Is Katie Ledecky the Greatest Freestyler of All-Time – Gold Medal Minute Video

  51 Gold Medal Mel Stewart | August 22nd, 2014 | Featured, Gold Medal Minute, News, Video | Sponsored by: SwimOutlet.com

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Katie Ledecky now has the 400, 800 and 1500 meter freestyle world records, and she appears to be ontrack to threaten the 200 freestyle world record by the 2016 Olympic Games.

Is Ledecky the greatest freestyler of all-time?

Greatness, in swimming, is typically measured by Olympic gold medals, but for us — hardcore swim fans — I feel world record swims matter more. It’s pure, simple, fast swimming at any time. HOWEVER, I do believe Ledecky could win the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle at the 2016 Olympic Games. (And  I think we, swimfans, should start a campaign to allow Ledecky to race the men’s 1500 freestyle if the International Olympic Committee doesn’t include the 1500m for women in Rio. I love my Olympic family, but I’m embarrassed by how backward they are by excluding this event for women. It’s an issue, like fast food restaurants being sponsors of the Olympic movement. Our priorities need some realignment.)

Ledecky? Being the greatest freestyler?  I’ve looked through the swimming history books. I can’t find her match. Debbie Meyer won the 200, 400 and 800m free at 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, but I think Ledecky could top that performance in either direction. Ledecky could crush the 1500m (if it were an official women’s event), and I believe Ledecky can make Team USA’s 4×100 freestyle relay. Think about it. If Ledecky can final in the 100m free in Omaha at US Olympic Trials, all she has to do is beat two people to get a spot on the sprint relay.

QUESTION: Is Ledecky potentially the greatest freestyler of all-time for men or women? Please share your knowledge of the sport in the comments. 

Follow Katie Ledecky on Twitter here.

This is a Gold Medal Media production presented by SwimOutlet.com. Host Gold Medal Mel Stewart is a 3-time Olympic medalist and the co-founder of SwimSwam.com.

Comments

  1. Steve Nolan says:
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    Is she? Absolutely not.

    Could she? Well yeah, especially if she hits all the milestones you’re proposing. She still could w/o all those; she’s got hopefully plenty of years of swimming left.

    • Gold Medal Mel Stewart says:
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      …and the Olympics takes over. I still think WRs matters. But, yes, she’s got years to perform ahead of her. Still, I can’t think of a swimmer who had the 400, 800 & 1500 WR (all three this summer!), and won the 200 free at Nats running away. I was hoping someone, anyone could share some years when a swimmer performed at the same level….

      Still, she broke the 400, 800 and 1500m free WRs in the span of a month…

      • JUMBOSWIM says:
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        Tim Shaw? In 1974 in space of four days he broke Mark Spitz’s 200 m freestyle world record, Rick Demont’s 400 m freestyle world record and Steve Holland’s 1500 m freestyle world record.

  2. JUMBOSWIM says:
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    Let’s not forget Shirley Babashoff:1976 Olympics she was a finalist in the 100, 200, 400, and 800 Freestyles; winning 3 silvers behind 3 East Germans (she was 5th in the 100). . . plus she won the 1976 Trials in the 400 IM — an event she scratched once she got to Montreal.

    • Gold Medal Mel Stewart says:
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      That’s what i was looking for. Yes, Babashoff should’ve netted gold.

      Still, Ledecky broke the 400, 800 & 1500 free world record in a fabric suit. She topped the rubberized world records—the cheat-suit world records. That’s got to count for something.

      • JUMBOSWIM says:
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        Yes, breaking records in today’s suits counts for something. Ledecky is well on her way to becoming one of the top freestylers! Will she match Shane Gould’s world records in the 100, 200, 400, 800, AND 1500? Probably not. Will she hit that 200 world mark? A fantastic chance if she and Coach Gemmell keep doing what they are doing!

  3. newswim says:
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    No not yet and even if she medals in the 200/400/800 in Rio she is no greater than Debbie Meyer unless of course she is able to repeat the feat in 2020. It will be fun to watch however.

