Shouts From The Stands: Was Ledecky’s Tokyo 200 Free A Fluke?

by SwimSwam Contributors 64

November 16th, 2021 Opinion, Tokyo 2020

SwimSwam welcomes reader submissions about all topics aquatic, and if it’s well-written and well-thought, we might just post it under our “Shouts from the Stands” series. We don’t necessarily endorse the content of the Shouts from the Stands posts, and the opinions remain those of their authors. If you have thoughts to share, please send them to [email protected]

This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Kyle Barclay, a former collegiate swimmer that now works in the medical field.

Katie Ledecky’s resume speaks for itself and she needs no introduction. She is one of a select crowd of people that could walk away from an Olympics with two golds, two silvers, and possibly feel slightly disappointed.

Even writing that statement out feels a little ridiculous, but let me give it some context. Leading up to Tokyo 2020, she had put up the second-fastest time in the world in the 200 free, 1:54.40, at the Mission Viejo stop of the TYR Pro Swim Series. Not only was this time #2 in the world, it was also tied with Allison Schmitt as the fastest time ever on US soil, and it was Ledecky’s 2nd fastest performance ever, only slower than the 1:53.73 she won the 2016 Olympic title in. Even if she had just repeated this exact time in Tokyo she would have won bronze.

Now, the argument could easily be made that she just misfired a little at the Olympics but that doesn’t really seem true. In her three other events, she went season-best in all of them, dropping several seconds from trials. Although her longer events did not see a huge improvement, her 400 saw a four-second drop from trials to the Olympics, which seemed like a good premonition for the 200. I know that I can’t be alone in thinking that the 1:55.21 she put up in the final came as somewhat of a surprise. Not only was this slower than the 1:55.11 she went at Trials, but it was also significantly off the 1:53.76 split that she anchored the 800 free relay in (which is actually her second-fastest relay split ever, only trailing the 1:53.74 from Rio).

For some reason, this one swim kept nagging at me, even after the Olympics were long over, and eventually, I decided to engage my favorite hobby of checking swim results. Katie has swum the 200 free at an international meet 6 times in her career: Her finals times in each of these years are below. In addition, I have also included her 800 free relay split and season-best for each corresponding year.

Competition Finals Time Relay Split Season-Best
2014 Pan Pacs 1:55.74 1:54.36 1:55.16
2015 Worlds 1:55.16 1:55.64 1:55.16
2016 Olympics 1:53.73 1:53.74 1:53.73
2017 Worlds 1:55.18 1:54.02 1:54.69 (semis)
2018 Pan Pacs 1:55.15 1:53.84 1:54.56
2021 Olympics 1:55.21 1:53.76 1:54.40

If we look at her finals time we can see that her 2021 performance is actually strikingly consistent with the norm, excluding the 2016 Olympics. In fact, she has gone the exact same time (margin for error .06) in 4 different finals now. The only difference between her 5th place finish in Tokyo, and the 3 other times she has gone this time is the people around her went faster. Another thing to note is that she has only ever gone her season-best in an international final in 2015 and 2016.

So what is the explanation for this? It’s pretty obvious once you think about it for a second. 2016 is the only year in which she didn’t have a double on the day of the 200. The Pan Pacs schedule places the 800 final in between the 200 prelims and finals, and the Worlds/new Olympics all have the 200/1500 double (though it’s the 200 semi-finals).

The truth is even Katie Ledecky can only do so much with a double like that. And it seems like 1:55.15 is about exactly how much she can do. So my nagging instinct was right. She probably could have put up a faster time in that final, but we’ll never know what could have happened with a better schedule.

So what does the future hold? If there’s one thing we know about Ledecky it’s that she is smart. She knows this is going on. The question is, will she keep trying to stretch herself beyond what is possible, or will she make the decision to narrow her program?

If she does narrow her program, will she secede the 1500 to the rising younglings or will she stick to the event in which she is history’s fastest performer by 18 seconds? Personally, I hope she keeps fighting it out in the 200. At this point, Katie doesn’t need more gold medals, and I would love to see what she can really put up in an individual 200 free. Whatever happens, I know she’ll make the right decision for her, and I’m excited to see what happens.

ABOUT KYLE BARCLAY

Kyle Barclay swam collegiately for 3 years at a DIII school and is now happily retired and working in the medical field.

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Steve Nolan
20 days ago

The truth is even Katy Ledecky can only do so much

who

Khachaturian
Reply to  Steve Nolan
20 days ago

Katy Ladeky

Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
Reply to  Khachaturian
20 days ago

Katy Perry

caeleb’s leg sleeve tat
Reply to  Steve Nolan
20 days ago

it’s katie’s sister, duh 🙄🙄

Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
20 days ago

The Katie mid distance vs distance debate can spiral into so many different directions. We all know she’s the best in the world at distance but McIntosh and Grimes are creeping upon her, but she has a chance for coming for Phelps’s four peat in the 800 and if she wins the 800 at worlds next year it would be the 10th year in a row where she’s won an international title in the 800 which I think is pretty damn cool

But her current 200 and 400 times do look more promising, although we haven’t ruled out the possibility of her doing the 200-1500 again which she may continue to do considering that all of us think she’s incapable… Read more »

Rafael
Reply to  Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
20 days ago

I wonder what would have happened in Tokyo if Quadrarella was 100%, Ledecky could have been in trouble on the 1500..

