Ledecky looks to future as high standards drop
BUDAPEST — OK, it wasn’t like Katie Ledecky was a flop at the world championships.
Far from it. She won five gold medals. She took silver in her other event.
“If that was my bad year for the next four years, then the next couple of years are going to be pretty exciting,” Ledecky declared.
But her performance in Budapest did prove one thing — she is human.
Ledecky failed to set a personal best in any of her races, while a runner-up finish in the 200m freestyle was the 20-year-old’s first individual defeat in a major international race.
“I always wish there was more,” Ledecky said. “I’ve never walked away from a season completely satisfied, even last year (after winning four golds at the Rio Olympics). You always are looking and moving forward.”
She was certainly due for a letdown.
Ever since a stunning breakthrough at the 2012 London Olympics, when she won the 800m free as a 15-year-old, Ledecky’s trajectory has been nothing but up, up, up.
In 2013, she won four golds at the worlds in Barcelona, setting a pair of world records. Two years later in Kazan, she swept every freestyle from 200 to 1500m, setting two more world records. Two more world records fell last summer in Brazil, transforming her into a fully fledged star.
But that wasn’t the only striking change in Ledecky’s life.
After putting off college for a year to focus on the Olympics, the Washington, DC-area swimmer moved across the country for her freshman year at Stanford. It surely had some impact on her swimming.
Ledecky acknowledged that she “didn’t really set as high of goals or have that same motivation, just always being on and on and on”.
“Going through a lot of transitions and changes this year, knowing that I’ve gone through that now, I can really take what I’ve learned and use it moving forward,” Ledecky said.
She was certainly overshadowed in Budapest.
Caeleb Dressel emerged as America’s newest sensation with a record-tying seven golds — three of them on the same night, the first swimmer ever to accomplish that feat at worlds.
“He’s incredible,” Ledecky said. “He’s such a great athlete and a great swimmer. So young, too. He has so many great years ahead of him.”
Dressel is the same age as Ledecky. Chances are, they both have plenty of great years ahead of them.
But now, for perhaps the first time in her career, Ledecky is facing a bit of a setback, and it will be interesting to see how she bounces back.
She is now the winningest female swimmer in world championship history with 14 gold medals — more than anyone except Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
Ledecky knows she’s capable of more.
“I’m happy with five golds and a silver,” she said. “But there’s a lot of room for improvement, as crazy as that sounds. Moving forward, I’m going to be really motivated. I’m really looking forward to working toward 2020 now.”
Katie Ledecky of the US competes during the women’s 800m freestyle final.