Katie Ledecky Belongs With Bob Beamon and Secretariat

Charles Hartley, a free-lance writer based in New Jersey, has written more than a thousand published sports articles. He earned Master’s degrees in Business Administration and Journalism. In addition, he was awarded his Bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University where he majored in English and Communications

The year was 1968. The place was Mexico City. The event was the Olympics long jump.

American Bob Beamon lifted off and flew through the air – and flew, and flew, and flew. As soon as his feet hit the sand, officials had to use a special manual measuring tape. It took them more than 10 minutes to calculate the distance.

He had jumped 29 feet 2 and one-quarter inches – nearly two feet further than any long jumper ever had. Jumping that much further than anyone was not even an idea – except that one time

Overcome with shock and emotion, Beamon fell to the ground and had a seizure. Olympic historians labeled this feat the greatest in the history of the Games.

Five years later at the Belmont Stakes a horse named Secretariat – think Michael Phelps — beat the field by 31 lengths and the track record by two and three-fifths of a second. “That is a record that will stand forever,” a broadcaster said at the time.

Forty-three years later at this month’s Olympics, Katie Ledecky broke her own world record in the 800 meter freestyle by two seconds in a time of 8 minutes and four seconds. She finished 12 seconds ahead of the second place swimmer – yes, 12 seconds, an extreme rarity in swimming and a sign of utter and almost freaky superiority.

This swim for the ages by Ledecky is comparable to Beamon’s and Secretariat’s as one of the most astounding and dominant single sports.

What she did was amazing, memorable, and otherworldly. Like those who saw Beamon make that spellbinding jump and Secretariat annihilate the field, many of us will remember watching Ledecky touch the wall in the 800 freestyle 12 lengths ahead. You almost never see that in world-class swimming events.

There she was, by herself, done with the race, for a long, long time before the second place finisher was done.

Beamon was all by himself that day he jumped to the moon. Secretariat was alone in his greatness at the Belmont sprinting into the stratosphere. And Ledecky was on that wall in a swimming universe only she has been.

There were other marvelous swimming achievements at this month’s Games. Ryan’s Murphy’s world record in the 100 meter backstroke was incredible. Adam Peaty’s 100 meter breaststroke time of 56.59 shocked the swimming world. Who will ever be able to break that except him? Maybe no one.

As great as these and other swimming achievements were, Ledecky’s 800 freestyle annihilation of the field stands above all other Olympic swims. It belongs in the same conversation as Beamon’s and Secretariat’s as the greatest single-event sporting achievement ever.

This was written by and courtesy of Charles Hartley.

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Jim Graham

The only reason I disagree about comparing Ledecky’s 800 in Rio to those other feats is that it was, frankly, 100% expected. Not just expected that she would win, but expected that she would break the world record and win by 10-15 seconds. The fact that it was expected is amazing in of itself and speaks to her historical greatness. But who here was shocked by her time or victory margin? Moreover, if we’re being honest, who here expected her to go faster? I heard numerous people who know what they’re talking about contemplating the possibility that she might break 8 minutes. What makes the Beamon jump or the 1973 Belmont so memorable was that something occured which was totally… Read more »


She will break 8 minutes Evanutually! Rio was definitely to soon for that but I think she has it in her to do it.


Frankly and honestly, did you expect 52.6 relay split? You guys are spoild by years of methodical goal oriented successful sporting career of one of the greatest athlete. Did you expect to see such achievements from the girl that was seeded at 2012 Olympic trials with
56.71 at 100
1:59.05 at 200
4:05.79 at 400
8:25.85 at 800
Compare it with 52.6r, 1:53.7, 3:56 and 8:04. Of course you would consider a wasting of time watching Ledecky’s races if no world records got broken.
Bob Beamon’s one controversial jump is nothing compare to this powerful move of dominance with unbelievable marks set. For sure you won’t see anything like that replicated. Maybe your children will be luckier.

Jim Graham

In your rush to talk down at everyone, you seem to have missed the point of the article comparing a single performance of a single event to other great single performances. So, literally everything you just typed was off topic.


If the topic is the comparison of Katie Ledecky with the horse then I am indeed well off it. What a strange fate of this unique phenomenon. Her results were so unbelievable that she was suspected firstly of being doped. That followed by a great discussion if she is a man. Now the stupidity raised to compare her with animals. What is next? ET? Dear Jim, good luck to you with this fascinating topic. When you come to the real one, that Katie Ledecky is not just one race or one meet unique success, when we will see the great picture of what we are dealing with, please call me.


yes, but both of those records have since been broken?

Jim Graham

Secretariat, no. 43 years later, still the record in margin of victory and time. Beamon, yes. Like 23 years later. But Beamon’s jump is till #2 all time 48 years after the fact.


How long until someone else goes 8:04?


To be completely honest, I don’t think very long. Maybe a decade or two before we get people consistently going what Ledecky is going now. Every time we set a barrier in swimming it gets broken. We didn’t think the super suit records were going to be broken for ages and now almost a decade later, almost all of them are gone. After Morozov’s 17 split, we didn’t think anyone would be able to go 17 flat start. Dressel is inching towards that barrier. We didn’t think a sub 40 100 free was possible. Dressel is inching towards that barrier too. 1:29 200 free: Haas is inching towards that one.


Almost all of suit records on men’s side are still world records. 5 of 17 on women side.