United States Report Day 7: Ledecky Lights-Out Again

by Varun Shivakumar 19

August 03rd, 2013 National, News

In February of 2012, Katie Ledecky emerged onto the scene in the 800 meter freestyle when she scorched her field at the Missouri Grand Prix with a scintillating time of 8:30.14.  Already a National Age Group Record holder in the 500 and 1000 freestyles in short course, Ledecky’s emergence in long course foretold her rise to dominance on the international scene.  As a 14 year old, the time was the second fastest all-time for the 13-14 age group, just behind a legendary record by Cynthia Woodhead, which stood at 8:29.35 from 1978.  Old-timers may remember that Cynthia “Sippy” Woodhead was a dominant distance swimmer at a very young age just like Ledecky, but was prevented from bringing home a large medal haul by the United States’ boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

Since this breakout performance in Missouri, Ledecky has gradually ascended to the pinnacle of women’s distance swimming.  Ledecky would go on to stun thousands at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha during the 2012 US Olympic Trials when she easily defeated fellow countrywoman Kate Ziegler with a superb 8:19.78, a new Olympic Trials record.  Just a month later, Ledecky continued to let her momentum snowball, as she upset hometown favorite and reigning champion, Rebecca Adlington, at the London Olympics.  Ledecky’s 8:14.63 shattered the legendary American Record of 8:16.22 that had been established by Janet Evans back in 1989, and just barely missed the 8:14.10 World Record that Adlington had established four years earlier in Beijing.

And now, at the 2013 FINA World Swimming Championships in Barcelona, Ledecky has completed one of the most historic sweeps in swimming history by winning the 400 meter, 800 meter, and 1500 meter freestyles all in American or World Record fashion. On day 7, Ledecky swam a very tactical 800 and came out on top over Denmark’s Lotte Friis with a new world standard of 8:13.86.  In a race that saw Friis lead for over 600 meters, Ledecky harnessed her signature finishing strength in order to track down Adlington’s world record, and Ledecky’s fourth gold medal of these World Championships. Of course, this also means that Ledecky establishes a new 15-16 age group record in the process.

It is worthwhile to mention that Ledecky’s 800, as impressive as it was, followed a pace that was actually slower than her 1500 from day 2 for the first 600 meters.  This likely reflects a combination of the week-long fatigue that has overcome a majority of the swimmers at the competition, along with a varied approach to the race take by Ledecky.  As we are in a unique position in swimming history where proposals are being made to add the 1500 meter freestyle to the Olympics in the women’s program, Ledecky’s physical ability to excel in all of the distance events one after another combined with the strong competition she faced from Friis provide a strong case for the addition of the metric mile.

With all of her World Championship races behind her now, and three new world records to her name, what is left for Ledecky to accomplish? At the rate she’s going, the sky may not be high enough of a limit.

Other Thoughts:

