Katie Ledecky is going to be very, very busy during the Tokyo Olympics.
The U.S. swimmer, who has been among the most dominant athletes in any sport in recent memory, has a schedule at the Games that could leave you doubled over and gasping for air just thinking about it.
Ledecky is targeting the 200-, 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter freestyle events and the 4×200 free relay during the Olympics. When the various preliminaries, rounds and finals are factored in, she could end up swimming 6,000 meters when all is said and done.
So in addition to the other swimmers, who she routinely beats, Ledecky will also have to fend off fatigue to reach her goals during these Olympics.
“It is a lot,” she admitted to The Japan Times. “But the good thing is, I kind of got a practice run of it at the Olympic trials. I try to just take it one race at a time. I know that I just have to manage my energy really well, be really rested going into it, just try to stay pretty level-headed and take it one race at a time, one day at a time and not look at it from the big picture as much.”
If things play out like they usually do, the 24-year-old will also need enough energy to hang a bunch of medals around her neck.
Retired swimming great Michael Phelps called Ledecky, “the greatest female swimmer of our time,” during the U.S. trials, according to the Team USA website.
It’s not an empty boast.
Ledecky has won five Olympic gold medals during her career, including four during the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. She has also won 15 golds at the world championships, the most ever by a female swimmer. Ledecky is the world record-holder in the 400, 800 and 1,500.
Ledecky does not just win, she often obliterates the competition. Some of her wins through the years have been by such wide margins that saying she left the field in her wake is a gross understatement.
Some feel the emergence of Australian Ariarne Titmus, or “The Terminator,” may present Ledecky with a rare challenge in Tokyo. Titmus is slated to swim the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle events, possibly setting the stage for a trio of tantalizing showdowns against Ledecky in those finals.
Ledecky does not usually feel much pressure. Before races, she is loose and free of tension until her competitiveness begins kicking in.
“I think when I’m back with my teammates, maybe an hour or 30 minutes before the race, I’m probably laughing, chatting, just hanging out with them,” she said. Then as the race gets closer, I’m probably more game face. Behind the blocks, I’m definitely game face, pretty focused just on getting into that water and getting the job done.”
The 800 is her signature event and a race in which she holds the 23 fastest times.
Ledecky has similarly dominated the 1,500, in which she owns the top 10 times. That race will be making its Olympic debut for women in Tokyo, giving Ledecky a chance to make even more history.
“It’s really exciting that the 1,500 free is in the Olympics now for women,” she said.
“With prelims and finals, it adds 3,000 meters to my schedule, so it’s quite a bit. So it will be quite a different Olympics for me than it was in 2016. Just a different event lineup.”
The 1,500 could present Ledecky with her greatest challenge in Tokyo. The race will be contested in the same session as the 200, meaning Ledecky will have to pull double duty in both the prelims and the finals in order to win the gold in each.
The races are in different sessions for the men, making the load much easier on any man swimming in both.
“On top of managing the racing load, I also have to manage that double on those two days,” she said. “That’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge that I’ve been anticipating and something that I’ve been working toward. I feel like I’m prepared to handle it.”
Ledecky is happy to be able to swim in what will be her third Olympics. She had to train an extra year for it, after the March 2020 decision by Japan and the International Olympic Committee to postpone the Games by one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She did not let the postponement, or the uncertainty of that period, make her lose sight of her goals.
“I strive to be good each year,” she said. “I try to be consistent. So each year I’m putting in hard work. I tried to just build off of the first Olympic year into the second one and I’ve kept my goals at the forefront.”
In the middle of a lockdown in California early in the pandemic, Ledecky and teammate Simone Manuel trained in a neighbor’s backyard pool.
Ledecky didn’t know the family who owned the pool beforehand — staffers from the team helped athletes find places to train — but got to know them and was grateful to have a place to train that was only a few minutes from her home.
“For about three months, that was the only time I would really leave my apartment,” she said. “To go swim at that backyard pool. It was really nice to be able to do that, to be able to continue to train in some capacity.”
While aware of the COVID-19 situation in Japan, the American is focused on following the safety protocols and thankful for the chance to compete. Ledecky said she understands “the concern of the Japanese people” and hopes that everyone strictly adhering to the protocols will help make the Games a success for Tokyo.
“I feel like Japan has done a great job of setting us up for a successful Games in terms of keeping everyone healthy and containing the virus,” Ledecky said. “I think we’re just all so grateful that these Olympics are happening and moving forward.”
“We’ll manage everything and follow all the protocols and not get too distracted. We’ll stay focused on the task at hand, whether that’s in the pool or out of the pool. We know we have to take care of business and do the right thing.”
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