In her acclaimed career, Katie Ledecky has won five Olympic gold medals and 15 world championship titles, more than any other woman in swimming history. At this summer’s rescheduled Tokyo Olympic Games, she’s hoping to add to that collection with what could be a very ambitious schedule, even for her.
“I’m targeting the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyle and I’d love to be on the 4×200 relay in Tokyo as well, but that’s obviously not an event that we swim at trials,” she said Wednesday when asked what her plans were for the U.S. Olympic trials, scheduled for June. “Of course things could change. I swam the 100 in Omaha (the site of the trials) five years ago and got on that relay so you never know, I might adjust things ever so slightly, but 200 through the mile is the focus.”
The women’s 1,500 (the mile) has been added to the Olympic program for the first time in Tokyo. In addition to it being about time that women got the same chance as men to swim that distance, it also happens to be an event in which, like the 400 and 800, Ledecky holds the world record and has dominated.
Katie Ledecky at the TYR Pro Swim Series at Des Moines on March 5, 2020 at the MidAmerican Energy Aquatic Center at the Wellmark YMCA in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo: Maddie Meyer, Getty Images)
Like every athlete training for the Olympics during these uncertain times, Ledecky, 23, has spent a year adapting. A psychology major at Stanford with a minor in political science, she filled the unexpected 2020 Olympic void with a full load of classes and completed her degree in the fall.
For a few weeks at the height of the shutdown, she found herself trying to swim laps in two different backyard pools in the San Francisco Bay area. One was 25 yards long, which wasn’t bad. The other was smaller; just a couple of strokes and she’d reach the wall.
“I wouldn’t really even call it training, just swimming around in people’s private backyard pools,” she said at the time. By June, Stanford had reopened its outdoor pool and her teammates started to slowly come back as things began returning to a new normal.
As she thinks ahead to the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled for July 23-August 8, she knows the Games will not be the same as her first two, London in 2012 and Rio in 2016.
“It’ll look different for all of us, the athletes, the coaches, media,” she said. “All of it I’m sure will look and feel different, especially for those people that have been to past Olympics, it’ll feel different. But right now, I’m just trying to do as much as I can to prepare for those different things that may happen, the different protocols, and things like that, just trying to learn about what that may look like so that come Tokyo, I’m not caught by surprise about any of those things.”
Ledecky said that through her training, she has been tested for COVID-19 “multiple times a week,” and is used to social distancing and wearing a mask, “so I know a lot of that will be very similar.” But, she said, “it’ll look and be different at the Games.”
Asked about her greatest fear concerning the Olympics, she replied, “I haven’t really thought about what my biggest fear would be. Of course I want everyone to stay healthy. I guess that would be my biggest fear that there’s a huge outbreak or something at the Games.”
But, she added, “I’m pretty confident in how Tokyo is managing it so far and I hope that we’ll continue to hear more about those protocols and exactly how much we’re going to be tested, where we’re going to be tested, what the competition venue is going to look like, feel like, all those little details so that we can all be prepared to keep each other safe.”
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