With Her Latest Record, Katie Ledecky Continuing to Break the Mold, Achieve Greatness

Katie Ledecky -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

With Her Latest Record, Katie Ledecky Continuing to Break the Mold, Achieve Greatness

At this stage of her illustrious career, Katie Ledecky does not need to hit best times to be successful. Already entrenched as one of the greatest female swimmers in history, Ledecky added more accolades in 2022 with a sweep of gold medals in her three main events at the World Championships. Later in the year, she broke her first world records in four-and-a-half years as she made a rare appearance in short course meters and easily claimed the global standards in the 1500 free and 800 free.

While Ariarne Titmus and Summer McIntosh have made inroads on Ledecky (and in Titmus’ case, surpassed her) in the 400 freestyle, Ledecky remains virtually untouchable in the 800 and 1500-meter events. At Worlds, her winning margin was 10.73 seconds in the 800 and 14.74 in the 1500. And while Titmus would have undoubtedly made the 800 a closer contest, the Australian’s best time is more than five seconds behind Ledecky’s top effort in 2022. Ledecky has been winning these races since she was a 15-year-old at her first Olympics in 2012, and she turns 26 Friday.

Following the 2021 Olympics, Ledecky moved her training east to Gainesville, Fla., and the move immediately paid dividends with some of her quickest times in years. But her fastest times ever? Those were not really in the conversation — but this weekend, she did just that.

The swim came at Florida’s senior championships, a meet with zero fanfare while serving as a focus meet for a few hundred high-school-aged swimmers. Many of those in attendance, particularly those without qualifying times for a TYR Pro Swim Series meet (like the event one week earlier in Fort Lauderdale) or even without Sectionals cuts, must have been thrilled to see an all-time great on deck Sunday afternoon for the 1650-yard free.

And in that race, Ledecky swam her best time. She clocked a mark of 15:01.41 to knock almost two seconds off the American and U.S. Open records she established in 2017, in the midst of her sophomore year at Stanford. Her 1000-yard split of 9:02.82 was the second-fastest time in history, just three seconds off the American record of 8:59.65 she set in December 2015, just eight months before her historic performance at the 2016 Olympics. It makes sense that in a straight-up 40-lap race, Ledecky could have seriously threatened that mark.

To the outside world, yards records carry far less prestige than even short course meters records, but Ledecky raced yards extensively throughout her career up until the end of her collegiate career in 2018. Hence, these times are directly comparable to her past form, unlike the hardly-touched short course meters. And in the distance races, she is currently faster than she ever has been.

For what it’s worth, she pulled off this latest record in the muted environment of an age-group meet, a far cry from the adrenaline-pumping, team-focused college championship stage, and it seems unlikely that Ledecky fully prepared to be at top form in what was essentially a glorified time trial, not with lofty goals at stake at the next World Championships coming up later this year.

Now, it’s only natural for the speculation to grow. Could Ledecky hit best times — world records — in the long course pool? Maybe. Again, she will not need to swim best times for continued dominance, but any competitor’s natural instinct is to seek improvement, and for a swimmer, that means best times. It’s that pursuit of improvement that drew Ledecky to step outside the familiar and seek out Florida and Gators head coach Anthony Nesty in the first place.

But whether this 1650 free ends up as her last record-breaking swim or not, just appreciate that almost-26-year-old Ledecky is faster than her 20-year-old or teenage self ever was, and in a distance race to boot. Yeah, that’s impressive. Nearly unheard of, actually. But in the big picture, Sunday’s record was just another example of Ledecky showing off the traits that have made her an all-time great.

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Kathy Frost
16 days ago

We were there for my son’s championship meet (he did great!) and it was a super bonus to see Katie Ledecky swim an American record…only regret…my 14YO daughter (rocked her age-group championships the weekend before) was not in attendance and absolutely loves Katie!!

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