A look at Katie Ledecky's career as she aims to continue her Olympic legacy at Tokyo

Katie Ledecky
Katie Ledecky

Prodigious, outstanding, peerless - the adjectives fall short of describing American swimmer Katie Ledecky.

If Michael Phelps cemented himself as one of the greatest swimming legends, Ledecky has very much established herself as his female counterpart. Breaking existing records is child's play for the 24-year-old, who already has five gold medals from the Olympics and 15 from the World Championships.

What's more, she is never tired and never ever likes to rest on her laurels. Come Tokyo Olympics, Katie Ledecky will be setting her sights on adding four more individual gold medals to her illustrious resume.

As Ledecky embarks on her gold hunt, here we take a look at some of the highlights from her life and storied career:

#1 Family inspiration

Katie Ledecky's stint in swimming began at the age of six when she joined a community team, the Palisade Porpoises, where she swam with her brother Michael. Ledecky's mother, Mary Gen, as well as her godfather, Jesuit Father Jim Shea, have also been two of her biggest supporters.

#2 Prodigious school career in swimming

Always the first to enter the pool and the last to leave, Katie Ledecky started putting in the hard yards right from her school days.

Ledecky's dedication was rewarded with a spree of records during her time at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, which was her senior school. She smashed the American record as many as 13 times and even went on to break the world record seven times.

#3 Unexpected Olympic breakthrough in 2012

Katie Ledecky at the 2012 Olympics
Katie Ledecky at the 2012 Olympics

Even though Katie Ledecky had become a master at breaking records even before she qualified for her first Olympics in 2012, nobody expected her to win a gold medal at the age of 15 years and 4 months.

Ledecky's fearlessness is what sets her apart. She is never intimidated by the biggest stage nor does she ever fear competition.

These qualities came to the fore when she swam to the 800m freestyle gold in 8:14.63 in her first-ever international competition. The stunning effort saw her break the American record of 8:16.22 set by Janet Evans in 1989.

#4 Equals 48-year-old record at Rio Olympics

Katie Ledecky with her Rio Olympic gold medals
Katie Ledecky with her Rio Olympic gold medals

By the time the Rio Olympics came in 2016, Katie Ledecky was already an established force. With her stupendous performances in the intervening period, nothing but gold was expected from Ledecky, who was still a teen.

And the 19-year-old didn't disappoint. With 3:56.46 in 400m freestyle and 8:04.79 in 800m freestyle, Katie Ledecky set two new world records. She topped it off with yet another gold medal in 200m freestyle, where she finished in a personal best time of 1:53.73.

The achievements made her the first woman since American Debbie Meyers at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics to complete the trifecta of gold medals in 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle events at the same edition of the quadrennial Games.

#5 Best-ever performance by an American female athlete at the Olympics

Not only did she own the pool, Katie Ledecky even dominated the Rio Olympics across all sports. Ledecky finished her Rio outing with four gold medals (200m, freestyle, 400m freestyle, 800m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relay) and one silver medal (4x100m freestyle relay).

The accomplishments were unprecedented for an American female athlete at any Olympic Games. Ledecky surpassed Amy Van Dyken (four gold medals in 1996), Missy Franklin (four gold medals & one bronze in 2012), Simone Biles (four gold medals & one bronze in 2016) to become the best-ever female athlete representing the USA at any edition of the Games.

#6 Queen of the World Championships

Katie Ledecky at the Gwangju 2019 World Championships
Katie Ledecky at the Gwangju 2019 World Championships

Katie Ledecky's haul of 11 individual gold medals at the long course World Championships over four editions is unprecedented in the history of the tournament. Her closest competitor is Hungary's three-time Olympic gold medalist, Katinka Hosszú, who has nine yellow metals to her credit.

Ledecky swam to the gold medal in 400m, 800m and 1500m women's freestyle events in each of the editions from 2013-17. Illness robbed her of the chance to repeat the feat in the 2019 edition at Gwangju, South Korea. However, she still tasted glory in her pet 800m freestyle event.

#7 First winner of the 1500m women's free at the 2020 US Olympic Trials

With the 1500 women's freestyle event making its Olympic debut in Tokyo, Katie Ledecky will be looking to claim a gold medal in a new category this time.

However, it wasn't easy for Ledecky at the Olympic Trials. She had a 70-minute gap between the 200m freestyle final and the 1500m freestyle final. While the former could be completed in just four laps, the latter required a grueling 30 laps.

But Ledecky isn't one to be deterred by challenges and remarkably pulled off both with stunning ease.

Having secured her place in 1500m freestyle, Ledecky is already excited at the prospect of swimming the long-distance event at the Olympic Games for the first time.

“The men have had the mile in the Olympics since 1908. It’s 2021, and we finally got one," Ledecky said after her win.

Ledecky also emerged triumphant in the 400m freestyle and the 800m freestyle events. With the addition of relay events, the legendary swimmer could get an opportunity to win five or six gold medals in Tokyo.

#8 Aiming to create history in 800m at Tokyo Olympics

Although Katie Ledecky is known for her prowess in the long course events, it is the 800m women's freestyle event where she has remained unmatched throughout her career. Her unexpected London Olympic gold medal was followed by a gold medal and a world record at the 2013 World Championships.

The Stanford University graduate then went on to replicate her heroics at the Rio Olympics, where she swam to her current world-record timing of 8:04.79. Today she owns the 23 fastest times in that discipline.

With a penchant for creating history, Katie Ledecky will aim for another chance to etch her name in the annals of USA Swimming when she sets foot in the Japanese capital. Yet another gold medal in 800m women's freestyle will make her the first-ever American female swimmer to finish on top of the podium in the same individual discipline for three consecutive editions of the Olympic Games.

Having topped 800m and 1500m timings and trailed just Australia's Ariarne Titmus in 200m and 400m freestyle events this year, Katie Ledecky will surely look to peak at the right time as she aims to continue her Olympic legacy.

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Edited by Sankalp Srivastava
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