Ledecky’s Dominance In The 800 Free: Incomparable

How can you compare

a Katie Ledecky swim

to anyone else?

Closing out the San Antonio PSS, Katie Ledecky won the 800m free in a time of 8:13.64. That is the 22nd fastest time of her career, which also happens to be the 22nd fastest time of all time. With that swim, Ledecky now holds the 23 fastest performances of all time. Rebecca Adlington‘s former World Record of 8:14.10 comes in at #24, followed by four more Ledecky swims, then Wang Jianjiahe‘s Asian Record of 8:14.64 is #29, followed by yet another Ledecky swim at #30.

Put differently, Ledecky has 24 of the top 25 swims of all time, 28 of the top 30, and ultimately 50 of the top 200. That is a rarefied air of dominance. For some context, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte combined have only 47 of the top 200 performances in the 200m LCM IM (Phelps has 22, Lochte has 25. Surprisingly to us, neither of them actually has the most performances of those top 200).

Put differently still, here’s a visual representation of the 200 fastest performances of all time. The blue dots are Katie Ledecky, and the red dots here are anyone else:

I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at other events that we think of as being dominated by a single person. Both how many of the top performances in an event and how many of the top 25 performances they own. Nobody has all 25 of the top 25 performances quite yet, although some are close.

In terms of the next most top consecutive times? Adam Peaty has the top 18 performances in the 100 Breast LCM, followed by Sarah Sjostrom with the top 16 performances in the 50 Fly LCM, and then we return to Katie Ledecky with the top 15 swims in the 500 Free SCY.

In terms of the next most of the top 25? Sjostrom and Peaty flip here, with Sjostrom having 23/25 in the 50 Fly LCM and Peaty having 21/25 in the 100 Breast LCM. Katinka Hosszu also has 21 of the top 25 swims all time in the 100 IM SCM. Though Ledecky is not behind, having 20 each in the 500 Free SCY and 400 Free LCM.

And if we go one level deeper, and look in terms of the most appearances in the top 200 performances list? There, Ledecky’s 50 of the top 200 is actually not the most represented event. That honor goes to the Iron Lady, who owns a whopping 76 of the top 200 performances in the 100 IM SCM. Close on her heels is Alia Atkinson, with 74/200 in the 50 Breast SCM, and then a tie at 68 between Hosszu again in the 200 IM SCM and Sjostrom in the 100 Fly LCM. Ledecky is a mere fifth in this category, but actually in the 400 Free LCM (where she holds 65 of the top 200 swims).

Here’s a full table of all the events in which a swimmer has at least the top two times.

Event Swimmer Top N Of Top 25 Of Top 200
W 800 Free LCM Katie Ledecky 23 24 50
M 100 Breast LCM Adam Peaty 18 21 50
W 50 Fly LCM Sarah Sjostrom 16 23 71
W 500 Free SCY Katie Ledecky 15 20  
W 100 IM SCM Katinka Hosszu 13 21 76
M 50 Free SCY Caeleb Dressel 12 13  
W 1500 Free LCM Katie Ledecky 11 14 19
W 200 IM SCM Katinka Hosszu 11 17 68
M 50 Breast LCM Adam Peaty 8 18 59
W 400 Free LCM Katie Ledecky 7 20 65
W 1650 Free SCY Katie Ledecky 6 7  
W 100 Breast SCY Lilly King 6 15  
M 100 Free SCY Caeleb Dressel 5 10  
M 100 Back SCM Kliment Kolesnikov 4 9 24
W 50 Back SCM Kira Toussaint 4 9 19
W 1000 Free SCY Katie Ledecky 4 16  
M 50 Fly SCM Nicholas Santos 3 6 29
W 200 Breast SCY Lilly King 3 7  
M 200 Free LCM Paul Biedermann 2 4 16
M 100 Fly LCM Caeleb Dressel 2 8 12
M 200 IM LCM Ryan Lochte 2 9 25
M 50 Free SCM Caeleb Dressel 2 7 13
M 800 Free SCM Grant Hackett 2 2 4
M 100 IM SCM Caeleb Dressel 2 3 6
M 200 IM SCM Ryan Lochte 2 4 9
W 50 Free LCM Sarah Sjostrom 2 14 50
W 200 Back LCM Regan Smith 2 4 13
W 100 Fly LCM Sarah Sjostrom 2 17 68
W 200 Free SCM Sarah Sjostrom 2 7 19
W 50 Breast SCM Alia Atkinson 2 11 74
W 100 Breast SCM Alia Atkinson 2 14 52
W 50 Fly SCM Therese Alshammar 2 2 15
W 50 Free SCY Abbey Weitzeil 2 9  
W 100 Free SCY Simone Manuel 2 8  
M 500 Free SCY Kieran Smith 2 2  
M 1650 Free SCY Bobby Finke 2 3  
M 100 Back SCY Ryan Murphy 2 6  
M 100 Breast SCY Ian Finnerty 2 7  
M 200 Breast SCY Will Licon 2 7  
M 100 Fly SCY Caeleb Dressel 2 7  
M 400 IM SCY Chase Kalisz 2 6  

*Note that the SCY performances don’t have a count for the top 200 times due to lack of available data.