  • Dana Vollmer faltered in the 50 meter butterfly final with an 8th place finish (26.46), but now is not the time to dwell on one of her weaker events. In a week where she has already fallen victim to an untimely illness, Vollmer needs to recoup and prepare for her fly leg in the 4x100m Medley Relay on day 8 where the United States will need all of its members to excel to come home with the title.
  • In the men’s 50 meter freestyle, both Nathan Adrian and Anthony Ervin came up a bit short with 4th (21.60) and 6th (21.65) places respectively. Ervin did not have as explosive as a start as he did in the semi-finals when he rattled the American record but both swimmers could possibly be swimming the relay tomorrow.  Though Jimmy Feigen took the silver in the 100 meter freestyle individual over Adrian, Adrian has been very clutch for the Americans on relays, and Ervin posted the fastest relay split of the entire team when he split a quick 47.38 during the prelims of the 4x100m Freestyle Relay on day 1.  It will be very interesting to see who the US coaches decide to have anchoring the relay on day 8 both in prelims and in finals.
  • Missy Franklin finished her individual event campaign at the World Championships with another gold in the 200 meter backstroke and a new championship record of 2:04.76.  Leading from start to finish, Franklin continues to assert her dominance in an event where no one in the world seems to even approach her calibre.  Furthermore, Franklin continued to demonstrate her Phelps-eque/Lochte-esque stamina and ability to repeatedly ward off fatigue to capture titles.  Elizabeth Pelton was not able to reclaim her form from the World Championship Trials last month, and had to settle for 5th place with a 2:08.98.  Her 2:06.29 from World Championship Trials would have earned her a silver in tonight’s final.  However, Pelton does have the lead-off of the 4x100m Medley Relay tomorrow to look forward to, and the Americans will need her to set a strong pace for a good position entering the final tomorrow night.
  • As hard as it may be to ignore the accomplishments of Ruta Meilutyte and Yuliya Efimova, Jessica Hardy’s performances at the World Championships have been nothing short of spectacular.  She continued her tremendous run with a 29.90 victory in the first semi-final of the 50 meter breastroke, a time that is just one-tenth of a second off her suit-aided time from 2009 (which was also the previous world-record before Efimova broke it in prelims, and Meilutyte shattered the new standard in semis).  Breeja Larson was also very good with a lifetime best 30.20 that has her seeded 4th going into the finals.  However, both Americans will have to be on their A-game if they want a piece of hardware in the final, which will definitely be the fastest 50 breaststroke final in history, and may see a sub-30 second swim fail to medal.
  • Ryan Lochte was not able to capitalize on his great lane position in the final of the 100 meter butterfly, and had to accept a 6th place finish (51.58).  However, Lochte was only a tenth slower than his lifetime best from the night before, and he should not be too disappointed with his effort. He should still get the nod for the fly leg on the medley relay tomorrow night, and the Americans will need him to outpace the same competitors he raced tonight as the medley relay will very likely come down to another spectacular and tight finish.
  • Speaking of the potential of a youngster like Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel’s unlimited potential in the splash-and-dash simply can not be ignored.  Having become the first 18-and-under ever to break 25 seconds in the 50 meters with her 24.93 from prelims, she lowered her record even further to a 24.91 in the semi-finals and obtained an 8th place berth in the finals on day 8.  Since Manuel was 16 entering the World Championships, we will know shortly under which age group her record will officially stand in the record books. The previous Age group records in the 15-16 and 17-18 age group records were 25.26 (Missy Franklin 2011) and 25.00 (Kara Lynn Joyce 2004) respectively. Look for Manuel to continue her streak with some outside smoke on day 8.
  • The men’s 50 meter backstroke was surprising both for good and bad reasons.  Matt Grevers posted a strong 24.79 in the semi-finals that launched him up all the way to 4th entering the final on day 8. The time is just .07 of his lifetime best of 24.72 from the 2010 Austin Grand Prix.  On the other hand, David Plummer had a disastrous start and was never able to recover, and had to settle for a 16th place finish (26.00).  However, both Americans will get to swim the backstroke legs of the medley relay tomorrow.
  • Chloe Sutton was not able to improve on her lifetime best 8:23.24 from the World Championship Trials, and instead claimed 6th place on day 7 with a 8:27.75. Though she may not be happy with her time, Sutton would not have moved up in place had she matched her best time in the first place, so she can be content with her final placing overall.


New 15/16 or 17/18 NAG in the Women’s 50m Freestyle: Simone Manuel (24.91)

New 15/16 NAG and World/Championship/American Record in the Women’s 800m Freestyle: Katie Ledecky (8:13.86)


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7 years ago

Anyone on Sunday who wondered if Simone Manuel would be intimidated by the environment- she gave us her answer today.

Multiple golds for Katie and Missy- it comes down to how many WR you set to decide who is swimmer of the meet. Insane.

The American teenagers looked great today (and all week). What is scary is that there is a ton of talent in the States knocking on the door.

Well done to America’s grassroots program!

Lane Four
Reply to  coach
7 years ago

I agree completely. Now is the time for the young male swimmers to step up and stake their claim just as the ladies did.

Reply to  Lane Four
7 years ago

let’s see what chase kalisz can do in the 400IM!! I’m excited for a medal! (and Beisel as well!! Love pelton…but missed her in the 200 back…)

7 years ago

Remember when people were so quick to jump to doping conclusions when Yi Shiwen out performed everyone and set new records at the London Olympics? Interesting that they don’t say anything about Ledecky.. I’m not saying Ledecky’s performances are at all questionable, but it just shows how quick the media and some coaches are to put other athletes down and take away from their moment of glory when they outshine home grown talent.

Was rooting for Ervin all the way. Disappointed he didn’t walk away with a medal.

Reply to  GoErvinGo
7 years ago

actually there was a TON of stuff (mostly international media) about ledecky “doping”…all WRONG of course…but nevertheless.

Glad Katie has had the chance to prove them all wrong AGAIN (and really, throughout this entire year). So incredibly proud of her, and our entire US team! Go TEAM USA!!!

RANDOM…wonder if Katie has the speed to possibly come down and at least swim the 4×100 relay!! If she trained, she definitely can. Can you imagine? 4×100, 4×200, 200 (if schedule allows), 400, 800, and 1500!! That would be incredible to see.

I think what really makes her stand out is that her technique is impeccable. Really graceful in the water! It seems like her freestyle stroke is very similar to Phelps.

Reply to  anonymous
7 years ago

I have never seen it in any respectable outlet.

