And we’re talking across males and females. Katie Ledecky, all of 18, and about to enroll in Stanford for her freshman year in 2016, is the fastest freestyle swimmer in the sport. Many call her the Serena Williams of swimming, which means, at her best and worst, she can compete and even, out-swim the males in her sport. This isn’t unheard of. Back in April this year, she swam a preliminary 400m race in a very relaxed 4:02.67. Phelps, perhaps the greatest male swimmer of all time, currently on a comeback trail after early retirement, swam the same heat in the exact same time. And Phelps was kicking. Hard.
Katie Ledecky is the name everyone should memorize. With the Summer Olympics in Rio less than a year away, she could do – and perhaps, surpass – what American sensation Missy Franklin did in London three years ago. Despite Franklin’s dominance that year, Ledecky – then a 15-year old teenager in her first Olympics – arrested imaginations with a trail-blazing 800m freestyle swim that blew away her rivals. She won by over 4 seconds in a star-studded field. She became the youngest swimming gold medalist in London. The commentators called it; they said she is the future, and she will be famous in no time.
Ledecky didn’t let off. She kept herself fresh in our memories. While other swimmers like Franklin have struggled to keep up the motivation during their formative college years, Ledecky, who is still out of high school, has broken 9 World Records in the last two years.
As we speak, at the FINA World Championships in Russia, Ledecky broke her own 1500m freestyle world record in the heats. She wasn’t even trying. A day later, in the final, she shattered that record again by over two seconds, finishing in 15:25.48. During her last lap, she swam in open water towards the wall. Her coach attributes her freaky success to her attitude of treating ‘distance’ swimming as longer sprints. Many male swimmers have admitted that she has embarrassed them in the pool, including American Ryan Lochte, who is already an 11-time Olympic medalist.
Ledecky currently holds the world records in 400, 800 and 1500m freestyle distances. She has an astonishing list of achievements to her name already, but none of it will matter if she doesn’t peak at the Olympics next year. There have been lesser swimmers than her over the years that have made their name at the event, and Ledecky is now expected to do much more. The difference this time is that she will enter the event as a favorite, and a champion. If she doesn’t get those gold medals across the distances, she will be heartbroken. It will be a packed and exhausting week for her, what with her ability over long distances; and dropping even one of the distances will hurt her.
The pressure is on her, but she just seems to be getting better and better.
She won’t be just another teenager soaking in the sun at Rio next year. Or maybe she will. The way she’s going, you can’t bet against it.