One of the interesting rows that stuck out for me was Grant Hackett in the 800 Free SCM. He has the top two times, but only two of the top 25, and only four of the top 200. Another is Caeleb Dressel in the 100 IM SCM. His 6 ISL swims last season in this event are probably his only swims in that event, and they make up the top 2, and 3 of the top 25. Meanwhile, Vladimir Morozov has 36 of the top 200, including the other 14 of the top 25, and the other 7 of the top 10 that aren’t Dressel. We’ll just have to wait and see what another ISL season will do to some of the SCM distributions.

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Coach
4 months ago

Great article, but please leave out scm, 100 IMs, 50’s stroke and scy in future articles. It muddies the true greatness of the greatest.

Khachaturian
Reply to  Coach
4 months ago

???????????????????????????????

John
Reply to  Coach
4 months ago

Greatness doesn’t care what pool your in, it comes from everywhere. I like seeing those off events and yards times.

Last edited 4 months ago by John
Joe
Reply to  John
4 months ago

SCY is an unfair comparison to either LCM or SCM as pretty much only the USA swims it.

Many top swimmers never really took SCM seriously (e.g. the best male and female swimmers of this century, Ledecky and Phelps, didn’t).

On the other hand every great swimmer raced in LCM. Which makes LCM dominance way more impressive.

Phoenix
Reply to  Coach
4 months ago

Agree, even I used to swim a mean 100 IM SCM…when I was a Summer League age grouper.

CasualSwimmer
Reply to  Coach
4 months ago

Leaving out scy makes sense in an international article since only the US has pools of those dimensions, they are closer to national performances than to international records (even if the competitions like NCAA are open to international swimmers, they are clearly directed towards american swimmers).
If any other country than the US had a specific pool size (like 12m or 73m..), it wouldn’t matter at all on an international scale, and People would give absolutely 0 credit to someone achieving a record in such a pool. The only reason scy has a relative importance is because the US nowadays is one of the biggest swimming nations

But leaving out scm doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s an… Read more »

Jojob
Reply to  Coach
4 months ago

I also give the greatness edge to LCM racers; both because of the universality of LCM that others have mentioned and because of the percentage of the actual stroke that is required. If you’re a great butterfly,backstroker, breaststroker, freestyler or medleyiist, you show that by swimming the aforementioned swimming stroke(s). When I watch SCY races, it occurs to me that I’m watching a ton of underwater dolphin. Maybe, this is a decent example? Neil Walker could beat Lenny Krayzelburg in short course backstroke. But, I think most would give the greatness edge, in swimming backstroke, to Krayzelburg.

Khachaturian
4 months ago

Can she break 8 minutes? I want to see her swim in a male heat lol. Maybe she could do it then.

Hswimmer
Reply to  Khachaturian
4 months ago

I just said this yesterday, I agree

Mr Piano
Reply to  Khachaturian
4 months ago

Sub 8 minutes would be the peak of human potential in the 800. Katie Ledecky in her prime of her prime was 8:04,and that was almost 10 full seconds faster than the 2nd fastest in history. I think sometimes people get caught up in fantasizing about certain times or limits, when the current records are bloody fast already. The dream should be to go 8:03 in the 800 next, because just breaking the current record is gonna be a hell of a task.

PKWater
Reply to  Mr Piano
4 months ago

I’m glad our coaches and athletes don’t think like this.
If they did, we might never have someone think “Missy Franklin’s 200bk record is totally doable, I bet I can break it by a second” or “I will go under 18 in the 50y free” or even “I’m going to break 1:40 in the 2IM”.

If people don’t have big goals, it has the possibility of making us stagnant as athletes/coaches. KL has showed us that our distance events have been stuck in the pre 2000s for a while.

Mr Piano
Reply to  PKWater
4 months ago

Big goals are good. But let’s get to 8:03 before 7:59.