  4. olympic events says:
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    For those proposing the 1500 gets added for the women, does that mean the men get the 800 as well?

    I get that it’s archaic to suggest women can’t last a 1500, but the men and women still have the same number of events. I think the Olympic committee would be hesitant to add 2 new medals to a sport that already has a lot. If they replace the 800 with the 1500 that would essentially be the same for Ledecky in terms of potential medal count as she is equally strong in both.

    • aigues says:
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      Agree. Olympic committee tries to reduce the number of competitors, and they do much more unfair decisions : for example in fencing, they removie 2 weapons for each OG (for example women foil + men sabre). This is insane, fencers are specialized on 1 weapon and some of them won’t have a deserved medal just because of that. It would be like removing the breastroke…

      In addition, 800 and 1500 podiums are often very similar…

    • Gold Medal Mel Stewart says:
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      Yes, I’d like to see both.

      I’d also like to see all 50s, back, free and fly.

      I get that swimming has a lot of events compared to other sports, but I’m biased – period — about swimming. Frankly, I’d like to see the Olympics expanded, see more than 16 days of events. 16 days every four years is short in my opinion.

      • Schiller says:
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        Disagree on the 50s of stroke. The sport is already too focused on short sprints. Swimmer’s individual medal counts are already inflated due to the events being too similar. I would rather see an 800 IM or mixed gender relays.

      • Eagleswim says:
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        I think the biggest argument against doing BOTH 1500 and 800 is that last year, if I’m not mistaken, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the women’s events were identical. To me, that seems like having both is redundant. I do think it’s silly that men do 1500 and women do 800, but I think it would make more sense to have women just do the 1500.

  5. swimfan says:
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    Didn’t Shane Gould have every freestyle record in the book (100m to 1500m) by the time she was 16 (and then got bored and retired)?

    • Gold Medal Mel Stewart says:
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      Shane Gould via wiki: “Gould spent most of the years after ending competitive swimming out of the public eye. She married Neil Innes at 18, became a Christian, and lived on a working farm near Margaret River, southwestern Australia. She farmed, and taught horseriding and surfing, making very few public appearances. She has four children, and now three grandchildren.”

      • swimfan says:
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        Shane Gould: She is the only person, male or female, to hold every world freestyle record from 100 m to 1500 m and the 200m individual medley world record simultaneously, which she did from 12 December 1971 to 1 September 1972.

        so yes, she did hold those records. plus the 200 IM!!

  6. whoknows says:
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    Sippy Woodhead was scheduled to swim 100, 200, 400, and 800 in 1980. Shane Gould had all the world records 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1500; Helen Madison held all world records 100, 200, 400, 800, 1500.

    • JUMBOSWIM says:
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      and at one point Woodhead held the world record in the 50 Free . . . even if it was just for one heat!

    • Gold Medal Mel Stewart says:
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      Yeah…Sippy was the hero when I 9-10, 11–12, that’s why I included her in the video. Shane? I know of the ’72 performance. Her WRs? Couldn’t find them. Were they alll in the same year? Helene Madison? I know, but I actually have an issue with records from long ago, back when 1:08 and 1:06 netted 100 free records. True the suits were low-tech and slow, but……I don’t think I should open that topic up.

  7. whoknows says:
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    An achievement is an achievement! Why belittle an achievement of the 1930 ‘ s to make your viewpoint more salable. Someone had to make the first standard!
    Have you ever tried swimming in a wool suit? That’s lower than “low tech”!

    • Gold Medal Mel Stewart says:
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      …and that’s why I didn’t want to start that topic. Yes, you’re right. Swimming in wool would suck. (We swam in t-shirt and old shoes when I was a kid, the 1970s. That made us so, so slow.)

  8. James says:
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    All time is huge. Johnny Weissmuller held WR’s in the 100, 200, 400 and 800. But swimming in the 1920’s was a whole lot different game then it is now…even the ability to swim was not common so a gifted athlete was a rarity.

