Disclaimer: Blueseventy Swim of the Week is not meant to be a conclusive selection of the best overall swim of the week, but rather one Featured Swim to be explored in deeper detail. The blueSeventy Swim is an opportunity to take a closer look at the context of one of the many fast swims this week, perhaps a swim that slipped through the cracks as others grabbed the headlines, or a race we didn’t get to examine as closely in the flood of weekly meets.
For most ordinary swimmers, setting one world record over a twenty-year career is considered a massive success. But Katie Ledecky is no ordinary swimmer.
In fact, when Ledecky broke the world record in the 1500 free last week, she ended what was the longest world record drought of her career by almost 300 days.*
First, let’s acknowledge the lunacy of tracking how long it’s been between world records when a single world record break would be a career zenith for 99.9% of swimmers. Ledecky has broken long course world records 14 times in her career, with all of her world records coming within a span of just under five years. Her first world mark in long course meters came in July of 2013, in the very same 1500 free where she broke her latest record last weekend at the Indianapolis Pro Swim Series. In that time, Ledecky has lowered the record by more than 22 seconds from Kate Ziegler‘s old mark.
Running through each of Ledecky’s world record swims in chronological order, we see just how insane her pace was between 2013 and 2016. 13 of her 14 world record breaks came in that span, with the longest span between world record swims lasting only 344 days – that means since first cracking the world record books, Ledecky had never gone a full year without breaking another world mark.
But following the 2016 Olympics, Ledecky went 642 days without a world record, causing some to wonder if her torrid pace was unsustainable, or if the greatest distance swimmer in history had reached a plateau. 2017 was her first calendar year without a world record since her 2013 world record breakout, though that year did still include plenty of world-best marks in short course yards. (We’re not counting those as ‘world records’ though they are technically the fastest times ever swum. With much of the world never swimming in the yards format, a historic best time in SCY isn’t a great direct comparison to a long course meters record).
Ledecky, of course, quelled those concerns with her blistering mid-season world record 15:20.48 in Indy, swimming faster almost across the board than she did at the 2017 World Championships. That suggests we could be in store for something special this summer.
Here’s a look at Ledecky’s list of long course world record-breaking swims along with the time between – in days – each swim:
|8/3/2013||800 free||8:13.86||4 days|
|6/19/2014||1500 free||15:34.23||320 days|
|6/22/2014||800 free||8:11.00||3 days|
|8/9/2014||400 free||3:58.86||48 days|
|8/23/2014||400 free||3:58.37||14 days|
|8/24/2014||1500 free||15:28.36||1 day|
|8/3/2015||1500 free||15:27.71||344 days|
|8/4/2015||1500 free||15:25.48||1 day|
|8/8/2015||800 free||8:07.39||4 days|
|1/17/2016||800 free||8:06.68||162 days|
|8/7/2016||400 free||3:56.46||203 days|
|8/12/2016||800 free||8:04.79||5 days|
|5/16/2018||1500 free||15:20.48||642 days|
*Before we get pedantic and note the 16-year “drought” between Ledecky’s birth and her first world record in 2013, let’s take a moment and think about whether that’s really relevant at all to this conversation.
Race video here:
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