PVSFree
Reply to  Mr Piano
4 months ago

We have no clue what human potential is in swimming just cause it’s such a complex sport that we’re constantly learning about.

In 1990, the WR in 100 breast was a 1:01.49. It’s dropped nearly FIVE SECONDS to a 56.88 since then.

In the 50 free, it only took 11 years for Dressel to go 17.6 after someone went 18 for the first time. For comparison’s sake, we were stuck at 19.0 for 17 YEARS before Ben Wildman-Tobriner went 18.8. Dressel took that and just smashed everything.

There’s so much more untapped potential in this sport

Mr Piano
Reply to  PVSFree
4 months ago

The more optimized an event becomes, the harder it becomes to improve it. Swimming world records will eventually stall and become less frequent.

PVSFree
Reply to  Mr Piano
4 months ago

I agree, but I don’t think we’re anywhere near the limit just yet. If you had predicted a 17.6 when Dressel was a freshman and won NCAA’s with an 18.6, I think people would’ve laughed you off the site. The fact that these super talented athletes like Dressel, Peaty, Sjostrom, and Ledecky can come in and just destroy what we thought was reasonable proves to me that there’s so much more left on the table.

swimgeek
Reply to  PVSFree
4 months ago

I sort of agree with you. But . . . all the examples you just cited who took CHUNKS off the records mean there’s a lot less “on the table” to for the taking. Let’s just say that absolute peak potential for the 50y free is something like 16.0 (and that sounds absurd). Dressel just knocked off a huge portion of what was left.

Torchbearer
Reply to  PVSFree
4 months ago

Rule changes have assisted some of the big drops of course…

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Mr Piano
4 months ago

Even Katie said a few years ago that beaking 8 would be really really tough. In the same breath, if there is anyone who might be able to do it, it’s her. KL workouts are legendary & her ability to hold pace. So we shall see. And happy birthday to Katie coming up in the next couple weeks too, if memory serves me correctly.

Coach
Reply to  Coach Mike 1952
4 months ago

2016 Katie had the best shot at it. I’m afraid the next best shot is the 7 year old she inspired in 2016.

Hswimmer
4 months ago

Incredible

Monday Morning Grind
4 months ago

Could someone do the research and let us know what Popov’s best placement on this list could be?

NJones
4 months ago

Interesting who is ‘not’ on this list…
#GOAT

PVSFree
Reply to  NJones
4 months ago

Give Dean some time my friend

Walter
Reply to  NJones
4 months ago

Would be interesting to see a similar graph for pre-2008..

Barry
Reply to  Walter
4 months ago

I did actually look pre-2008 for a few of Phelps’ events just to see what that would look like. And while he was ludicrously ahead of the competition (as of Dec 31, 2007, his WR in the 200 Fly was 1:52.09 while the second fastest performer was Takeshi Yamamoto at 1:54.56), he didn’t actually have that many swims.

200 fly: top 6, 9 of top 25, and 21 of the top 200.
200 im: top 4 (though more than a second ahead of Lochte), 12/25, 18/200.
400 im: top 4 (more than 3 seconds ahead of Cseh), 8/25, 13/200.

So, body-lengths ahead of the world, yes. Lots and lots of times, no. Is Phelps likely to care… Read more »

spectatorn
Reply to  Barry
4 months ago

cool and thanks for the info.

I think it illustrated that Phelps is a different type of swimmer – show up big for big meet but often time swim “average” (non-top X) times in between.

Ledecky keeps us in awe because she would post top time in any meet. This meet at San Antonio was a great example – not a fast pool and first real meet for her in a year, and she post a top time in 800m that is faster than Addington’s then WR time, which Ledecky is still the only one who swam faster than that time.

Joe
Reply to  spectatorn
4 months ago

Lochte is an even more extreme example of the same phenomena — he is downright slow in-season.

I suspect that Cseh would be the one with the most top-200 200 IM performances?

Walter
Reply to  Barry
4 months ago

Thanks!

Andy Hardt
4 months ago

Great article. But Kieran Smith doesn’t have the top 2 times in the 500 yard free 😉

Barry
Reply to  Andy Hardt
4 months ago

Yeah. Probably should’ve phrased it as top 2 performances to just be more clear.

Andy Hardt
Reply to  Barry
4 months ago

Nah, was just taking the chance to marvel at the absurdity of Smith tying his own record in the same meet in consecutive years in a 500.

Stan Crump
4 months ago

What a great graph!

Walter
4 months ago

Mary T would have been comparable in 200 fly, back in the 80s and into the 90s.