  9. bobo gigi says:
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    I have never heard of Katie Ledecky.

    More seriously, I’m proud of my 2011 prediction when I said she would be a big champion and would dominate the mid-distance and distance events in the future.
    But I didn’t think it would happen so fast in 2012.
    And I didn’t think she would be so good.

    Congrats Katie. You are a swimming legend.

  10. Luigi says:
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    I don’t believe in this kind of ranking, or in comparisons between athletes of different eras, but just for the sake of discussion … You should take into account all those athletes who were focusing on the 1980 Games, and were denied a chance to prove themselves there. We will never know. One thing for sure, she is a formidable swimmer.

  11. ERVINFORTHEWIN says:
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    I have rarely seen such a fierce passion for swimming fast in ledecky ! Phelps & franklin come to mind as well . I beleive Ledecky might well be considered as one of the most prolific freestyler in the world and it’s just the beginning of it .
    Let’s see after her performances at Pan Pacs , not forgetting she took 3 WR’s within one month this year allready .
    She will be tough to beat on the 200 free , that’s for sure + being part of the 800 free relay . Add to that the 400 & the 800 as winning golds .

  12. mcgillrocks says:
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    Remember Janet Evans

    2xOlympic gold 800 free
    1xOlympic gold and silver 400 free
    1xOlympic gold 400 IM

    Just for comparison, when she set the WR in the 400 free, she beat everyone by 2.09 seconds, at the Olympic Games. It was 4.32 seconds if East Germans aren’t counted. 4 years later, her WR was still 3.34 seconds faster than anyone in Barcelona.

    In the 800 free in 1998, she won by 2 seconds (against an East German), before lowering her WR by 4 more next year, making her 6 seconds better than anyone ever. In 1992, she won by 5 seconds, despite swimming 9 seconds slower than the WR. In other words, Olympic medals and world titles could be won with times 14 seconds slower than Evan’s best.

  13. A distance swimmer says:
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    I agree that the 1500 should be added to the women’s Olympic schedule. However, what about adding the men’s 800?

  14. woods says:
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    I think you have to give a little more credit to more recent swims over swims that happened 40-60 years ago. If Phelps had dropped an event in 08 and won 7 medals matching Spitz, I would have had to have given Phelps credit for a more impressive performance.

    I do think Thorpe’s name will always need to be in the discussion of best freestyler ever. He had to the 2, 4, and 8 WR’s, had an awesome 100 and if he would have swam the 1500 in ’01 there is no way he doesn’t break the WR in my opinion. I heard a story growing up (no idea how true it is) that Hackett was being disrespectful to people during a team meeting and Thorpe shut him up by threatening to swim the 1500.

    • Lennart van Haaften says:
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      I doubt Thorpe would have beaten Hackett in the 1500 in 2001. They were separated by only 1.18 second in the 800 meter in Fukuoka. If Thorpe truly thought he could have broken the 1500 WR I’m sure he would have tried at some point.

      • woods says:
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        It was not a large margin of victory over Hackett each time but it was always how he did it that leads me to believe he had more in the tank and could have essentially produced the same race in the 1500 (hang with Hackett for 1400 and then blow him away the last 100). I am having trouble finding the splits but I believe he came home in 53 the last 100 in this race. I know he came home in 53 when he went 741 to break it the first time and I believe he did it again. Here is a video of the last part of that swim http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_nFgdM64oo

        • Jared says:
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          Yeah. Hackett has admitted that if Thorpe had felt like it, and trained for it, Thorpe could have won the 1500 world record as well. Thorpe was just physically on another level too any swimmer we have seen so far. No one his size had been so flexible, especially in has ankles, and had such an amazing feel for the water. Thorpe could have done anything he wanted in swimming.

    • Lennart van Haaften says:
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      I agree with the first part, personally I always give more credit to modern performances, simply because of the vastly increased level of competition and professionalism.

