Freestyle queen Ledecky closer than ever to immortality

After failing to meet her own lofty standards at the 2019 Worlds and the Tokyo Olympics – she still won three gold medals – the American swimmer was unstoppable in Budapest. She added four world titles to bring her tally to 19, a number bettered only by Michael Phelps

After failing to meet her own lofty standards at the 2019 Worlds and the Tokyo Olympics – she still won three gold medals – the American swimmer was unstoppable in Budapest. She added four world titles to bring her tally to 19, a number bettered only by Michael Phelps

When you win two gold and two silver medals at the Olympics, you are entitled to indulge in a cheat meal of your choice and relive the memories of a breakthrough performance.

Katie Ledecky allowed herself a burger, savored her time in the Tokyo water and made sure the people who supported her knew how much she appreciated them.

But – and this is perhaps one of the things that separates the greats from the greats – she felt it was time to start over. After a tough World Championships in 2019, where she won just one gold medal and battled illness, and last year’s Games, where she was beaten for the first time in an event individual in three editions, Ledecky knew that she had to evolve to reassert her dominance. .

Eternal superiority

Seven Olympic titles and 15 world crowns were not enough; she wanted eternal freestyle superiority.

“I’m starting to change my mindset towards the future, but I’m also trying to kind of let the last five years sink in, and Tokyo in particular, and my whole career so far,” he said. she declared. The Stanford Daily. “I’m planning for 2024. I think each Olympic cycle brings new and different challenges.”

So Ledecky decided to move his base from California to Florida last October to work with Anthony Nesty, who won the 1988 Olympic butterfly gold medal for Suriname. Assistant to the US team in Tokyo, Nesty had guided Bobby Finke to gold medals in the 800m and 1,500m freestyle and Kieran Smith to bronze in the 400m freestyle; his expertise in distance freestyle events appealed to Ledecky.

The move to Florida also gave Ledecky the valuable opportunity to train with competitors who would push her – America’s top male middle and long distance swimmers.

“I was training with a university team [Stanford University], and I’m older than most other female swimmers,” she said. “I didn’t have too many mid-distance people to train with. I am thrilled to be part of the world class program at the University of Florida and training with Coach Nesty and the high level mid distance and distance training group.

Two specific challenges

Ledecky, 25, had two specific challenges to overcome. One was historic: she was looking to become the oldest women’s world and Olympic champion in the middle-distance events over the next three years; these endurance events have long been the domain of “young people”, that is to say, in terms of swimming, those 23 and under. The other challenge was its own greatness: when you’re already the best at what you do, how much room for improvement do you have?

“We talk a lot about improvement,” Ledecky said. NBC. “Of course, improvement looks a little different for me than for some other people, given that my times are really hard to improve. I’ve recognized that and learned that over the years.

Thus, interest in Ledecky’s performance at the recent world championships in Budapest was at an all-time high. She wouldn’t face Ariarne Titmus, the woman who beat her in the 400m freestyle in Tokyo, as the Aussie had decided to focus on the Commonwealth Games, but could Ledecky prove her best – dominance – wasn’t behind her?

She did just that, showing that some ‘old’ swimmers don’t die out as fast as they used to, and some prodigies remain prodigious ten years into their careers.

When she won the 800m freestyle at the 2012 Olympics at age 15, Ledecky was a teenage sensation. His gold in the 800m freestyle last Friday was a record fifth straight world title in the event, something no one else, not even Michael Phelps, has achieved. It was also an eighth consecutive triumph, through the Worlds and the Olympic Games, in the 800m freestyle!

“I think back to London,” Ledecky said. “I set myself the goal of not being a one-shot wonder and here we are 10 years later, so I’m really proud of that and still excited for the future as well.”

Ledecky’s time of 8:8.04 was within four seconds of the world record she set at the 2016 Olympics. “I’m happy with that,” she said. “The fastest I’ve been in a few years.”

sports monopoly

The fifth-fastest ever timing also means Ledecky swam the fastest 27 races in women’s 800m freestyle history – a sporting monopoly, if there ever was one.

It was also his 19th Worlds gold medal, just behind Phelps’ 26, and his fourth in Budapest. Earlier, she helped the United States win the 4×200 freestyle relay, two days after winning the 1500m freestyle, two days after winning the 400m freestyle.

She completed the 400/800/1500 triple for the fourth time at a single Worlds, more than all the other swimmers who achieved the feat combined. The German Hannah Stockbauer, the Australian Grant Hackett and the Chinese Sun Yang have only succeeded once.

At 25, Ledecky is the oldest of any woman to win a distance freestyle race at the World Championships (400m, 800m and 1500m).

And she’s not done yet. “This is just the beginning, which is extremely exciting for me,” said Ledecky, who said the changes to his approach are paying off. “There’s been a few things that are a bit different – training with the men, trying to keep up with as much as possible and they’re pushing me. I hope they feel they’ve benefited from my presence and a lot of work on my shot and my rhythm.

Ledecky’s stroke and rhythm are unique – described as a ‘gallop’ or a ‘dizzy’, she has a slightly longer right stroke than her left, in part because she breathes exclusively on her right. Its underwater traction is exemplary: its early vertical forearm traction is effective and less likely to injure itself. She kicks less in longer runs, only using a strong kick in the final stages and in shorter runs.

Along with focusing on his stroke and pace, Ledecky is also monitoring his competitive workload. When Phelps won eight gold medals at the 2008 Games, he swam approximately 3,300 meters; Ledecky swam 6,200 meters at the Olympics last year. It seeks to reduce it in the middle of the 5,000 in the big events by abandoning the 200m.

It’s not just the total distance, although that is a major factor. The more events she competes in, the less time she has to recover between races, which leaves her vulnerable to younger rivals – the most formidable of them at the moment being Titmus, Ledecky’s four-year-old junior.

Titmus had Ledecky’s measure in the 400m, beating it at the 2019 Worlds and the 2020 Olympics. The Australian also recently broke Ledecky’s world record in the 400m freestyle, which the American set at the Olympics of 2016. Titmus thus became the first swimmer other than Ledecky to break a Ledecky world record!

Ledecky however retains his superiority over 800m and Titmus no longer swims anything.

The rivalry has pushed both women to their best, and while they are not currently scheduled to face each other this year, they are expected to face each other in two world championships and the Olympics in the next two. years.

“Completely honoured”

“I can’t get next to her,” Titmus said of her rival. “What she’s done for women’s swimming is insane. She’s been at this level for 10 years. To be in the conversation with her, I feel completely honoured. I wouldn’t be here without her. I hope this will continue the battle, give it a bit of a boost, hopefully we can see how fast we can continue.

Ledecky, for her part, said she loved the thrill of being chased as much as the thrill of being chased. “It’s great for the sport, great to have someone like [Titmus] racing,” she said. “And I know there are also other swimmers who are going to be very competitive over the next two years. So this definitely keeps me on my toes. And I think we will continue to have great races.

About Maria Hunter

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