This year, she was the youngest person on Time magazine’s Time 100 list. Why not? There is no better swimmer in the world today. Will she make history, you ask. Well, let’s wait and see. I would have said yes, but then there was Missy Franklin in London 2012. She won five medals, including four golds there. And, with six golds, she was swimmer of the meet at the Barcelona world championships in 2013. But, Franklin is a shadow of her former form today. So, fingers crossed.
Ledecky is favoured to win four gold medals in Rio: the freestyle 200m, 400m and 800m, and the 4x200m relay. If her coaches are so inclined, there could be the 4x100m, too. Get a grip on this: she has won nine world titles, set 11 world records, and, at 19, is the youngest member of the US women’s swimming team in Rio. She could have had one more medal in Rio, but only men swim the 1,500m in the Olympics.
When she jumped into the pool and won the 800m freestyle gold at London 2012, she was all of 15. She defeated Rebecca Adlington, Brit and then world-record holder. No one thought Adlington would be beaten. Prince William and Kate Middleton were in attendance for the event, sure of the Union Jack going up. That day, Ledecky grabbed the gold from Adlington, and, at the world championships in 2013, she took the world record, too. Since then, she has bettered her 800m freestyle record thrice.
She is 5.11” and there are a few more things that put her head and shoulders above others. Coaches say she swims like a man. Not surprising, considering that Yuri Suguiyama, her coach from age 10 to 15, saw a Michael Phelps video, liked his strokes and taught it to her in 2011. A year and a little more later, she beat Adlington hollow.
Ledecky’s defining trait is that she zooms off from the word go. There is no fear of running out of power towards the end. One report said that until 2012, she used to breathe “to both sides, every third stroke”. But, apparently, that created a wobble which bled speed. So, now, she “breathes to her right side, with her left arm in the water”. She, obviously, has enormous lung power to back this style. Fellow competitors seem to like her, but are wary of her in the pool. She says she is just being “mean to the clock”, while racing. Coaches credit her steely resolve. The best example of her resolve came during the 2014 Pan Pacific swimming championships held in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, in August 2014. It was an outdoor meet; the weather was cold and windy. Ledecky overcame the weather and muscle cramps to set world records in the freestyle 400m and 1,500m, and a meet record in the 200m.
At the meet, she came really close to breaking her own 800m world record, despite a sleet storm. One report said that legendary Australian swim coach Denis Cotterell went up to Ledecky’s coach Bruce Gemmell and said: “Give her the bloody world record! It's snowing out here!”