Blueseventy Swim of the Week: Ledecky Ends Longest Career WR Drought


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:

Date Event Time Time Between
7/30/2013 1500 free 15:36.53
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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Bon Jovi

imagine going 300 days without a world record

bobo gigi

I think you could choose a better photo to illustrate most of the articles about Katie Ledecky. Just my opinion.


The longest world record drought in the life of Katie Ledecky was the period from March 17, 1997 to August 2, 2012 😀
Katie Ledecky has SIX years of setting world records. I don’t have statistics available that deep but it can be the record by itself to have that long super productive carrier. This measure of someone’s career success is more representative in my opinion than number of years of winning some titles or number of records by itself.


I agree with your point, but minor quibble — she didn’t set the WR when she won London in 2012. First WR would have been 2013. So only at 5 yrs now.


The 8:14.63 was the textile (and the real one) world record in 800FR LCM
Adlington’s 8:14.10 result was shown during assisted swim. If you’d like me to explain what I mean by assisted swim go to the swimswam main page and look (don’t click) at “SET OF THE WEEK” picture. High-tech suits are no different.
What FINA keeps in its record books is the completely different story. FINA books keeping is very controversial. It includes DDR records of 1970s, it is a mess with junior records etc .


Came here to make the same joke, but to be fair she didn’t start swimming until 2003, so we cannot really blame her when she wasn’t even trying : ).

No matter what, it’s a treat to watch her swim. just amazing.


😀 You are right. The article mentioned the draught in Katie’s career that actually didn’t started until she was 6 year old. I replaced world “career” with the world “life”. It was unfair trick. 😀

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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