reach for bigger and bigger goals.

“That’s why I’ve been able to be consistent, and I pride myself on that consistency. I challenge myself to stay consistent. Sometimes it can be tough feeling like you’re not having a breakthrough, but to be really consistent is something that I’m really happy with. I’ve learned to enjoy each day of training, take in every moment and just appreciate the fact that I’ve been able to have this long of a career, stay injury-free, stay healthy, be able to do this this many years.”

That said, Ledecky is no longer the world’s dominant force in the 400 free as she was from 2013 through 2018. In the past three years, both Ariarne Titmus of Australia and Summer McIntosh of Canada have broken the world record. At last year’s World Championships, Titmus became the first woman ever under 3:56 with her time of 3:55.38, and she came up just hundredths short of that record Monday at Australia’s Olympic Trials.

But Ledecky’s swim Saturday evening was a reminder of her continued presence in the event as she moved to No. 2 in the world this year, ahead of McIntosh’s season-best time (3:59.06). The 27-year-old originally from Bethesda, Md., has consistently brought her best form to international races against the toughest of competition, including in a duel with Titmus for Olympic gold in 2021 when Ledecky clocked her best time in five years.

Titmus and McIntosh may have quicker best times, and New Zealand’s Erika Fairweather has also become a sub-4:00 performer, but history suggests that they can count on Ledecky being at her absolute peak in Paris.

“It’s going to be a great field,” Ledecky said. “I want to just continue to just focus on what I’m doing here and making sure I’m just trying to be my best self. I’ve always done a pretty solid job of the period between Trials and the Games in being faster at the Games. My goal is no different this time around, and hopefully that will put me in a good position in the 400.”

Behind Ledecky, Paige Madden finished second, just as she did in the 400 free final three years ago, and she has earned a spot in her second Olympic Games. Madden clocked 4:02.08, her personal-best time by more than a second as she crushed the rest of the field by almost four-and-a-half seconds.

Third place went to Jillian Cox in 4:06.89, just off her best time of 4:06.35 from prelims, leaving Cox, a World Championship finalist in the 800 free last year, in a strong position for the longer freestyle events later this week. Kayla Han, a 16-year-old now training near Indianapolis in Carmel, placed fourth in 4:08.21.

The moment, though, belonged to Ledecky, a chance for the Indianapolis crowd to experience her all-time greatness, the first time for many thousands of those in attendance.

Greatest female swimmer in history? That argument has been ongoing since the 2016 Games — eight years ago. Now, the title of four-time Olympian adds yet another data point to Ledecky’s sterling ledger, perhaps sufficient to silene any remaining doubters.

Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
11 days ago

Obviously a very good time from Ledecky (Leh-Dets-Skee). She’s clearly second ranked (a long way behind Titmus) in the 400m and should give McIntosh a tough run. Ofcourse NZ’s Fairweather and second Australian Pallister may be able to rock the Bronze medal too!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x