She is the world’s most dominant freestyle swimmer and headed to Tokyo as an overwhelming favorite to strike gold again, though Katie Ledecky has had to settle for silver in her first event on Monday – the women’s 400m freestyle.
Ledecky needs just three gold medals to tie Jenny Thompson as the most successful female Olympic swimmer.
In her first Olympics she won a gold medal and broke the world record in the women’s 800m freestyle.
Four years later in Rio De Janeiro she won four gold medals, one silver and broke two more world records.
The 24-year-old’s total of 15 individual titles at the Olympics and World Aquatic Championships is a record for a female swimmer and she holds world records in the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle.
And her dominance of the sport’s record books is overwhelming.
She also owns the fastest 24 swims in history in the 800m, the top 11 times in the 1500m, and 12 of the top 14 ever in the 400m.
The 6ft swimmer was born in Washington DC and raised in nearby Bethesda, Maryland, and began swimming at the age of six at the Palisades Swim and Tennis Club.
She excelled in the pool, following in the footsteps of her brother Michael, and her mother, Mary, who swam for the University of New Mexico.
When she graduated from Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in 2015 she held every school swimming event record except the 100m breaststroke.
After high school she went to Stanford University, turning down millions of dollars in sponsorships, and in June graduated with a psychology degree.
She eventually turned professional after her sophomore year at Stanford, inking deals with Bic, Reese’s, Polo Ralph Lauren, and with swimwear company TYR, which at the time was called “the most lucrative partnership in the history of the swim industry”.
During the pandemic, Ledecky remained in Palo Alto, California, and like many others did not see her family in person for a year.
When Stanford’s facilities closed she worked out in her living room and found a back garden swimming pool to train in.
Ledecky is known for her intense training workouts.
“It can’t be easy to go train against Katie when you know you’re going to get your head kicked in,” Keenan Robinson, the longtime strength and conditioning coach for Michael Phelps, told The Los Angeles Times.
“But she shows gratitude and appreciation and keeps people coming back to get their heads kicked in.”
Matt Barbini, USA Swimming’s national team performance director, told the newspaper that Ledecky had a “kind” side to go with her overwhelming competitive spirit.
“Katie wants to win by the most massive margin possible, but I don’t think she wants to break anyone’s soul like Michael Jordan did,” he said.
“It’s a remarkable combination, particularly for someone to be that dominant for so long, which takes so much commitment, while at the same time being so nice and polite and kind.”
After the Rio Olympics she found out she was one of just 38 people Bruce Springsteen was following on Twitter, which she enjoyed as she and her father are huge fans of the musician.
Her uncle, businessman Jon Ledecky, is the co-owner of the NHL team New York Islanders.
Ledecky has said that she plans to go through the 2024 Olympic cycle for the Paris Games, and then decide if she will retire from the sport or aim for 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
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