7-time Olympic champion Katie Ledecky was nice enough to provide a recap of her October training and some insight into what she’s thinking on her fourth Olympic run-up. A fourth Olympics is a big milestone, which got me thinking, and then I got lost down a Ledecky rabbit hole. When I’m stuck in a swimming rabbit hole, I call Braden Keith first, but he’s too busy. I talk to Coleman Hodges, but he’s out of town. I even ask Yanyan Li, but she’s a student in college. So, I’m alone today.
The hurdle that sent me down the rabbit hole–striving to nail down where Katie Ledecky is at right now at this point in swimming history.
I search Google: Who is the greatest female swimmer of all time?
Katie Ledecky tops the search results with her Wikipedia page, but I know the Olympic medal count for women by heart, and Wikipedia is often wrong. (More on that below.)
I consult AI, asking ChatGPT with the same prompt. AI says Katie Ledecky, but AI only lists U.S. swimmers at first, which is a very big problem. ChatGPT lists Katie Ledecky, Dara Torres, Missy Franklin, Janet Evans, and Shirley Babashoff. About 6 seconds later it loads Kristin Otto, the East German who won 6 gold medals at the 1988 Olympics. AI is simply not there yet.
I got lost down this rabbit hole because of fear. On the run-up to the 2020 Olympics, I over-hyped Katie Ledecky and too liberally used the word “icon” too soon for swim fans–something I’m guilty of doing. Olympic peers and swim fans pushed back–hard.
So, I’m curious. How would you characterize Ledecky’s career at this point in time? Keep in mind, she’s made noises about swimming until the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
Here are a few top-line data points:
- 7x Olympic gold medalist
- 10x Olympic medalist
- 16x World Championship individual golds (lcm) edging Michael Phelps’ 15 WC gold medals
- 32x World Championships medalist
This year alone, 2023, Ledecky’s 11th year as an elite:
- Breaks her own 1650 yard free U.S. Open Record
- Swims the 3rd fastest all-time 800 and 1500 free
- 6-peats in 800 free at World Championships (first swimmer to do so)
- Now owns the top-30 all-time performances in the 800m free
Sometimes I think we all take for granted how dominant she is, often racing 800 and 1500 free alone within the TV frame. We just expect it, like we expect her to win the 800 free at the Paris Olympics—12 years after wining this event at the 2012 London Olympics. She hasn’t lost in the 800 free since she was 15 years old!
Ledecky should pick up three more Olympic medals in Paris. I think fans expect that at minimum. She could pick up four medals, 400, 800, 1500 free, and the 4×200 free relay.
Through the Olympic point of view Ledecky has 7 golds medals. Jenny Thompson has the most with 8. I think Ledecky picks up two more gold medals in Paris, putting her at 9, the most.
Jenny Thompson, Dara Torres and Natalie Coughlin are tied with the most Olympic medals overall, at 12. (And Wikipedia leaves Natalie Coughlin off the TOP OLYMPIC MEDALISTS LIST. And Google isn’t Natalie’s friend either, unless you’re very specific about her in the search.) ***Editor-in-Chief Braden Keith note, and I’m writing this. Braden just sent the text. Natalie is not on the Wikipedia list of TOP OLYMPIC SWIMMING MEDALISTS because she won three golds. So, I made a mistake thinking she should’ve been on the list because of her 12 total medals. The last name on that list has four gold medals.
If Ledecky earns three Olympic medals in Paris, she’s tops this list at 13 total. That’s the end of any argument–maybe. Emma McKeon has 11 Olympic medals, one more than Ledecky right now (10). Even with her slightly disappointing 2023 World Champs, McKeon still she anchored a 51.9 on the world record setting Aussie 400 free relay that won gold. McKeon could pop in Paris adding more medals.
However, at the end of the day, I think Ledecky’s earned the GOAT crown for swim-fans because we include World Championships. Seven Olympic golds and 21 World Championship golds (16 of them individually) is beast-mode. She’s the GOAT. Period. But who cares what I think? I want to know what you think. Drop your comments below.
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Opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the interviewed guests do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the hosts, SwimSwam Partners, LLC and/or SwimSwam advertising partners.
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, a Swimming News website.