fRiley Overend contributed to this report. Thanks also to the many record-keepers whose work helped dig this stat out, including the team at SwimRankings.net, the Potomac Valley LSC, USA Swimming’s record-keeping staff, and Franco Antognetti of Nuoto Mondiale All Time.
When Canadian teenager Summer McIntosh beat Katie Ledecky in the 800 freestyle on Thursday at a Sectionals Championship meet in Florida, she broke Ledecky’s 13-plus-year winning streak in that event (event finals/timed finals only*).
*Methodology: If a swimmer failed to qualify for an event final, we counted that as a loss. If they were not the top seed for finals but won the final, we counted it as a win.
Her last loss came at the 2010 Potomac Valley Swimming Senior Championships, when she was 13-years-old, and she finished 3rd behind 16-year-old Ellen Anderson of the Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club and 17-year-old Kaitlin Pawolwicz, who trained beside Ledecky at the Curl-Burke Swim Club (now Nation’s Capital Swim Club).
Results of that race (full file here):
But it is a testament to Ledecky’s greatness that a winning streak that a winning streak that stood for 4,953 days wasn’t even her longest streak.
Her longest streak came in the 1500 free, which is now four days longer. She was beaten by Kaitlin Pawlowicz, again, on the first day of that meet in the 1500 free. As far as we can tell, that was Ledecky’s last, and only, loss in the 1500 free in an event final or timed final (though her first 800 meters of that 1500 would have won the individual 800. Pawlowicz was also faster in the first 800 of her 1500 than in the individual event).
Pawlowicz went on to be a standout distance swimmer at the University of Texas and is now a National Events manager at USA Swimming.
She was once the 2nd seed out of prelims in the event, at the 2013 World Championships where Lotte Friis was the top qualifier, but Ledecky ultimately won the final (and the two were in separate heats).
Among active streaks (aka swimmers who haven’t retired, or who haven’t ‘effectively retired’), we could only thing of one candidate who might challenge that run: Swedish butterflier Sarah Sjostrom, specifically in the 50 fly in long course.
As best we can tell, her last loss came in 2011, where she finished 4th in the 50 meter fly at the World Championships behind Inge Dekker of the Netherlands (25.71), Therese Alshammar of Sweden (25.76), and Melanie Henique of France (25.86). Sjostrom tied with China’s Lu Ying in 25.87.
Since then, she has rattled off five consecutive World Championships in the 50 fly, and will be shooting for a sixth next week in Doha. Her streak sits at 4,577 days.
She’s lost a few times in early rounds (the semi-finals of the 2016 European Championships for example) and a lot of times in short course meters, but we can’t find any other event losses in the last 12 years.
We aren’t as confident in that one, because records in non-Olympic events and at some Swedish domestic meets aren’t as consistent, but we looked really hard and couldn’t find a loss otherwise.
Note: World Aquatics’ database shows a few losses for Sjostrom since then, but those are 50 meter splits en route to the 100 fly that were incorrectly labeled as 50 meter results.