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Ledecky crowns herself czarina

2015-08-11 08:01
Katie Ledecky (AFP)

Kazan - Katie Ledecky is ready to enjoy a week off. She's certainly earned it.

With five gold medals and three records at the world swimming championships, Ledecky stamped herself as a huge favorite heading into next year's Olympics.

She swept the 200, 400, 800 and 1 500-metre freestyles in Kazan, in addition to anchoring the victorious 4x200m free relay. The 18-year-old American is 9-0 in finals at world meets, having won four golds and set two world records in 2013 at Barcelona.

"After Barcelona, I set my goals for these last couple years, and I have a little ways to go still," she said. "I'm chipping away at those goals, and this is a really great steppingstone toward Olympic trials."

That meet next July will decide the U.S. team for the Rio de Janeiro Games. The 1 500m is not an Olympic event, so Ledecky may look to add the 100 free to her busy schedule in Brazil, plus the relays.

She basically swam against herself in Kazan. Ledecky won the 400 by 3.89 seconds, the 800 by 10.26 seconds and the 1,500 by 14.66 seconds. Her closest race was the 200, when she rallied from fourth to win by 0.16 seconds. She was named female swimmer of the meet.

"It's almost to the point where I'm not surprised," her coach Bruce Gemmell said. "She's such a beautiful natural swimmer."

In a 24-hour span, Ledecky set back-to-back world records in the 1,500. As if that wasn't impressive enough, she returned the next night to win the 200 against a stellar field.

"We laugh about how she's going to retire some men in this sport continuing to swim that fast," said Frank Busch, U.S. national team director. "She's doing things that are unprecedented in our sport."

Such utter domination has sent expectations soaring for the recent high school graduate from suburban Washington, D.C., who has yet to even get a driver's license. Ledecky remains oblivious to it all.

"I kind of try to keep the same mindset I had going into 2012 - no expectations, no pressure, and whatever happens, happens," she said. "I know my family and my coaches will all help me maintain that mindset."

Her support system was in Kazan, with her parents, brother and uncle cheering in the stands.

At the daily U.S. women's team meeting, coaches congratulated anyone who swam a personal-best time and the team showered that person with applause. Ledecky received the most cheers; of course, her best times just happened to be jaw-dropping world records.

"Whenever she swims she just has this ability to lift the entire team spirit," said Missy Franklin, Ledecky's team-mate who won five medals in Kazan. "That's so, so special. It's just been amazing watching her this whole time and I think all of us know there's only brighter things to come in her future."

A typical training day for Ledecky involves morning and afternoon practices three days a week. She mixes in dry land training that focuses on strength, flexibility and injury prevention three times a week. She usually swims up to 6 000m in the morning. A hard training session would add another 2 000m.

"We've found some small things I can work on to try and improve," she said. "It's about trying to get faster. I'm very motivated."

Gemmell has instilled in Ledecky the belief that relaxed swimming results in optimal performances. In the water, she focuses on keeping her stroke, rhythm and tempo the same throughout the longer races.

"She's driven to get better, she's not afraid to challenge herself," Gemmell said. "She's not afraid of failure, but failure is not an option. That's sort of a combination she's put together to work pretty well for her."

She viewed the 200m as a challenge, so the 100m might be even more enticing. Rarely does a distance swimmer in their prime dip into the sprint ranks. Ledecky practices other strokes in training, but the competition is so strong in those events that she has no plans to swim anything but freestyle for now.

"There's still a lot of fast swimmers in that 200m free," she said. "I know I have my work cut for me."

Ledecky is taking a cache of gold out of Russia, but leaving money behind. Her medals and world records were worth a total of $175 000 from FINA, the sport's world governing body. However, she couldn't accept any of it because she plans to remain an amateur and compete for Stanford starting in the fall of 2016.

She will focus on training for the next year, although Ledecky plans to take a few classes at Georgetown University and continue the volunteer work she did in high school.

Ledecky won't be far from the water when she's taking her weeklong break at home in Bethesda, Maryland. She'll be the teenager with the short blond hair and smooth stroke at the local pool.

"It gets hot in D.C. in the summer," she said. "We'll see how much I'll actually swim."

Read more on:    swimming

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