  15. tall n wet says:
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    Thorpe COULD have been a gold medal threat in the 1500 had he took it seriously. But there was more focus on the 200 and 400 freestyle. And he had a great 100 free as well. Phelps tried the 400 back in 05 Worlds and that didnt work out too well for him. Ledecky is far and away the best female freestyler in the world right now. Saying she is better than Thorpe and Hackett? Thats a bit of a stretch

    • woods says:
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      Agreed, although I think she will be there after 2016 if she continues on this path of dominance and improvement.

      On a side note though, assuming no scheduling conflicts, do you think Phelps could have challenged for the gold in the 400 free in 08? I think he would have. He was in mental and physical state that was comparable to none at that meet and I think could have done it by simply not accepting that he was going to lose any race (easier said than done, I know). His 200 free was significantly better and dominant at that meet than in 05 as well…

  16. ewan says:
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    I’ll go with the 400m, 800m and 4x200m golds in Rio, I really can’t see who’s going to beat her! 200m is not gauranteed, and I don’t think the usa are the favourites for the 4x100m free. So I reckon 3… maybe 4 golds.

  17. 1
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    Shane Gould won 2 of those three , silver in the other plus gold in 200 IM and bronze in 100 free in Munich.

  18. Pvk says:
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    The boys 13-14 NAG records above 100 meters could be target times for Ledecky by Rio:
    200 free- 1:53.52 by Tom Kremer
    400 free- 3:57.61 by Evan Pinion
    800 free- 8:08.75 by Evan Pinion
    1500 free- 15:31.03 by Jesse Vassallo

  19. Fred says:
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    Interesting idea to let her swim in the men’s 1500m at the Olympics … she is actually faster than several of the preliminary-race male participants at the London games in that event. So, if she were to switch nationalities and doesn’t tell anyone she is a girl, she would be nominated!

  20. aswimfan says:
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    What;s amazing about Shane Gould is that not only she held all freestyle WRs at the same time, but she also won medals in ALL freestyle events in Munich.
    That is incomprehensible.
    And she remains the only female swimmer to win 5 individual medals in an Olympics.

    Meanwhile Thorpe remains the only male swimmer that won world championships medals from 100-200-400-800 and the only male swimmer to win medals in 100-200-400 in an Olympics.

  21. 1
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    Yes. I was literally thinking that while watching both of her swims tonight.

  22. John26 says:
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    If the men swim 800free at the Olympics, it would be more likely to get a man to win the 2-4-8 simply because it’s hard to train for the 15 and the 2. If Agnel doesn’t return to 1:43 shape in Rio. Sun Yang probably has as good a shot at the 3 event sweep as Ledecky.

  23. caliswimgrl says:
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    I think Ledecky really feels most confident swimming the 800 free and might opt for that if she had to choose between it and the 1500. Her post-race interview after day 1 at Pan Pacs (quick turnaround time between the 200 and 800 and nearly setting new WR to boot) indicates her ever-rising confidence level. She is still learning a lot and seems totally fearless. This is maybe her third or fourth big international meet, right? She blatantly stated she is taking aim at that 800 WR and wants to obliterate it. I wonder what technical things she and Gemmell are taking a look at improving? BTW, compared to some top world females swimming now, she would have a hard time looking like a guy in a 1500 race. Anyone see that pic of Hosszu from Europeans posted elsewhere on SwimSwam? Yikes! Keep your eye on Jazz Carlin as an up and coming challenger to Ledecky in the near future. Rising fast…

  24. Gold Medal Mel Stewart says:
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    After 2014 Pan Pacs, I’m feeling a lot more confident about his video.

  25. mcmflyguy says:
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    if she wins 100 free style, that’s all it would take for me to say she is the best freestyler ever. she most certainly is the most efficient freestyler ever. lol but either way I still think she is a stud.

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About Gold Medal Mel Stewart

Gold Medal Mel Stewart

MEL STEWART Jr., aka Gold Medal Mel, won three Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympic Games. Mel's best event was the 200 butterfly. He is a former World, American, and NCAA Record holder in the 200 butterfly.As a writer/producer and sports columnist, Mel has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Universal Sports, …

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