Show me & I will rethink.

On her side she looks perfect – tall ( not too tall for distance) & rangy . She is as tall & more shouldered than Steve Holland was at 16.

Also what she is doing has been done before . 4 girls have swept the 400- 1500 records . These girls were 5’6 5’8 5’5 & 5’5 . So with a extra 21/2 inches & modern techniques then it is credible.

Reply to  Jg
7 years ago

There are more than 4 girls who have broken 400 to 1500 WRs before Ledecky:

Helene Madison, Ragnhild Hveger, Ilsa Konrads, Debbie Meyer, Shane Gould, Tracey Wickham, Janet Evans

Reply to  GoErvinGo
7 years ago

I think when Ledecky starts bringing it back as fast as Sun Yang or Grant Hackett we’ll start questioning whether or not she is doping. Until then, I just see hard work and determination from her.

Reply to  swammer13
7 years ago

Fortunately, Yang or Hackett has incredible closing speed, so it is out of question if Ledecky can ever match theirs.

Meanwhile, Lochte has among the worst closing speed in the 400 that even a girl can beat him.

By the way, Adlington’s last 50 also beat Lochte’s or Ye’s.

Reply to  swammer13
7 years ago

Another conparison:

When Meager swam 2:05.96 who would have made the final in the men’s event (which would be around 1:58 in todays standard), people put it down to talent

But when Shiwen swam 4:28.43 which would have only finished 50th in US 2012 trials in the mens event, people attribute it to doping.

And then people conveniently ignore that Shiwen’s has been on international scene since she was 13, and already swam 4:33 when she 14 in 2010.

Reply to  GoErvinGo
7 years ago

Put it back in the deck. The difference was the extensive and open USA Swimming testing when it comes to doping. It is merciless and unforgiving. Ask Jessica Hardy.

China gets questioned because of a) the tendency to have many fast women, but few men, and their secretive doping testing that isn’t at all forthcoming (at least in past years)

If sports and other countries were as extensive and consistent as USA Swimming in the field of drug testing, there would be much more effective results.

Reply to  Brian
7 years ago

Actually, China has made great strides in the past 10 years to punish their swimmers dopers (and their coaches).

As for Hardy being made as an example for the effectiveness of USA swimming, you can also make an argument that Hardy was being stupid, not that I am arguing that doping test regime in USA is not effective (However, as we can see in many other sports in USA, the dopers were never tested positive).

Meanwhile, I am concerned with the lack of scrutiny that people here give to russian swimmers. They have had the most number of failed doping tests in the past year, and the track and field community are in deep discussion over “incredible” performances by russian… Read more »

7 years ago

For those who are interested, the following link shows the Top 50 World Performances by gender based on FINA points. The results are also sorted by event and country.

Top 50 world rankings updated:

7 years ago

400 Medley Relays… I’m concerned about the women. I really hope the USA coaching staff puts Romano on the anchor. I’m putting out here what *I* would do if it were me filling out the cards… not what I think the coaches will do.

Men Prelims-

Men Finals-

Women Prelims-

Women Finals-

Reply to  Hulk Swim
7 years ago

I agree and I believe that these will be the line-ups.

7 years ago

I would not put Romano on the relay. I’m worried that lightning has struck twice but it won’t strike a third time. I think she swam out of her gourd at the WUG and in the WC 4×100 free relays but a 53. would not surprise me if she tried again. I feel like Vreeland and Coughlan are both as good or better options.

Reply to  CraigH
7 years ago

Even if lightning has struck twice, and she swims a 53, I don’t think that the choice would be regrettable.

Vreeland has been up and down this week. She swam a PB in the 200 but then was slower on the relay. She also was 54.4 in the 100 individually, after being 53.2 in the relay.

Coughlin’s split, while brilliant, was helped by a draft and it was just a really special swim for her that I doubt she could duplicate.

Against Cate Campbell, Romano is the best choice.

7 years ago

A little confused about one of your statements… How would ledecky’s dominance in both of the distance events increase demand for the mile? If, say, friis had gotten the world record in the 800′ while ledecky got it in the mile, then I could see the argument, but the fact that the top three in both are identical, I think lends itself more to the idea that just one distance event is sufficient… That being said, I would love to the the women’s mile become an Olympic event… I just don’t see how the results of this meet could possibly be a step in that direction, considering the medals were exactly the same in both

About Varun Shivakumar

Varun Shivakumar hails from Hoffman Estates, IL and swam competitively for 16 years. He swam both backstroke events at Northwestern University, and ranks fifth in the school’s All-time performances list in the 200 yard backstroke. Representing NASA Wildcat Aquatics, he also competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials in Omaha, NE …

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