Last edited 20 days ago by Rafael
Virtus
Reply to  Rafael
20 days ago

Seeing a prime quadrella get to ledeckies current 1500 level would be such a good race

Dan
20 days ago

One correction, please look at the Aussie Trials, winning time in the women’s 200 free was 1:53.09 by Ariarne Titmus

Breezeway
20 days ago

Titmus/Haughy/McKeon are not going anywhere plus they’re younger and faster. Does she want to fight for a bronze possible silver or a guaranteed gold in the 1500?

Big mac #1
Reply to  Breezeway
20 days ago

Mckeon is 27, KL is 24, Haughey is 24. KL just seems old cuz she started being a star so early

ScovaNotiaSwimmer
Reply to  Big mac #1
20 days ago

Right, plus if you’re going to point to younger ones, why not Penny who is only 21 and beat her in Tokyo? Or Summer who is 15 and already at 1:56 low?

Breezeway
Reply to  ScovaNotiaSwimmer
20 days ago

Very true also

Virtus
Reply to  Big mac #1
20 days ago

Wait 24…. Why did I think she was like 30

Big mac #1
Reply to  Virtus
20 days ago

KL? Because she has been a force for 9 years and in your mind and mine, most swimmers don’t come on the scene until like 18-22 so 30 would work with those numbers

kwrb77
Reply to  Breezeway
20 days ago

Why should she care about getting golds anymore? At this point its about having fun and taking on challenges

Breezeway
Reply to  kwrb77
20 days ago

That’s fine. Go for it. I have no problem with that, just higher probability of being shut out in that event. Then all she has is dog fights in the 400/800 with Titmus

Troyy
Reply to  Breezeway
20 days ago

McIntosh is coming for everyone in the 200.

Just give the trophy to the condors already
20 days ago

It’s because she was afraid of Titmus

Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris

She made titmus relevant

Calvin
Reply to  Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
20 days ago

As much as I admire Ledecky, Titmus has been relevant since the Commonwealth Games in 2018, before she even beat Katie in Gwangju. It was no surprise that she beat her again.

caeleb’s leg sleeve tat
Reply to  Calvin
20 days ago

i think in terms of international fame, ledecky made titmus relevant

Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
Reply to  Calvin
20 days ago

Yes but the reason why she’s been getting so much more fame/publicity/endorsements than than mckeon and McKewon (who were both more successful than her in Tokyo) is because she beat someone like ledecky

Along with her coach having a meltdown

Titmus will go 3:54 in Fukuoka
Reply to  Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
19 days ago

Don’t worry about that amigo. Summer McIntosh and Katie Grimes will dominate the 200-1500 free events easy.

The queen Titmus is a legend, whether you like it or not. Btw, she will smash your Ledecky at every international meet in the future. Take it easy my friend.

Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
Reply to  Titmus will go 3:54 in Fukuoka
19 days ago

Hi!!! It’s nice to see you again! <3

Last edited 19 days ago by Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
Reply to  Titmus will go 3:54 in Fukuoka
19 days ago

also how do you worship dressel but hate katie at the same time?? make it make sense

torchbearer

Not sure she is afraid of Titmus, but I suspect she is having a huge challenge working out tactics against her, after being a run-away front runner for so many years.

PhillyMark
20 days ago

I recall the 2014 PanPacs 800 free relay being a really amazing anchor leg for Katie. The Australian commentary on the race was good as well.

MCH
20 days ago

Slight inaccuracy. She did not in fact have 1500/200 double at World Championships. The 1500 final and 200 semi are same day. The 200 final stands by itself, although admittedly after swimming 2×1500 the days before.

Coach Mike 1952
20 days ago

Appreciate the very good article Kyle, thanks, I definitely got your comments about KL’s Tokyo’s performance due to the double, as well as all the mainly very thoughtful comments above too. So in addition to what Kyle wrote, has anyone else noticed a change in KL’s stroke in recent years? Don’t believe there is a motivational thing since Katie previously said she was looking to be competing through 2028 Olympics. The fire is still burning strong.

Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
Reply to  Coach Mike 1952
20 days ago

Well Bruce gemmell did a podcast saying that Katie had a gallop in her stroke that a lot of people wanted him to get rid of but it actually helped her

And then she got rid of it after she left NCAP

Kaf
Reply to  Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
19 days ago

It’s still there at least to a degree, but her stroke rate is super high so it’s not as visible

Georgia Rambler
Reply to  Kaf
19 days ago

Watched a comparison of her 1500 at 16 and her current record swim. Her underwaters were much faster in the second race. She would lose ground to Friis at every turn until the last one, when she turned on her supercharger. Although it is impossible to know for sure, I think that first swim would have been almost as fast as the second one with better turns. The gallop is hardly there now, for whatever reason. One more thing, We are all focusing on Katie but you know all her competitors may or may not progress in the next three years. Not everyone is as willing to pay the price as she has for going on 10 years.

Kaf
Reply to  Georgia Rambler
19 days ago

I mean some of them are as old as she was when people started talking about he imminent demise. Quadarella and Titmus are older than Ledecky was in Budapest

Kaf
Reply to  Kaf
19 days ago

And of course she is still as fast as she was in 2013 and honestly overall in 2014 too… It’s not like she’s fallen off the map. We just got used to world records all the time from and anything else seems underwhelming

Kaf
Reply to  Kaf
19 days ago

So is Sullivan

Georgia Rambler
Reply to  Coach Mike 1952
16 days ago

After comparing her distance races, where her stroke only has a slight hitch and smooths out when she eases off, I took another look at her anchor leg in the 200 x4 in Tokyo and that gallop was very much in evidence. I know the Chinese women swam very well but that was a huge effort by Katie especially since she had to push through the leaders turbulence all the way. Lots of fire there still as you say.