Katie Ledecky, Leah Smith Shine in First Long Course Races With New Programs


A collective sigh of relief was blown by American swimming fans on Wednesday when Katie Ledecky swam her first long course race since going to train at the University of Florida under Anthony Nesty.

She swam 8:12.81 to win the 800 free. That time is just .24 seconds slower than she swam at the Olympic Games in July, where she won one of a pair of two gold medals at those Games.

While an 8:12 at the Olympics was slower than most would have hoped or expected for the fastest-ever 800 freestyler, an 8:12 in December is rather exciting.

Ledecky now has the 24 fastest times in history in the 800 free. Only Ariarne Titmus’ 8:13.83, the silver medal time from the Olympics, stands in the way of her owning the entire top 25.

“It was great,” Ledecky said of her swim. “Just wanted to get the first swim of the season out of the way. Felt good going into it and thought I’d have a pretty good swim.”

For comparison, and in a COVID year comparisons always have an asterisk, she swam 8:14.59 a year ago at the U.S. Open.

“I’m excited about the new quad – Feeling really good about my new training environment and getting to train with some really great mid-distance and distance swimmers that are racing tonight,” Ledecky said. “I’m just happy to start seeing the work pay off.”

It really isn’t a surprise that it’s working, at least on a micro scale. Katie Ledecky isn’t a doe-eyed teenager who made this move, and Anthony Nesty isn’t an untested coach. Ledecky knows what she needs, she’s a pro, she’s one of the most accomplished and decorated swimmers in history. Nesty knows how to train distance swimmers, but he’s also a smart enough and seasoned enough coach that he’s not going to steamroll an athlete as good – or as smart – as Ledecky, if she feels the training needs tweaking.

This is the start of a new chapter for Ledecky, and so far the results are positive. For a swimmer like Ledecky, though, the proof is in the margins – and the payoff will come next May at the World Championships.

Leah Smith‘s New Season

Ledecky isn’t the only veteran who had a successful first race at the top of the women’s 800 free under new training. Leah Smith, who moved after the Olympic Trials from the University of Arizona and coach Augie Busch to the University of Texas and coach Carol Capitani.

On Wednesday, she finished 2nd in the 800 free in a time of 8:23.78. That’s a whopping 12 seconds better than she swam at the Olympic Trials.

While Smith has been as fast as 8:16.33, her swim on Wednesday is the fastest that she’s been in this event since the fateful March 2020 Pro Swim Series stop in Des Moines, Iowa, where she was about three-tenths faster.

She joined a very good training group in Austin. It includes Olympian Erica Sullivan, and in Evie Pfeifer, an NCAA title contender in both the 500 and 1650 freestyles.

We don’t know yet what Smith will look like in the new quad. We don’t know which events will become her focus, whether she’ll go distance, mid-distance, or even the 400 IM. That makes the context on this 800 free a little murky, but at a minimum, it’s very good – it’s the fastest she’s been since the COVID-19 pandemic exploded, and it shows that she, like Ledecky, is settling into her new training group in a positive way.



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Mark S. Schwartz
1 month ago

Hooray Leah Smith, great to see you back in the pool.

And we need to give Katie Ledecky a break. We were spoiled because from 2012-2017, we expected a world record every time she jumped in the pool. No one could possibly live up to those expectations. Kudos to her.

1 month ago

Katie prefers to race long course to ISL?

1 month ago

What year is this? 2015? These ladies have been at this a LONG time.

Old Swim Coach
1 month ago

Ledecky and Smith dropping those times in a meet is exciting to see. It also makes me think about how the mindset for a pro is so different from the lower levels. In age group, high school, and college, there seems to be another meet around every corner with a chance to race. At times, pros have to wait months between bigger competitions. Their swimming speaks for itself, but their mental approach probably doesn’t get enough credit for the way they keep grinding it out. Well done!

1 month ago

I wonder what Leah will swim as her new events… she scratched from the 400 tomorrow, so that’s an indicator of a change in events. Regardless, both ladies are outstanding and are doing great with new training! Congrats Leah and Katie!

Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
Reply to  Sharet
1 month ago

Madden, AWalsh, Curtiss, Tuggle and Bruno Fratus all scratched their events for tomorrow

Aside from the UF swimmers, this meet is a snoozefest in terms of big names

Last edited 1 month ago by Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
Reply to  Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
1 month ago

Madden is on the heat sheet still will see if show

Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
Reply to  Hswimmer
1 month ago

Nvm it’s just Walsh and curtiss

Rando Embiggen
1 month ago

Nice job, ladies!

(Ledecky’s excellent time today is just another data point to show how badly the Stanford women missed their taper last June at Trials.)

Good luck to all those swimming in this meet!

1 month ago

Kind of reminds me January 2016 in Austin where Katie Ledecky completed unfinished business of world championships in Kazan (racing Sjostrom at 200FR) and set the benchmarks for the following Olympic season. The personal bests in 100, 200 and 800 (world record at 8:06) followed. For sure she was tapered then.
Is she now?

1 month ago

Wow Already in the same form she was at the Olympics which were only four months ago

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Comet
1 month ago

It’s terrific that she’s this fast now, but it’s comparing apples to oranges. Remember that her 800 free final in Tokyo was after 3 rounds of 200 free, 2 rounds of 400 free, the 4 X 200 free relay final, and the1500. To do an 8:12 after all that was otherwordly. If she did that lineup now, I bet her 800 would be closer to 8:20. She’ll break 8:10 before all is said and done.

Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 month ago
Correct. Both Ledecky and Titmus were slow at the second half of the distance. 4:08 isn’t impressive for swimmers who were capable of 3:57 and 3:56 in 400 race. I think that Ledecky’s form was 8:09 - 8:10 should 800FR be the only her event 

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Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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