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:


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 Host Gold Medal Mel Stewart is a 3-time Olympic medalist and the co-founder of

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51 Comments on "Is Katie Ledecky the Greatest Freestyler of All-Time – Gold Medal Minute Video"

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Steve Nolan
2 years 2 months ago

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.

2 years 2 months ago

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.

2 years 2 months ago

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.

olympic events
2 years 2 months ago

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.

2 years 2 months ago

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…

2 years 2 months ago

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)?

2 years 2 months ago

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.

2 years 2 months ago

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

2 years 2 months ago

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”!

2 years 2 months ago

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.

bobo gigi
2 years 2 months ago

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.

2 years 2 months ago

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.

2 years 2 months ago

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 .

2 years 2 months ago

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.

A distance swimmer
2 years 2 months ago

I agree that the 1500 should be added to the women’s Olympic schedule. However, what about adding the men’s 800?

Jim C
2 years 2 months ago

What about using 800m to qualify swimmers for both 800m and 1500m finals?

2 years 2 months ago

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
2 years 2 months ago

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.

2 years 2 months ago

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

2 years 2 months ago

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
2 years 2 months ago

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.

tall n wet
2 years 2 months ago

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

2 years 2 months ago

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…

2 years 2 months ago

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.

2 years 2 months ago

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

2 years 2 months ago

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

2 years 2 months ago

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!

2 years 2 months ago

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.


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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