On Monday at the FINA World Championships, Katie Ledecky set a world record in the 1,500-meter freestyle with a time of 15:27.21 in the preliminaries. The performance topped her world record from nearly a year ago. And the previous record held before that? That one was also belonged to Ledecky, as did the one before that.
Then, on Tuesday, in the final of the same event, Ledecky broke her 24-hour-old record by more than two seconds, finishing in 15:25.48 for the gold medal in Kazan, Russia.
At the 2012 London Olympics, then-15-year-old Ledecky—the youngest member of the American team—burst onto the scene when she stunned the field in the 800-meter freestyle, finishing more than four seconds ahead of the rest of the competition and less than a second behind Rebecca Adlington’s world record. She told the Washington Post, “I knew if I put my mind to it, I could do it…I wasn’t intimidated at all.”
Ledecky, who lives in Bethesda, Md., began swimming when she was five and joined the Palisades Summer League a year later. Her focus shifted to swimming in the third or fourth grade and she won several junior titles before setting her sights on the Olympic trials and making the U.S. Olympic team. She drew the attention of two of the top coaches in the sport—Bob Bowman, Michael Phelps’ coach, told media she was a youngster to keep an eye on, and Teri McKeever, the 2012 U.S. Olympic women’s team, told assistants Ledecky would make the Olympic team.
Now 18, Ledecky is gearing up for her second Olympics in Rio 2016. On top of being the world record holder in the 1,500-meter freestyle, she currently owns world records in the 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle races as well as the American records in the 500-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle. She has been named Swimming World’s Swimmer of the Year in 2013 and 2014 and, for the same years, took home two Golden Goggle Awards for the best female swimmer, presented by the USA Swimming Foundation. In 2013, she won the FINA Swimmer of the Year.
Along with fellow American swimming phenom Missy Franklin, Ledecky will have a bright spotlight on her in Rio. Assuming she qualifies, she’ll look to defend, and maybe even break, her world records and stand on top of the podium.
Ledecky deferred her enrollment at Stanford University to focus on training for the Olympics—a demanding load that includes eight or nine sessions a week where she averages 8,000 meters per 2.5-hour practice.
Her hard work is paying off—in April, she even tied Michael Phelps.
Their 400-meter freestyle heats at Pro Swim Series at Mesa, Ariz., were about 35 minutes apart, but when both touched the wall, the clock read 4:02.67. The race was hardly Phelps’ best event—he hadn’t competed in the event in close to six years—but he retained a sense of humor, joking that the two should race head-to-head to break the tie. When Ledecky said she’d be ready to go in an hour, Phelps said, “How about now, while you’re tired.”
Clearly, Ledecky is ready to make a splash.