Irvine - Six
years on from her stunning 800m freestyle victory at the 2012 Olympics,
Katie Ledecky is savouring her status as the grand dame, at 21, of
Ledecky was 15 when she led wire-to-wire in winning the 800m free in
London in a race that saw world record holder and British home hope
Rebecca Adlington relegated to third.
Four more Olympic golds in Rio two years ago, 14 world titles and 15
world records later, Ledecky heads into the Pan Pacific Championships
starting on Thursday in Tokyo knowing she's now the swimmer with a
target on her back.
"I guess it's a little different," said Ledecky, but she knows that
young rivals such as Australian distance phenom Ariarne Titmus and
Canadian Taylor Ruck still have a lot of catching up to do.
"I know that there are a lot of great swimmers out there that are
chasing me," Ledecky said.
"That motivates me just as much as chasing
someone motivated me when I was 15."
Ledecky has made a seamless transition this year from US amateur
collegiate swimming to the professional ranks, inking a sponsorship deal
with TYR that the manufacturer trumpeted as "the most lucrative
partnership in the history of the swim industry."
Ledecky specifically chose to make the move two years before the
Tokyo Games, to give herself time to adjust to the new demands on her
While some US swimmers struggle with newfound responsibilities, Ledecky has taken it in her stride.
"It hasn't been extremely different," Ledecky said. "I guess my practice schedule has changed just a little bit."
Jon Urbanchek, the veteran coach recently named the US national
team's technical adviser, calls Ledecky "probably the perfect role
model" with her fabled work ethic and determination.
"She's on a mission," Urbanchek said.
"You can't really distract her."
Ledecky lowered her own world record in the 1 500m freestyle in May and
came away from the US championships in California in July with victories
in the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles.
She opted out of the 1 500m freestyle, which she can still swim at the Pan
Pacs, preferring instead to get a day of rest ahead of another burst of
training before heading to Japan.
"I feel like I'm in a really good spot," Ledecky said - an innocuous
sounding remark that will strike an ominous note for her rivals.