Rio Olympics 2016: Move over Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, we are in the Katie Ledecky era
Nine-time World Champion, quadruple Pan Pacific Champion, Gold medallist at the London games..wait this is not the CV of some veteran swimmers like Michael Phelps, or Ryan Lochte or Missy Franklin or one of the many demi-gods of Australian Swimming, we are referring to a teenager who has just about earned her driving license and is not yet out of her teens.
These achievements belong to arguably USA’s best prospect in the pool at the Rio Olympic Games, Katie Ledecky.
Still only 19, Ledecky took up the sport at the tender age of 6 as most swimmers do, inspired by her brother and exploded onto the international scene in the previous edition of the US Olympic trials in 2012.
Besides pocketing the 800m title, Ledecky gave evidence of her upcoming ability over different distances in the free by finishing 3rd in 400m and 9th over the 200m.
What followed a few weeks later at the London games was probably beyond her belief and definitely a huge surprise for the aquatics world as the then 16-year-old won the 800m Freestyle title at London with a timing of 8:14.63 smashing Janet Evans’ long-standing American Record of 8:16.22 and on the edge of the World record.
The world was her oyster over the 2012-16 Olympic cycle as she continued to decimate the opposition and break world records at every meet be it US Nationals or World Championships or the Pan Pacs.
2013 FINA World Championships
Ledecky made her move at the 2013 FINA World Championships in Barcelona from being an upcoming talent to the person whom the world was trying to catch up with.
World records were set in both the 800m and 1500m freestyle event and an American record in the 400m. In the 1500m, she shaved nearly six seconds off of Kate Ziegler’s previous world record in a hard-fought battle against Denmark’s Lotte Friis.
Barcelona saw her making her relay debut promptly winning gold in the 4×200 freestyle relay with teammates Shannon Vreeland, Karlee Bispo and Missy Franklin. Not surprisingly she was crowned the 2013 FINA Female Swimmer of the Meet and a crucial cog in the American Swimming wheel had arrived at a time when their biggest Gold digger over the previous 3 Olympics Micheal Phelps, had doubts over his own future in the pool.
2014 Pan Pacific Championships
At the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships, she won five gold medals (200m freestyle, 400m freestyle, 800m freestyle, 800m freestyle relay) and became the first female to win four individuals golds. Later in the year at US summer nationals, Ledecky broke the world record in the 400m freestyle. She also won the 200m freestyle and 800m freestyle, and now held the world and American records in the 400, 800, and 1500 freestyle events.
2015 World Championships
As the saying goes, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”, well it’s not applicable to Ledecky. Hardly burdened by the pressure of her successes over the previous 3 years she pocketed the 400m title without much fanfare.
But come the 1500m event, she set her first World Record of the meet in the prelims and followed it up with another in the final by dropping her World Record by two seconds and finished ahead of the runner-up, Lauren Boyle, by 15 seconds and finished when much of the field was turning for their last 50.
Gold medals flowed in the 200m freestyle and the 4X200m relay but her 4th individual event, the 800m freestyle event saw her at her imperious best as she crushed her 800m World Record mark set in 2014, reducing the record by nearly four seconds.
What about this Olympic year?
Business as usual as she consigned her 800m world record to the bin by clocking an astonishing 8:06:68, which was considered near impossible just 3 or 4 years back.
The USA Olympic swimming trials are on at the time of writing this article and surprise surprise Ledecky has already punched her Rio ticket in the 200m and 400m freestyle event. She is slated to swim the 50m/100m and 800m as well.
2016 sees Ledecky perched on the top in 200m/400m/800m and 14th in the 100m.
There is absolutely no competition for her in the 800m with her closest rivals still half a pool away. While Leah Smith may be at sniffing distance in the 400m. Unless there is a miracle these 2 distances simply belong to Ledecky.
Challenges will be stiffer in the 200m free with the Italian Pellegrini, Aussie Emma Mckeon and the in form Swede Sarah Sjostrom competing for the gold medal.
Ledecky will have a leading role to play in the 800M relay, but having relay mates like Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt will help. The world champions will be difficult to beat at Rio.
With a high volume of racing, scheduling will be critical and the stars seemed to have aligned favourably for Ledecky with the 400m up first on day 2 and the 800 at the back end. The 200 and the 800 relay are scheduled in between.
Come Rio, the USA national anthem will be played probably 4 or even 6 times (depending on relay team composition) courtesy this teenager from Bethesda, Maryland.