Local Olympians: Katie Ledecky on Pace for Dominance in Rio
Stone Ridge graduate could become third American female to win four gold medals in one Olympics
Melissa Lundie Photography
Four years ago, during its primetime television coverage of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, NBC took a commercial break midway through the women’s 800-meter freestyle race with Bethesda’s 15-year-old Katie Ledecky leading the way. When coverage returned, the youngest member of the entire U.S. Olympic contingent announced her arrival onto the international swim scene by closing out the competition to win her first gold medal.
It is likely all eyes—and television cameras—will be on nine-time world champion Ledecky for the entirety of her races at this summer’s Olympics, scheduled for Aug. 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Still the youngest member of the U.S. swim team headed to Rio, Ledecky, 19, could become just the third American female swimmer to win four gold medals in one Olympics.
“I’m always motivated by competing against the best and going to the Olympics—I will be swimming against the very best in the world,” Ledecky said recently. “I expect good competition and tough races and that’s what I train for every day, to be in those races and be able to get my hand to the wall first. We’re all shooting for gold.”
Ledecky, who has broken a world record 11 times since 2012, is the current world record-holder in the 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter freestyle events. The Stanford University recruit—she deferred for a year to prepare for Rio—is slated to compete in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle as well as the 800 freestyle relay in Rio. She could still be picked for the 400 freestyle relay and if the women contested the 1,500 at the Olympics, she would be the favorite to win that as well.
Ledecky’s dominance since London has rightfully garnered much attention and has shined a light on the often-overlooked distance events—in a recent interview Olympic teammate Nathan Adrian told reporters he’s noticed larger crowds sticking around for the longer races, especially those featuring Ledecky.
But the 2015 Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart graduate has long resisted being pigeonholed as a distance freestyler and in recent years has proven she can compete at the highest level in all distances—she is the reigning world champion in the 200 freestyle and among the country’s best in the 100. In May she even finished third in the 400 individual medley at the Atlanta Classic.
Though she will not be an Olympic rookie in Rio, Ledecky, who last spring tied Michael Phelps’ time in the 400 freestyle at an Arena Pro Series meet, said she is just as excited to be a part of Team USA this time around.
There has been much anticipation since London over what Ledecky, who began swimming at age 6 for Palisades’ Montgomery County Swim League summer team, can accomplish in Rio.
According to Sports Illustrated, she is 1.6 seconds faster than anyone else in the world in the 400 freestyle and is 11.5 seconds ahead of her 800 freestyle competition in 2016, 7.5 seconds faster than anyone in history. But Ledecky never seems fazed by the pressure to meet external expectations. Her goal is to give her all in every race, and that effort happens to be the world’s best.
“[The Olympic team] wants to do our best in the pool to inspire everyone at home,” Ledecky said. “I want to enjoy it and not get nervous. We’ve made it this far, it’s kind of time to show what you can do. It’s your time to shine.”
This is the first in an occasional series about Montgomery County residents who will be participating in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August.